EDMONTON, Alberta – Champion jockey Rico Walcott said he feared he would never ride again, after undergoing brain surgery to remove a tumor last April.
A month prior, he suffered four seizures in the space of an hour and had to be rushed to hospital, where scans revealed a golf ball-sized growth in the front left side of his brain.
Only last October, Walcott had wrapped up an unprecedented eighth consecutive title at Northlands Park and with the 118-year-old facility closing its doors, was already eyeing domination of the new Century Mile racetrack which opened in April.
However, he was ruled out of the start of the season as he recovered from surgery and underwent further medical attention, and only rode his first horse last week when he finished sixth aboard For Cash.
Last Saturday, he rode his first winner with favourite Shanghai Mike and on Sunday doubled up with wins aboard Got My Mo and Timely Prize.
“I was pretty worried,” the 29-year-old told the Edmonton Sun. “I’ve never done anything else since I left high school.”
One of his major concerns even if he managed to ride again was weight gain, resulting from prescription steroids.
And while he is yet to return to his usual racing weight, he said much of the weight had come off quickly once the medication had been discontinued.
“When I was on the steroids I wasn’t really eating anything but I just kept getting heavier and heavier. I was really worried about getting heavier and that it wasn’t going to come back off,” the Barbadian explained.
“When I was cleared to go back to work and the doctor took me off the steroids, then the weight just started dropping off like crazy without me doing anything. I was just riding my bicycle and a little bit of stuff like that.
“Now, while I still have six pounds to go, I don’t want to push it too hard.”
In his time at Northlands, Walcott became the face of Edmonton racing, riding nearly 1300 winners and earning CAN$17.2 million in an astonishing domination of the five-eighth mile track.
He also won the Canadian Derby five times in 2010, 2013, 2017 and 2018, and was nominated for Canada’s prestigious Sovereign Award in 2014.
With his medical challenges now behind him, the hurdle before him is to get adjusted to the new facility at Century and create history there.
“I rode on a mile track before but just for a few races. This track has a much longer stretch. You can’t pull the trigger too early,” he pointed out.
“I used to live over by Northlands and ride my bike to the track. But the track is nice. It looks nice now with the grass growing on the infield. It’ll work out. It’s pretty cool with what’s going on with this new track.”