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Riding Tall…Without Bravado
To describe Tanner Riggs as quiet and unassuming would be a lot like referring to Michael Jordan as an excellent basketball player with very large hands; you can lose something in the translation.
Certainly, Tanner goes about his business in a very professional, business-like manner, returning to the winners circle time and time again with that “act like I’ve been there” demeanor. But a competitive fire does indeed burn in the 20-year-old native of Mitchell, South Dakota, only he likes to keep it, how shall we say it…low key?
“I’m very competitive. When it comes down to it, and I’m out on the track, believe me the adrenaline’s flowing,” said Riggs a few hours prior to Thursday’s races. “I come from a small school where I was a little runt and had to work hard at all sports, including basketball and football. I just keep most of my desire on the inside.”
Tanner began riding professionally in 2005, riding his first winner that summer at Nebraska’s Columbus Race Track. He rode somewhat sparingly over the next two years, riding weekends at Fonner Park while finishing his high school education.
Trying to find his place in the competitive world of horse racing, Tanner found himself moving his tack between Nebraska and Minnesota in 2006. It was at Canterbury, in Minnesota, summer 2007 where the tallish Mr. Riggs (listed at 5’ 8”) began to find some success.
“I was starting to pick up some business at Canterbury, and the horses I was named on were running well, but I broke my collarbone early July in a freak off-day accident. I raced for a month after I returned from the injury and then went to Hawthorne.”
With the help of agent Randy “Curly” Curran, Tanner burst upon the Hawthorne scene, winning an amazing 61 races in the fall meet. That total placed him third overall in the jockey standings and put Tanner on the Chicago thoroughbred-map, hopefully for years to come.
“I don’t know how Curly did it,” said Riggs. “I mean he showed me the ropes and has been my major influence the last few years. I still have no idea how he found me 61 winners, but he sure has helped me come a long way in a short time.”
Tanner has proven his successful fall of ’07 was no fluke by returning to Hawthorne in the spring of 2008 to finish fourth in the jockey standings and second in overall earnings. In the summer, Tanner rode 31 winners at Arlington, up a bit from the zero he rode a year earlier. But as the case in most fledgling careers, the arrow doesn’t always point North.
“In September at Arlington I was on a roll. I think I won three races on the same day twice, and my confidence was very high so I was thinking going into the fall meet at Hawthorne I would be very high in the standings. It didn’t quite pan out that way.”
Tanner won 32 races last fall, not a shabby number, but nothing like his breakthrough performance the year before. He attributes the fewer winners to a multitude of reasons, but he points no fingers and understands the highs and lows of a difficult profession.
“The toughest part for me having grown up in South Dakota, is I don’t get to go home every night go on the farm, saddle a horse and go out riding down the road. Here you’re kind of stuck in the city and your living style has to change quite a bit. But I’m getting used to it because I love riding horses.”
How long Tanner continues to ride horses may be determined by how well he maintains his weight. Every jockey battles this issue, but when you’re a little tall for your job, it can become a pressing issue.
“I struggled with the weight the last couple of years, but I’m doing really well right now, and I’ve seen tall jockeys like Perry Compton, Glen Murphy and Shawn Parker do it, so I think, why can’t I?”
No reason at all.