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Meet Jockey Randall Toups!
Listening to jockey Randall Toups describe his beginning as a race rider was déjà vu for this writer. My mind flashed back 25 years to a summer morning in the track kitchen at Arlington Park, sitting at a table with jockey Randy Romero. It was 1982, the year he set the then-record for most number of wins by a jockey at Arlington, 181. The Toups story was the Romero story, all over again.
And fittingly so. Toups and Romero are cousins, several times removed. Despite the age difference, Toups and Romero began the same way, riding “in the bushes” around their mutual hometown, Erath, Louisiana.
Toups was born seven years after my breakfast with Romero. Like Romero, Toups began riding at age eight. Yes, eight years old! “That’s when many Cajun riders start out,” began Toups. “There’s a little bush track near Erath, called The Quarter Pole, where they race Quarter horses and Thoroughbreds. Kids start out on the Quarters and later move on to the Thoroughbreds. I graduated to the Thoroughbreds when I grew up to be 12,” he stated, nonchalantly.
The story gets better. “In some of the races for Quarters a person must be aboard, but the conditions also might specify a ‘rider’ but don’t specify a weight,” explained Toups. “It’s common for chickens to be strapped on a horse’s back to meet the requirement of a rider, and to save weight.”
Is that tough competition? “Not many people beat me,” stated Toups with a straight face, “but some chickens did.”
Toups didn’t come directly from a family involved with horses. In fact, his feats went unknown by his parents for two years. “One day, when I was 10 years old, my dad, Randy (the name runs in the family), was at the track and bet on my horse,” related young Toups. I won, so he won, and at long odds. He was so happy, he waited where the jocks dismount to congratulate me. It wasn’t until I took off my goggles that he discovered I was the rider, and that I had been riding for two years.”
At 16 Toups earned his apprentice license and began riding at Evangeline Downs. After three weeks Romero visited and encouraged Toups to move his tack to Kentucky. Toups, with Romero as his agent, became the leading apprentice at Churchill Downs, and fifth in the overall standings, at the fall, 2005, meet.
Toups and Romero then went to New York for the winter Aqueduct meet where Toups suffered an injury and returned to Louisiana. In the spring of 2006 he was fourth in the standings at Churchill. From Churchill Toups followed the Kentucky circuit, then went to the Fair Grounds and Oak Lawn, and now is here at Hawthorne.
Some observers say Toups reminds them of Romero when the latter was riding. “That could be because I watched a lot of video of my cousin’s races,” offered Toups. “That would only be natural, since I knew we were related, and I knew how successful he was.”
Toups has made a determined effort to learn from the best. “Randy’s dad, Lloyd Romero, coached me very early in my career. Randy coached me using videos of my races, and coached me on the Equicizer (a mechanical horse simulator). During the spring, 2006, Churchill meet I lived with Mark Guidry, and he was most helpful to me, teaching me additional techniques. Also, Calvin Borel took me under his wing and coached me.”
Some things come full circle. Toup’s agent is now another cousin, and another Randy, Randy Romero II.