Sixty-nine year-old Roy Brooks lives a seemingly ordinary life at his farm in Blanchard, Oklahoma with Connie, his wife of 52 years. At an age when many have retired - and certainly most athletes are no longer competing - the soft-spoken Brooks is the second-oldest jockey in the United States and continues to race regularly against those less than half his age.
Last May, jockey Roy Brooks broke his pelvis and tore his urethra when his horse reared up and fell on top of him as he approached the starting gate. There were doubts that Brooks - a legend in the quarter horse world - would return to competitive riding after the devastating accident.
The ageless Brooks not only returned, but won his first race back last November at the Black Gold Futurity Championship in Claremore, Oklahoma.
Brooks told VOA it was one of the biggest victories of his storied career. "I'd been off almost six months and I come back from an injury like that and winning the big race like that. It's one of the highlights. I mean I've had a lot of them over the years but I was pretty happy to accomplish that," he said.
Now, nearly 10 months after the injury, and feeling near top physical condition, Brooks returned March 4 to Remington Park, just 56 kilometers from his ranch in rural Blanchard, for the opening of the 2011 season.
The devoted jockey rode in three races over the weekend, and his best result was a second-place finish on Friday, the first day of the season.
It was a satisfying performance for Brooks.
"I did real well,” he stated. “I mean I did as good as I can do. But I felt real good. I was comfortable in the gates and the horses left the gates good with me."
Jockey Roy Brooks
Brooks spends his winters with his wife Connie, raising cows and calves on wheat grown at the family farm.
In explaining his secret for longevity in the sport, Brooks credits being able to use the farm to unwind from the track. "Mainly in the winter time I always took off. I'd ride maybe half a year and work on the farm. If I need to relax I just go to the farm. If I had a bad week or so, or a bad month, I'd just stay on the farm and get on the tractor and do some farm work and relax. I really feel like that's what kept me going for so many years," he explained.
His riding career began in 1966 and he has amassed about 1,800 wins since the American Quarter Horse Association began keeping jockey records in 1972.
In a profession dominated by young men and women, not many riders are able to remain competitive past their mid - 50s, and there are few jockeys over the age of 60.
But the thrill of competition and the benefits of staying active have kept Brooks - the father of three grown children and grandfather of four - motivated to ride.
"I like the competition, and also I get in shape,” he said. “I stay in shape, and to me that makes me feel young, because I ride with young kids, I mean they're young men."
Brooks is noncommittal about his future plans, but gives no signs of slowing down anytime soon. "I'm just going to take it one year at a time. I said 10 years ago I was going to retire but I'm just taking one year at a time and see how I feel and if my reflexes are still good,” he stated. “And so far they are. I mean my timing is pretty much like it was, even last year before I got hurt."
The oldest rider ever to win a thoroughbred race in the U.S. is Richard Rettele of Northville, Michigan. The 70-year-old races sparingly but captured the Queen City Dash in Cincinnati, Ohio, last August. In 2007, Frank Amonte, Senior, became the oldest American jockey to ride in a race, at age 71.
At the rate Brooks is going, he might eclipse both marks. "It would be a thrill,” he said. “I'm not pursuing that as a goal. I think it would be pretty nice."
Based on the reception he gets from quarter horse racing fans, it is a thrill to watch Brooks compete. "They have accepted me real well. In fact, practically all the fans know me and say they like to bet on me because I'm always real competitive on the horses I ride. It's been real good," he said.
Roy Brooks is a jockey who not only inspires others to win but continues to win himself. There are no signs that the 69-year-old will hang up his racing boots anytime soon.