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Good ‘Day’ for local Boy Scouts

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By Stephen Lega

 

The Marion and Washington county chapters of the Boy Scouts of America got a boost last week from a Hall of Fame jockey. Pat Day was the guest speaker at the Friends of Scouting benefit dinner April 24 at Centre Square.

Day won more than 8,800 races in his career. He is the all-time leading rider at Churchill Downs and Keeneland. He’s won all three races of the Triple Crown races and 12 Breeder’s Cup races. He’s also a four-time winner of the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey.

“Thank you for standing up,” Day said as the audience applauded when he was introduced. “But don’t stand up for me. Stand up for Jesus.”

In spite of his success, Day said he didn’t find happiness on the track, he didn’t find happiness until he made God a priority in his life.

Day grew up in Brush, Colo., in a Lutheran family, but when he was 13 years old, he got a job working for a Baptist woman in his small town. At the time, he remembered that a lot of people in his community thought the lady was strange. Looking back, he has a different perspective.

“It doesn’t matter what is over the door, it matters what’s in your heart,” Day said.

At 13, Day admitted he thought she was strange, too. One day, she sat down with him and told him about Jesus, and she asked if she could pray with him. At the time, Day said yes because he wanted to get out of there. She led him in the sinner’s prayer, but it wasn’t until decades later that he understood what that moment meant.

“I’ll never forget the look on Mrs. Allen’s face,” Day said.

In high school, Day wrestled, finished twice as the state runner-up and once as the state champion, although he said the audience shouldn’t be too impressed.

“There aren’t many juniors and seniors who can wrestle in the lowest weight class,” he said.

He also participated in the rodeo, and his dream was to become a professional bull rider. One day, someone asked if he’d ever considered becoming a jockey. He’d heard of the Kentucky Derby and knew of a few famous jockeys like Willie Shoemaker, but knew nothing about horse racing.

“I’d never seen a race,” he said.

He went to talk to someone about becoming a jockey. He was told if he was willing to work on the farm for a few years, then go to the track for a few years, he could be ready to ride.

“I didn’t have a lot of patience in those days,” Day said.

He declined the offer. Instead he found another place where he was able to ride sooner, and seven months later, in January of 1973, he won his first race.

“You throw a little bit of success at a guy who was 100 pounds and 4 feet, 11 inches, it goes to his head,” Day said.

As he continued in his career, he also started drinking and using drugs. He convinced himself that winning the North American rider of the year (for most wins in a year) would make him happy. 

He won the award for the first time in 1982, and to celebrate, he went on a two-week drinking and drugging binge.

“I was more distraught at that time than at any time in my life,” Day said.

In 1984, he flew to Miami, Fla. When he got to his hotel, he turned on the television and a Jimmy Swaggart crusade was the only thing he could find, so he decided to go to sleep. After sleeping for what he thought had been all night, he awoke and turned on the television.

The crusade was still on.

“That was my personal altar call,” Day said.

At that moment, Day said he invited Jesus “out of the back room” and into a prominent place in his life.

“When I woke up the next morning, it was like the whole world had changed,” Day said.

He no longer wanted to drink, and he credits God for freeing him from his addiction. He was ready to give up racing and enter the seminary. He spoke with the chaplain at the race track, and he decided instead that he could use racing as a platform to spread the word of God.

He continued to race successfully for several more years. In 2005, Day had hip surgery. He recovered quickly and even won his first race back, but something was different. 

He didn’t have the fire for racing anymore.

He spent a few weeks at his friend’s cabin, where he said he “tried to cut a deal with God” hoping that the fire would come back. Instead, he said he found he had a renewed enthusiasm to tell people about God.

“If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved,” Day said.

At the end of his talk, a special Maker’s Mark bottle commemorating Pat Day’s 1992 win in the Kentucky Derby aboard Lil E. Tee., and a special stamp used to imprint the wax on the bottle was also auctioned. Both had been signed by Day.

The bottle went for $650 and the stamp was sold for $330, all of which went to support local Boy Scouts. Separately, several bottles were sold for $250 apiece.

That same evening, the Boy Scouts also presented their Distinguished Citizen Award to John Boswell of the Independent Stave Corporation. Maker’s Mark also presented Boswell with his own special bottle.

After his speech, Day spent time visiting with attendees. Day said he wasn’t a Boy Scout growing up, but he supports what they do.

“I appreciate the work that they do and what they stand for,” he said.