Going the Distance with Jockey Donell Blake

By Martha Claussen

Donell Blake (Photo by Coady Photography)
Donell Blake (Photo by Coady Photography)

Quarter Horse jockey Donell Blake is getting a reputation! The 24-year-old rider, who divides his time between Texas and Louisiana, is one of the best 870-yard Quarter Horse jockeys in the region.

Not all Quarter Horse riders excel around the “hook”. Many are trained to ride the straight distances ranging from 220 – 550 yards. But Blake got his start by galloping Thoroughbreds as a teenager. He learned the basics from horseman Garland Godfrey and has race experience on both breeds.

Blake regards G.R. Carter and Charles “Dink” McMahon as his Quarter Horse role models, and learned from Marlon St. Julien on the Thoroughbred side. McMahon’s son, C.J., is a rising star in Thoroughbred circles, and is the current leading jockey at Remington Park. Since getting his license in 2009, Blake has won 253 races and 10 stakes. Nine of the 10 stakes were 870-yard features, so fans who are familiar with the young rider know that no matter which post he draws, his prowess in the saddle gives his mount an edge.

One of his first distance stakes winners was Doug Traylor’s Rocky Mountain Fly, a gelded son of Panther Mountain who won the 2013 Live Oak Stakes at Delta Downs and followed that with a victory in the Faubourg St John Stakes at Fair Grounds. Top Louisiana conditioner Kenneth Roberts Sr. gave Blake the mount after noting his talent working horses in the morning.

“I have known him since he was a kid,” said Roberts. “He’s got his head on straight and has a natural ability to judge his horses. To ride the hook, you’ve got to have the “clock” in your head and Donell has that. He’s definitely one of the best 870 riders we have.”

Blake on stakes winner EC Cartel (Photo by Dustin Orona Photography)
Blake on stakes winner EC Cartel (Photo by Dustin Orona Photography)

On October 1, he won the $20,000 AQHA Distance Challenge at Lone Star Park aboard Ec Cartel for trainer Judd Kearl. It was an eventful race, with Jessa Little Rusty losing his rider, and Blake having to overcome a wide trip from post position six.

“I was sitting in a decent spot, but there was a loose horse on the rail and two of the outside horses coming in on me,” said Blake. “I was forced to check, but then a hole opened and I really had to get to riding.”

And that he did, rallying down the lane, surging past post-time favorite Fire On the Fly to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

“That was quite a ride,” admitted Kearl. “Donell is one of the best distance riders in the country in my opinion.”

Blake is humble and honest in admitting that he is still learning his craft. As much as the 870 stakes wins have meant to his career, he enjoys riding the shorter distances in Quarter Horse races and hopes for more opportunities.

Born in Houston, Blake married Keevara Jamerson earlier this year and they make their home in Shreveport, Louisiana.

“I’m not in a hurry,” Blake explained. “But winning three Challenge stakes this year has meant a lot to me. I am hoping I will be able to ride Fire On The Fly at Los Alamitos (on October 29).”