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Life in the saddle

Horse jockey Lumpkins finds solace
on his Trimble County farm

He travels the country each week to race

By Kathleen Adams
Contributing Writer


PROVIDENCE, KY. (September 2005)– Jason Lumpkins is sore. While seated on a black, L-shaped sectional couch in the family room of the Providence, Ky., home he shares with wife, Dawn, and their three children, the jockey explains to a visitor that three days ago, during the seventh race at Delaware Park, he was unseated from his mount while exiting the starting gate.

Jason Lumpkins

Photos by Kathleen Adams

Jockey Jason Lumpkins admires some of his trophies from past races that hang in his Providence, Ky., home.

“The starter, when he released me, my left knee interlocked with his right knee which threw me off balance, and the right-side of my body raked all the steel when that horse came out. And I lost the right rein because I hit my elbow. I tried to stay on the horse with one arm. Forty yards out… I finally land on my head, and it didn’t feel good.”
Badly bruised, Lumpkins, 35, knocks three times on a wooden table and says during a 17-year career he’s never experienced a serious injury on the racetrack.
In fact, Lumpkins says his worst spill came six months ago during a race a Golden Gate in northern California. That’s when his mount clipped heels with another horse, and Lumpkins was thrown to the ground.
“When I went down, I pulled all the cartilage from the chest cavity,” Lumpkins said. “When I quit rolling, she (horse) landed on top of me. I had multiple fractures.”
It was two months before Lumpkins fully recovered from his injuries.
Fearlessness is a characteristic many successful jockeys share. Taking a 1,000-pound thoroughbred through tight, seemingly invisible holes at 40 mph requires a sense of

The Lumpkins File

• Age: 35
• Born: Martinsburg, W.Va.
• Race Record: (as of 8/20/05):
In 529 starts, he has 90 wins,
71 seconds, 92 thirds.
• Total Purse Earnings:
More than $2 million
(17 percent winning percentage)

fearlessness. Jockeys must also possess nerves of steel in order to make split-second decisions as traffic on the racetrack is in a constant state of flux.
When asked whether he has any fears, Lumpkins, who as of Aug. 20 ranked 84th nationally by earnings, hesitates for several seconds before responding.
“I do have fears, but I don’t bring them to the racetrack,” he said thoughtfully. “Especially since my good friend, Mike Rowland, was killed two years ago at Turfway Park. What if I was killed? What if I’m paralyzed? You have to think about it, and I do.”
Worrying about his son’s safety on the racetrack isn’t something that Phillip Lumpkins devotes much time to. Indeed, it is with complete confidence that the elder Lumpkins proclaims his son “the luckiest boy in this world.”
“You sympathize with anybody who gets hurt,” said the former construction worker who lives just outside of Cleveland with wife, Marlene. “Jockey is one of the most dangerous jobs.”

Jason, Steve, Amanda Lumkins

Photos by Kathleen Adams

Jason with son, Steve,
and daughter, Amanda.

Although born in West Virginia, Lumpkins grew up in Maryland void of any particular fondness for horses. He remembers going on the occasional trail ride with his mother, but claims he wasn’t interested in fast horses. Instead, Lumpkins was drawn to fast cars.
Always small for his age, Lumpkins’ parents placed him on growth hormones for three years. But when medical intervention didn’t increase his size, Phillip and Marlene encouraged Jason to pursue a career on the racetrack.
“We figured he’d be good because of his weight and size,” Phillip Lumpkins said.
As a teenager, Lumpkins initially rejected his parent’s suggestion.
“It was a tug of war,” Lumpkins recalled. “I always wanted to work on cars. It took a while. I wanted my own thing.”
When he was 15, Lumpkins’ parents drove him to Pimlico, the historic Baltimore racetrack where the Preakness – the second leg of the Triple Crown – is run. He snuck onto the backside.
A sympathetic thoroughbred trainer put Lumpkins on a barn pony and something clicked inside of the teen.
“That was a great experience,” Lumpkins said. “It always stuck in my mind.”
Not long after, a cousin introduced Lumpkins to Dawn. The pair eventually married in 1988. He was 16 and she was 18.
“That was a crazy year,” Lumpkins recalled.
Needing to support a family, Lumpkins opted for a job on a Maryland thoroughbred farm.
For a year, he worked six-days-a-week grooming horses at Bonita Farms. It was during Lumpkins’ second year at Bonita that he started exercising thoroughbreds in the morning.
“The only thing between you and that horse is what they’re thinking and a bit of leather,” he said. “It was a lot of work. I wasn’t physically fit. It takes a month or two to get the muscle tone correct to hold your own body weight up. Take all that stress and multiply it by five to eight horses every morning.”
Next, Lumpkins took out his jockey license, and on Mother’s Day in 1988, he rode his first race at Delaware Park.
“You’re out in front of the grandstand with hundreds of people,” said Lumpkins who finished fifth in the six-furlong race. “The whole family was there. It was pretty intense.”
Shortly thereafter, Lumpkins notched his first win aboard the filly Su Ling Yourself, owned by sportscaster Jim McKay.
Dawn Lumpkins, 37, says when she married Jason, she had no idea what it meant to be a jockey’s wife.

Jason and Dawn Lumpkins

Photos by Kathleen Adams

Jason and Dawn pose on their farm.

The stay-at-home mother and college student estimates the family has moved some 28 times since 1988. Having lived everywhere from Maryland to Florida to California to the Middle East, Dawn Lumpkins says all three children, Amanda, 17, Steven 16, and Jayden, nine months are well-traveled.
“It’s a juggling act,” she said. “He doesn’t get to come home much and when he does, it is rush, rush, rush trying to do a million things.”
As a group, Dawn Lumpkins says jockeys are as high-strung as the horses they ride, and that affects family life.
“They’re high or they’re low,” she said. “They’re aggressive people and very competitive. The kids and I know if we watch the races, and he’s had a bad day, we scatter. He takes it home. You know, people love a winner.”
Part of the reason why the family moved three years ago from suburban southern California to a 160-acre farm in rural Kentucky was so Lumpkins could “keep the racetrack at the racetrack,” said Dawn.
“We lived in a little house, and there was no way for Jason to burn off energy. He loves living here. He loves living in the woods.”
Scan the walls of Lumpkins living room, and it’s obvious the jockey is comfortable outdoors. An avid hunter and fisherman, there are no less than six deer heads mounted on the walls. A 35-pound salmon and 6-pound bass are also displayed.
Engaged in an unpredictable profession, Lumpkins won’t speculate as to how much longer he will ride. “I’ll do it as long as the good Lord is willing to let me. I like the game now. It’s in my blood.”
Because horse racing is so volatile, Lumpkins says he wouldn’t encourage his children to take up the sport.
“You’ve got to be strong,” he said. “Believe me, when you’re down, it feels like rock bottom. You feel like everybody is against you. You’ve got to have the will power to go back out there and keep hoofing it.”

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