Ben Curtis bringing a world of experience to Colonial Downs

The quest for new challenges has taken the Irish-born jockey Ben Curtis all over the world. Now it’s brought him to Colonial Downs.

“I’m always in the shop window for a new challenge,” says Curtis, who names England, Germany, France, South Korea, Dubai and Australia among the countries where challenges have taken him. 

Considering that Curtis visited Lake Ouachita in Arkansas often as a kid and that his father was born in America, the reach for the United States was inevitable.

“America was always on the radar,” remarks Curtis. 

After only a couple of sporadic starts in visits to the United States, one at Gulfstream Park in 2012 and another at Belmont Park in the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup in 2019, Curtis hung his tack at the Fairgrounds in November of 2023 to do something familiar to him: start over.

“Obviously a new face, new guy around the place, it took a while,” admits Curtis. “If you’re doing well somewhere, the stage is yours, but when you go somewhere else, you have to work get back on stage, to show them what you got and then they might let you take over the stage for a while.”

Curtis has found that stage before in Ireland and England, where he put together top seasons.

“I rode a lot of winners, rode for a lot of very good trainers and made a lot of friends,” he says. “I got to the stage where I felt like I needed a new challenge. Something to reignite and relight the spark.”

At the Fairgrounds, Curtis learned more of Colonial Downs from trainer Michael Stidham, for whom he rode frequently.

“I ride a lot for the Stidham barn, who notoriously do very well during this meet,” Curtis says. “They’ve always had a great strike rate there and record. It’s a meet that they really target. It was on our radar since we were at The Fairgrounds.”

American racing wasn’t exactly foreign to Curtis, who got introduced to the States while working horses at Palm Meadows for trainers Todd Pletcher and Eddie Kenneally. It was Kenneally, who had Brandon Walsh and Tom Morley as assistants at the time, who gave Curtis his only start in the United States in 2012, seven years before he made his second at Belmont Park.

“I spent a few years at Palm Meadows when I was 19 or 20,” recalls Curtis. “There was no racing in Ireland at the time. They didn’t have all weather yet. It hadn’t started at that stage. Myself and a friend decided we didn’t want to sit on our asses for the winter and do nothing. We’d be better off doing the life experience stuff.”

At Palm Meadows Curtis saw a different style of racing than he had learn in Europe. 

Ben Curits piloted Desvio to a win in the Kent Stakes. Photo by

“It was a brilliant place to be able to come and learn: one, how to breeze horses and two, how American trainers work,” he points out.

Years later that experience at Palm Meadows proved valuable to Curtis when he did commit to racing in America.

“I didn’t come here with my eyes closed,” Curtis says.  “I came here with them very much open. Whenever I set a goal, I like to set the bar high. I said if I’m going to go in for a penny, in for a pound. My first goal was to ride a winner in American and take that off the list. It’s all about trying to fit in and make it work in the environment you’re in.”

After some sixteen years of racing or so, the challenge for Curtis was to unlearn some methods while learning a few others.

“It’s like playing golf,” the rider says. “You’re playing golf for 16 years and someone comes along and says you’re swinging wrong. If you change your swing too much, you’re going to end up in the trees every time.” 

Ironically, Ben Curtis, the American golfer from Ohio, won the British Open in 2003 before retiring from professional golf in 2018.

From being the new guy at the Fairgrounds, Curtis built his riding resume in half a year to become a Kentucky Derby riding jockey when trainer Whit Beckman chose to keep him aboard Honor Marie after finishing second in the Louisiana Derby, improving from a fifth-place finish in the Risen Star stakes. Curtis was once again challenging for the highest level of racing in a different country.

The late-running Honor Marie rallied from last to finish eighth in the Kentucky Derby.

“It’s a fantastic day of racing,” recollects Curtis. “The show they put on there is unbelievable. No stone unturned: What you expect when you go to the big stage. Like Royal Ascot, the best of the best show up.”

 Shortly after the Kentucky Derby during morning training hours at Delaware Park on May 18, Curtis broke his collarbone in an incident in the starting gate. The rehab took over a month.

“There always hard to come back from in the sense that you are going to have to put a lot of work in. If you’re sitting there and expect for things to heal themselves and you’re going walk back and be fit and ready to go, you’re just lying to yourself.”

After resting for a week, Curtis went from walking then to biking and then to swimming and eventually did all three daily as part of his rehabilitation routine.

“The swimming pool is really for shoulders, the collar bone and even the legs,” notes Curtis. “It’s so good to use, non-weight bearing, it’s one of the best things to get you fit. I’m old enough to know when my body is right and what it’s able to take.”

Curtis had his first mount back on June 29 at Delaware. His first win came July 8 at Delaware, and it couldn’t have been more timely. He piloted Desvio, trained by Madison Meyers, to a rallying win in the $150,000 Kent Stakes.

It appears Curtis will be busy at Colonial. He is named on 15 horses over opening weekend, including six on Thursday’s opening day. With luck and hard work, Curtis comes into the Colonial meet with a simple goal.

“To win everything,” Curtis says. “It’s about putting your horse in the right place and getting them to finish first at the wire. That doesn’t change in any country.”