Former Los Al Rider Jesse Godinez Dies

Jockey won the 1990 Los Alamitos Derby and excercised some of the sport's top runners.

News Release

Godinez worked with many of the top horses at Los Alamitos, including Refrigerator. (Photo by Scott Martinez)

Jesse Godinez, who piloted the Tom Bazley-trained Newmont to victory in the 1990 Los Alamitos Derby, passed away on Saturday morning. Jesse’s riding career was cut short due to a serious back injury in 2003, but he would go on to train American Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds at Los Alamitos and on the Northern California fair circuit for several years. Jesse trained 48 Quarter Horse winners at Los Alamitos and before that he served as assistant trainer to his wife Linda, who saddled 25 Quarter Horse winners at Los Alamitos. Godinez also rode 31 Quarter Horse winners at the Orange County oval.

“Today has been one of the saddest days...,” posted Jesse’s wife on her Facebook page. “We lost a dear husband, father, brother, son, uncle even a grandfather and a friend… Jesse Godinez this morning. (He) was a hard worker no matter how sick he was or how much pain he was in he still fought through, and touched all of our lives. He is so missed and loved by many. He is with the (Lord) now as our Angel above. We will be having a service here in Tucson, AZ this week.”

Godinez attended Central High School near Madera, California, where he was a classmate of former Los Alamitos Arabian trainer Garland McAlester. After school, Godinez began galloping an Arabian owned by his friend and that experience would later turn into a job breaking horses at a nearby training center. In 1984, Godinez began working with trainer Russell Harris in Lake Elsinore. He would start riding in the bush circuit in central California and would later move to Elko, Nevada, where he would ride in his first Quarter Horse pari-mutuel race aboard a horse trained by Lin Melton. Godinez then moved his tack to Los Alamitos, where he would exercise standout sprinters on a regular basis.

Godinez was part of one of the best riding colonies in the history of Los Alamitos Race Course that included top names like James Lackey, Bruce Pilkenton, Kip Didericksen, Henry Garcia, Danny Cardoza, Steve Treasure and more. Trusted by trainers for his ability to work with horses, Godinez helped with the early training of former track record holder Takin On The Cash. He galloped the millionaire Higheasterjet before Willie Shoemaker rode him in a race at Los Alamitos. He galloped three-time Champion of Champions winner Refrigerator and also exercised top names like Artesia, Special Elaine and Dash To Fame.

His brightest moment as a jockey came aboard Two Rock Ranch's Newmont, as Godinez piloted the 45-1 longshot to a hard-fought win in the 1990 Los Alamitos Derby.

"The first and third fastest qualifiers in that race were trained by Bob Baffert,” Jesse recalled in an interview back in 2008. “I got to compete against some of the great jockeys of all time and I always felt that I was a competitive jockey even when I was riding 99-1 longshots. To have the opportunity to win a race like the Los Alamitos Derby, that's the biggest highlight of my career as a jockey."

Godinez’s riding career ended in July 2003 when he was involved in a training accident in the starting gate. While doing gate work with a young horse, Godinez was abruptly unseated from his mount when the horse suddenly reared back, lost footing and landed on him. The freak accident left him with seven broken vertebrae. Godinez did not suffer any paralysis as a result of the accident.

As trainers, Jesse and Linda's brightest moment came on Challenge Championships Night when Monty and Elsie Reynolds’ Hazels Last Pie upset the applecart to win the $75,000 Professional's Choice Claiming Challenge Championship in 2005.

"We claimed her and the only reason we knew about her is because we had claimed her older brother for $2,500 many years before she came along," he once said.

More information on his services will be posted as it become available.

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