It may have been the only time in Randy Romero’s 52 years that he asked himself the question, “What the hell am I doing all this for?”
That’s what he said went through his head about a year ago, after he was thrown from a horse and hurt his back. He decided that that was it, this sport had spit him out for the last time. He had been hit, physically, emotionally and spiritually, so many times and from so many angles, that his bandages had bandages, his comebacks had comebacks.
Sure, he had retired from racing, then sort of unretired, at least to work as an exercise rider, a few times, then retired, and so on, but he somehow managed to keep getting back on the horse, if in a limited capacity.
So, naturally, after saying to hell with it, finally doubting whether it was worth the crushing spills and interminable hospital stays, Romero also finally got to enjoy horse racing’s warmest embrace.
Two days ago, the National Racing Hall of Fame announced that Romero, winner of 4,294 races for over $75 million in his career, would be one of four inductees when the annual ceremony is held in Saratoga Springs on Aug. 13. Of course, that’s a Friday. Of course.
It was less than five years ago that I interviewed Romero at Dallas Stewart’s barn on the backstretch at Saratoga Race Course, spitting distance from the dirt oval where Romero rode Personal Ensign and Go for Wand to victories in the Whitney and Alabama, respectively.
I was writing a feature story about how getting on some of Stewart’s 2-year-olds in the morning was showing therapeutic benefits for all that ailed Romero. And what a list that was.
About a month after nearly having to have one of his arms amputated, he was still beholden to a stent in his neck.
He was on dialysis.
His spleen was gone.
Besides his kidneys, his liver was also failing.
As most racing fans must know by now, he almost died in 1983 when his body ignited in the hotbox at Oaklawn Park.
That was surely more than enough to question how in the world Romero was still alive, much less even thinking about getting on a horse, but then I read the
recently published “Randy Romero’s Remarkable Ride,” written by the Gazette’s own Bill Heller, and there was even more detail and evidence that things hadn’t gotten any better for Romero since 2005.
In 2008, Romero’s kidney had become so enlarged that the surgeons had to remove a rib to cut out the kidney.
The Hall of Fame graciously asked Heller, who has written books on Personal Ensign and Go for Wand, to be the one to call Romero on Monday to inform him of the induction. The two have become friends, and are involved in the development of a movie based on “Remarkable Ride.”
Romero happened to be on the dialysis machine when Heller called, and when the former jockey got on a media conference call on Friday, he said that he would soon be on his way back for another four-hour session after the call.
“I do dialysis three times a week, and I’m in the gym on days that I don’t do it, to keep myself in decent condition,” he said. “I’m on a lot of medication, but so far, I’m holding on pretty well.”
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith was on the call, too, to speak for the connections of inductee Azeri, and when asked about her, he initially skipped the question and said, “Well, first I want to congratulate Randy, it’s well-deserved. It should’ve happened a long time ago.
“I lost my train of thought,” he said, before talking about Azeri.
Romero had been nominated to the Hall of Fame seven times before he finally got in on the eighth try.
This year also marked a significant change in the voting procedure, which removed category restrictions and opened the door for more than one jockey to be inducted, if enough people voted for each.
As it turned out, Romero was the only two-legged inductee in this year’s class from the contemporary categories; the Historic Review Committee will announce its selections on Wednesday.
The possibility that Romero’s body may finally just give in for good is very real and constant, as it has been for years and years now.
A permanence was attached to his daily health problems a long time ago.
His sparkling career has permanence, too, though.