It’s every jockey’s dream to be champion in their colony, as well as winning the Derby or big money stakes races. Being honored by their country is just as special.
That’s how Emelio “Bimbo” Rodriquez felt when he got the call from the Jamaican government informing him that he was awarded the Order of Distinction, his country’s sixth-highest honor.
“I’m overwhelmed, words can’t express. I’m in the class of the big boys; that’s how I feel,” he said from his Atlanta home.
Rodriguez, who is in his mid 60s, began his riding career at Caymanas Park in 1970. He is a four-time champion of Jamaica, winning those titles during the 1980s.
The Kingston-born Rodriquez rode over 1,000 winners in Jamaica before migrating to the United States in 1989. He opened the US leg of his career at South Florida tracks like Calder, Gulfstream and Hialeah.
Rodriguez also appeared in elite colonies of Acqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga in New York, and smaller tracks like Delaware Park and Colonial Downs in Virginia.
He reckons he won just over 100 races in the US before retiring from the saddle in 2007. His most notable victory came aboard Fly Fly Fly in the Dolphin Stakes at Calder.
“It was a new place, a strange place and I think I did very well on the circuits,” he said.
But Rodriguez’ best memories of race-riding are in Jamaica where he won Derbys and numerous stakes races. His win in a driving finish aboard Lucky Ole Sun in the 1979 Derby at Caymanas Park is a standout as was his fierce contest with another legendary Jamaican jockey.
“I loved the rivalry with Winston Griffiths because it kept the punters and fans cheering for both of us. That was a fantastic time for me,” he stated.
Griffiths is a five-time champion jockey of Jamaica and also a recipient of the OD.
Emilio Rodriguez became an assistant trainer after retiring from riding. He has been out of thoroughbred racing since 2017 when he was injured after being kicked by a horse at Woodbine racetrack in Canada.
He will receive the OD during the National Honors and Awards ceremony at King’s House in Kingston on October 19.