For Immediate Release, April 27, 2017
Steve Anderson's Article - Dennis Collins
Recently, I wasn't into a phone-interview more than 15 seconds with jockey Dennis Collins when he started asking me all the questions.
That's just the kind of guy he was, and still is, with that "Jersey accent" fully intact.
"Remember that Bosselman race I almost won with Rub? It was 2002, I think? Kelly Von Hemel said he had a 3-year-old that might not be much but he needed a rider and Rub was mine if I wanted on," said Collins. "I told him I don't care if it's a $2500 claimer, I ride them all the same-to win."
Rub went off at 30-1 odds that day and finished third, beaten only a head and a neck by Miner's Prize and Fight For Ally. That was the closest Collins ever came to winning Nebraska's premier event during his 15-year-stay on the local thoroughbred racing circuit, beginning in 1993 and running thru 2007.
In fact, Collins says that in the shadow-of-the-wire he actually had the lead.
The inquiry session continued.
"Did you know I was coming up to Fonner this weekend when I heard you were helping out with the PDJP (Permanently Disable Jockey's Fund)? I'd a been there too if my insurance company would have given me the right remote controls so I could comfortably drive my car," added Collins.
No, I didn't know that, but it was the purpose of the call.
It's been seven months since the 54-year-old race-rider went down in a spill that occurred at The Downs in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Four surgeries later, and confined to a wheelchair from being paralyzed from the waist down, Dennis Collins has been given a 15 per cent chance of ever walking again.
"It could have been worse," proclaimed Collins. "I could have been dead. God spared me my life."
"It's strange, isn't it? My son, Cage, (11-years-old) broke his neck three weeks earlier on a trampoline in St. Paul, Ne."
Cage and his sister, Adriannah (13), live with their mother up in Howard County.
The elder Collins has suffered three broken backs in a career that's evolved over three decades.
His resume includes 15,504 mounts that resulted in 2287 wins.
"I know I will never get on the back of another horse again, despite what everybody else says-even if I can get out of this chair. And, I'm not giving up on that either," warned Collins. "I've been on a horse's back for almost 45 years, and they've been beating me up ever since."
It's time to move on.
Collins considers himself an assistant trainer now; working for his fiance, Heather Johnson-Brock, down in Phoenix, Az. at Turf Paradise.
"If it wasn't for her support, and the aide received from PDJF, I know I'd be stuck in a home somewhere," predicted Collins.
"Heather comes from California. Her dad, Ray Johnson, was a successful agent out there and also trained horses."
"What's also odd," continued Collins, "is that I was always on the giving-end-of-things when stuff like this happened. Now, I'm the one receiving and it's a very humbling experience."
Several Turf Paradise jockeys, including Scott Stevens and Jake Barton, presented Collins with a brand new golf cart so he could easily make his way around the race track.
"Other disabled riders have reached out to me for support," said Collins, "including Ron Turcotte, who rode Secretariat. We talked for an hour and a half."
"I think that's why I'm doing okay. I don't worry about anything. I'm not going to be one of those whiners who sit back in a corner and cuss 'woe is me'."
Prior to this conversation, it'd been ten years since I'd sat down and chatted with Dennis. He'd just won the jockey title with 63 wins at Fonner Park (2007) and was set up to have a dominating three-day meet at Horsemen's Park in Omaha.
There wasn't a hotter rider in all of North American racing over a three-week period, and I told him that during a paddock interview.
Collins face went blank, and then he cupped his head in his hands.
He was irritated when he blurted out, "Why did you say that. Please. No!"
Needless to say, the New Jersey-native never won a race that weekend.
"And I still blame you for that, still to this day," laughed Collins.
That's why he asks most of the questions.