Interview: Craig Perret selected for Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
Elite Jockey Adds Another Honor to Extensive Résumé
NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans jockey Craig Perret, the winner of 4,415 races, including the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, is the second jockey to be selected for the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame.
Each year’s Hall of Fame class is selected by the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee, a group of current and former media members who annually recognize a variety of award-winners, including the Hall of Fame, the Corbett Awards and the Eddie Robinson Award. The group also selects the Greater New Orleans Amateur Athlete of the Month each month.
Overall, 24 individuals and four teams are being honored this year for their achievements. Honorees are being announced over a period of 24 days, wrapping up with the Corbett Awards for the top male and female amateur athletes in the state on June 10 and 11.
Outstanding Girls’ Prep Coach of the Year, New Orleans: Lakenya Reed, Booker T. Washington Basketball
Outstanding Boys’ Prep Coach of the Year, New Orleans: Nick Monica, Archbishop Rummel Football
Outstanding Female Amateur Athlete, New Orleans: Angela Charles-Alfred, Xavier University Tennis
Outstanding Male Amateur Athlete, New Orleans: Ja’Marr Chase, LSU Football
Outstanding Boys’ Prep Team, New Orleans: St. James High School Football
Outstanding Girls’ Prep Team, New Orleans: Metairie Park Country Day School Volleyball
Outstanding Collegiate Coach, Louisiana: Ed Orgeron, LSU Football
Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2020 Inductee: Perry Clark, Tulane Basketball
Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2020 Inductee: Tim Floyd, UNO Basketball
Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2020 Inductee: Rick Jones, Tulane Baseball
Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2020 Inductee: Craig Perret, Horse Racing
Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2020 Inductee: June 8 (Monday)
Jimmy Collins Special Awards: June 9 (Tuesday)
Eddie Robinson Award: June 10 (Wednesday)
Corbett Award – Female: June 11 (Thursday)
Corbett Award – Male: June 12 (Friday)
Story by Rod Walker of the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee.
Craig Perret knew it by the time he was 5-years old.
All those days of waking up at 4:30 in the morning and heading to the barn with his dad and walking and feeding the horses instilled the passion in him at an early age.
Yeah, he dabbled around with a little football and baseball as a kid and was pretty good at those sports too.
“But I knew the love was horses,” Perret said. “There was no question about that. Even today, if I could choose any career it would be going in a barn with horses. I didn’t mind sleeping in a stall. It was all beautiful. It was my passion. That’s what I was good at.”
Indeed he was.
His success as a jockey took him from the starting gate – his childhood home in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans – to the finish line at the most prestigious races in horse racing.
It’s why Perret, 69, will be inducted into the Allstate Sugar Bowl’s Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in the 2020 class.
“When you’re getting inducted with people from other sports professions, it’s special,” Perret said. “I’ll be the only little, bitty short guy up there. I’ll be looking up to them and saying “damn, how did they stack me up with them. But this is special because New Orleans is home.”
The 5-foot-1 Perret won 4,415 races in a career that lasted from 1967-2005. Included in those victories were wins at the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. He calls Kentucky home now. But he still has family in New Orleans where his horse racing journey began.
He was riding quarter horses at the age of 7. He’d compete at picnics every Sunday in what they called match races, just one-on-one horse races in an open field.
“Everybody would be just sitting around watching and eating crawfish and drinking beer and having a good time,” Perret said.
But he didn’t get to start racing in actual races on the track until he was 16.
“I was ready to ride and could handle a horse real good at 14 years old,” Perret said. “So I was biding time and just waiting.”
And once he rode in his first race?
“It felt like a dream,” Perret said. “It was something I couldn’t even comprehend. It just felt like I was floating on air.”
But that wasn’t the best feeling he’s had on a track. The best, he admits, is whenever he got a chance to race at Churchill Downs.
“The Kentucky Derby will always be the one,” Perret said. “I don’t care if you win 28 million races. When you win the Derby, it’s different. You’re on the highest stage you’ll ever be on. But it’s not just about winning. It’s everything. When they play ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ and you see the 130,000 fans, there’s nothing like it. Ain’t nothing like it.”
Perret won the Kentucky Derby in 1990 riding Unbridled.
“As soon as I hit the wire, my mind just went so many different ways,” Perret said. “The first person I thought about was my grandmother. I said, ‘I hope you stayed alive to see it.’ She was sick, but she got to see it. When you win that race, you don’t think about what you did. You think about all the joy you brought people. It’s hard to explain.”
Three years before that, he rode Bet Twice to win the Belmont Stakes, denying Alysheba’s bid at winning the Triple Crown. Bet Twice had barely lost to Alysheba in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
“When we got to Belmont we decided to change things around and we executed and it looked brilliant,” Perret said.
He also won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (1984, 1990), Travers Stakes and Queen’s Plate in Canada twice.
While he is quick to give credit to everyone he worked with over the years, it’s his father who he credits most. George Perret, an ex-boxer, is who sparked the interest.
“He was my rock,” Perret said. “He was my dad. But he was my buddy.”
Perret is just the second jockey to be inducted into the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame. Ray Broussard, inducted in 1983, is the other. Jack Defee, who served as chairman of the Louisiana State Racing Commission and president of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, is the only other person in the Hall of Fame affiliated with horse racing. This will be the latest Hall of Fame for Perret, also a member of the Fair Grounds Racing Hall of Fame (1994), Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame (2006) and the National Museum of Racing (2019).
Perret remains humble about his latest accolade.
“I say God just gave me wings and He got angels around me,” Perret said. “Was I that good? Hell no. It takes years to get to that. But I had the trust of the people I dealt with. There are a lot of guys it didn’t happen for and they were good but they just didn’t get the same opportunities I did. Do I pinch myself? No, I just think I was very blessed. You don’t plan it. You just work and you work and you work and it takes you there. The Derby is the goal. The rest of this is like a little whipped cream on the side. The cherry and all.”
The Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee began in 1957 when James Collins spearheaded a group of sports journalists to form a sports awards committee to immortalize local sports history. For 13 years, the committee honored local athletes each month. In 1970, the Sugar Bowl stepped in to sponsor and revitalize the committee, leading to the creation of the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 1971, honoring 10 legends from the Crescent City in its first induction class. While adding the responsibility of selecting Hall of Famers, the committee has continued to recognize the top amateur athlete in the Greater New Orleans area each month – the honors enter their 64th year in 2020. To be eligible, an athlete must be a native of the greater New Orleans area or must compete for a team in the metropolitan region.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl has established itself as one of the premier college football bowl games, having hosted 28 national champions, 96 Hall of Fame players, 50 Hall of Fame coaches and 18 Heisman Trophy winners in its 86-year history. The 87th Allstate Sugar Bowl Football Classic, which will double as a College Football Playoff Semifinal, is scheduled to be played on January 1, 2021. In addition to football, the Sugar Bowl Committee annually invests over $1.6 million into the community through the hosting and sponsorship of sporting events, awards and clinics. Through these efforts, the organization supports and honors over 100,000 student-athletes each year, while injecting over $2.7 billion into the local economy in the last decade. For more information, visit www.AllstateSugarBowl.org.
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