It started out like any other morning, just like hundreds that Jesse Ray Godinez had experienced before as a talented gallop boy in Quarter Horse racing. It wouldn't end that way. Helping out a trainer with a filly that needed some practice in the starting gate, Godinez sat in the saddle as she went into the gate.
"It was a freak accident," said Godinez, who now trains Quarter Horses at Los Alamitos. "You know how they walk horses out through the front of the gate? That's where it happened. She stood in the gate and as they were walking her out she started to sky leap. She went up so high that she lost her back footing. I started to slide off of her and I knew right there that she was going to fall on me. When I landed I had a split second to think 'she's going to come down on me.' After she landed on me I was rolling in the dirt in pain. They had to grab a hold of me because I was hurting so much. It was pain like I had never felt in my life."
The freak accident on July of 2003 left Godinez with seven broken vertebrae. "I still have to take five pain pills," he said. "I came out with diabetes and I have to take insulin shots. It's a daily process you know - it's a reminder of what happened to me five years ago."
Yet, Godinez, who fortunately did not suffer any paralysis as a result of the accident, now tends to a compact stable of 8 or so horses at Los Alamitos. And he says, without hesitation, that if he could, he wouldn't change anything about his life. "I tell my wife Linda that I have no regrets, none, zero," Godinez says. "I believe that I've learned a lot about myself because of what happened and that if we continue to work hard that there will be something good waiting for us."
Godinez believes that many good things have already happened to him and his family since that painful morning. The names of Monty and Elsie Reynolds rank high on that list.
"Monty worked as a butcher for a supermarket," Godinez began. "We got to know him after my accident and we eventually ended up renting a duplex from him. We often talked about horses and he would always mentioned how he would be interested one day on claiming a horse. One night we were talking about claiming Bedazzled Thought and he again mentioned that he would like to own horses. I told him, well if you want, bring your half and we'll go partners on this horse. Sure enough he showed up with his money and we got a horse.
"Now he and his wife have become more than business partners to us. They've become like parent figures and they're even involved in Los Alamitos chaplaincy. If it hadn't been for my accident, we would have probably never met them. We've been blessed to know them."
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.
"I'm 43 now and my years involved in the Quarter Horse industry have always been very exciting. I remember seeing people like Blane Schvaneveldt and Bob Baffert for the first time when I came to Los Alamitos. To me, they were like movie stars. In the meantime, I was lucky enough to break outstanding horses like (former track record holder) Takin On The Cash. I galloped Higheasterjet before Willie Shoemaker rode him in a race at Los Alamitos. I also galloped horses like Artesia, Special Elaine, and Dash To Fame. I even galloped Refrigerator."
"I had the fortune, and maybe misfortune at the same time, of riding at a time when Los Alamitos had one of its best jockey colonies of all-time," Godinez said. "The best of the best were in that room, people like James Lackey, Bruce Pilkenton, Kip Didericksen, Henry Garcia and many other great riders."
In the midst of such furious competition, Godinez still found a way to enjoy one magical night on the saddle. Aboard Two Rock Ranch's Newmont, Godinez piloted the 45-1 longshot for trainer Tom Bazley to victory in the 1990 Los Alamitos Derby. "The first and third fastest qualifiers in that race were trained by Bob Baffert. 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 highlights of my career as a jockey."
Godinez and his wife, Linda, are now working hard to build a consistently winning stable at Los Alamitos. The couple is confident that they are moving in the right direction. "Linda is my left and right hand in the barn," he said. "She's been great, specially in the last few years during the recovery from my back injury. She's my best friend and we don't act like one of us is better than the other. We have a lot of horsemanship in between us. She's great with horses. She showed horses and was involved in the riding arena in English and Western classes for several years before she got her training license in 1993."
As trainers, Jesse and Linda's brightest moment came on AQHA Challenge Night when Hazels Last Pie upset the applecart to win the $75,000 Professional's Choice Claiming Stakes. "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 explained. "He hurt is knee so we turned him out in Madera but every time that one of his brothers of sisters ran I would look at them. When Hazels Last Pie became available we took a chance. We didn't even know that she was in the Challenge until we got papers mailed to us from the AQHA. We still keep Hazels Last Pie, in fact, she's carrying a baby right now by Count Corona. It'll be her first baby and she's due in March."
And what about the end of that rainbow?
"What do I think is waiting there for us?" Godinez said. "I'd like to think that we'll get a nice 2-year-old, one that will qualify to a couple of futurities and help us earn a little bit of notice. Horses are all we know, plus we'll always have three important things: belief, faith, and hope. We'll never lose that. It's a blessing to look back now and see where we are today."