Mark Guidry is ready to return to the saddle.
Really, really ready.
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"I'm really nervous and I never thought I would be," the two-time Arlington Park riding champion said Friday, before participating in a special jockey legends race and then returning for good aboard a mount in a stakes race later in the card. "I'm grateful that I am because that means something's bubbling up inside.
"I get emotional about it. There are a lot of things going through my mind."
Like, can a 52-year-old who hasn't ridden competitively for 4 years find the same magic that propelled him to more than 5,000 career victories?
"I've been riding 10 or 11 horses a day for the last two-and-a-half months, but there's still a question mark on the fitness," Guidry said. "I'm sure there's a lot of rust I have to shake off, but I feel the old competitiveness coming back and just hope I can pick up where I left off."
A couple of his former riding mates on the Chicago thoroughbred circuit believe he can … and will.
"He's only 52, and that's young enough; I rode until I was 60," said Earlie Fires, now 64. "He could do it easy.
"Mark's actually a great rider. He lets a horse be where it wants to be. If you're trying to put horses in where they don't want to be and then keep them going -- that's a hard job. Mark has always ridden that way so I don't think it will be hard for him to come back."
Ray Sibille, who like Guidry hopped out of the saddle to become a trainer, looks forward to seeing his old pal back on track.
"The only difference between him and me is that I would've kept riding," Sibille said. "My hip forced me out. But I knew what it was like on the other side."
Guidry soon found out.
"It gave me a whole different outlook in the game," said Guidry, recipient of the George Woolf award in 2006 for his humanitarian work following Hurricane Katrina. "I was so used to coming back from a race and saying to the trainer, 'sorry about our luck, we'll get em' next time.' As a trainer there is no next time.
"Hopefully this time around I can have a little more compassion for the trainers and the owners instead of maybe taking it for granted, turning the page and running straight for the next horse."
On Saturday, Guidry begins riding regularly at Ellis Park in Kentucky. And if all goes to plan, that would be followed by stops at Keeneland, Churchill Downs and then ... perhaps Arlington again?
"I would love to next year," he said. "I'm hoping and praying they get everything right here in Chicago -- that would definitely entice people to come back here. And I don't want that to be a negative thing at all because I love Chicago. The good Lord himself comes to Chicago in the summertime. I'm really looking forward to it."
For now, his legion of fans here had to settle for his return to racing Friday at Arlington.
"To be able to have my comeback at Arlington Park, where Chicago racing has been so good to me in my career, I think it's a real good fit," he said.
As would an eventual induction in the National Thoroughbred Hall of Fame when his career comes to an end.
"I wish I could just get a Breeders' Cup race or a Triple Crown race and throw that on my resume," he said. "I'm hoping to get in the Hall of Fame one day. I'm not going to beat around the bush.
So, hopefully, and if not … I tried."