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First Randy Romero Pure Courage Award to Mena

The group of nine friends from Louisiana that launched the Randy Romero Pure Courage Award this year to honor the Racing Hall of Fame rider who died in 2019, as well as current jockeys who overcome adversity, announced their first winner Feb. 20: Miguel Mena.

Mena battled back from severe injuries suffered in a spill March 18, 2018, at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, where he suffered multiple fractures in his right heel and ankle. At the time, he was the meet’s leading rider. He returned to riding later that year and earned a pair of grade 3 wins in 2019 at Keeneland, guiding Bobby’s Wicked One to victory in the Commonwealth Stakes and Peace Achieved to a score in the Dixiana Bourbon Stakes. Organizers noted that Mena prevailed in a close vote that included finalists Tim Thornton, Victor Espinoza, and Kendrick Carmouche.

The Pure Courage Award will be presented between races at Fair Grounds March 21, which is Louisiana Derby Day. The trophy is being designed by Steve Gibson of Gibson Artworks, and the presentation will be made by Dan Schneider; his wife, Annie; and their daughter, Kristi. The Schneiders are the focus of the highly acclaimed documentary “The Pharmacist.”

Romero, a winner of 4,294 races and $75.2 million in earnings from 1973-99, was the regular rider of such elite distaffers as Go for Wand and Personal Ensign, with whom he teamed to win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) in 1988 to complete an unbeaten career. He won 122 graded stakes and riding titles at 10 tracks.

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Nominations Ongoing For Randy Romero Pure Courage Award

Nominations accepted through Jan. 15, with a presentation to be made March 21.

Following the death of Hall of Fame jockey Randy Romero this past summer at 61, supporters in his native Louisiana are keeping his legacy alive at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans. Besides the track naming a race after the famed jockey—the Feb. 1 Randy P. Romero Memorial Stakes—a group of nine friends have created the Randy Romero Pure Courage Award to honor a North American jockey who, like Romero, battled back from injury and adversity to achieve success.

The recipient of the award will receive a bronze trophy in a presentation at Fair Grounds on Louisiana Derby Day March 21, organizer Rick Mocklin said.

Romero, a winner of 4,294 races and $75.2 million in earnings over a career from 1973-99, was the regular rider of such elite distaffers as Go For Wand and Personal Ensign, with whom he teamed to win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) in 1988 to finish an unbeaten career. He won 122 graded stakes and riding titles at 10 tracks, including Belmont Park, Arlington Park, Gulfstream Park, Keeneland, and Fair Grounds.

He managed to do this despite a slew of injuries that shortened his career and left him fighting pain for much of the second half of his life. Among these injuries was a near-fatal sauna explosion at Oaklawn Park that burned 60% of his body in 1983, after which he contracted hepatitis C from blood transfusions during skin graph operations. He returned to riding 14 months after the Oaklawn accident.

The 1990s brought more physical setbacks, including when Go For Wand was fatally injured in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Romero crashed to the ground, breaking eight ribs and a bone in his shoulder. He finished riding later that decade, with Mocklin acting as his agent for a couple of those years.

“He went through so many things that 10 riders might not go through in their career, but Randy was always looking to ride again,” Mocklin said. “No matter what the injury was, he was looking when he could ride again and get back in the saddle.”

The goal of the Randy Romero Pure Courage Award is to honor a rider who shows the same kind of determination.

Mocklin said the nine people organizing the award—which include trainer Dallas Stewart and Kentucky restaurateur Tommy Walters—are funding the trophy’s purchase and will vote to determine the winner. To be eligible, a rider needs to be nominated before the committee’s Jan. 15 deadline, with nominations made to Mocklin at 504-382-9787 or via email to info@shantellaneriefoundation.com.

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