Rachael Aydt (writer),
John Dole (photographer)
It was 2004 and Alex Solis, a 5´3´´, 112-pound, world-famous Panama-born jockey with a track record running over two decades, had just fallen off of a chocolate-colored 4-year-old mare named Golden K K during a race at Del Mar, in southern California. He left the track in unbelievable pain; he’d broken three ribs and a vertebra and punctured a lung. During his recovery, there were some nights when he wasn’t sure he’d pull through it physically or emotionally intact.
Horse racing is one of the world’s most dangerous sports, and more than two jockeys die every year in North America. Solis, 45 years old and a father of four, is the first to tell you that he’s lucky to be alive. Fast-forward to today and his full recovery has him back in the saddle. Only this time around, he carries an elaborate tattoo on his back, given to him in Hollywood by his friend Louie Gomez: an ornate crucifix encircled with roses and a yin-yang symbol at the center.
“After my injury, a friend brought me back an Italian rosary from Florence, which is where I got the idea for the tattoo. It meant so much to me. I wanted to symbolize how grateful I am for my full, 100 percent recovery,” Solis says. “The yin-yang symbol represents the flow of life, and what’s really important. For me it’s my family and my friends above all else.” His rosary has been confused with the roses often spotted in the winner’s circle. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the roses you get as a jockey in the winner’s circle,” says Solis, though the iconic horseshoe ring of flowers bears an uncanny resemblance to his tattoo (all this to say nothing of his own trips to the winner’s circle). Recently, Solis expanded his tattoo set to include a Polynesian warrior signifying bravery and friendship on his right biceps, and he plans to add a few more.
Next up is a side business of a wine label he’s created with fellow jockey Mike Smith, and surely a spot in the Hall of Fame. Hopefully a win at the Kentucky Derby is also be on the horizon. Solis has come in second place three times in the Derby and won the Dubai World Cup in 2004. He’s also busy as one of the stars of Jockeys, the reality show on Animal Planet that goes behind the scenes to follow a group of jockeys into the intense world of horse racing. Obviously, life is good, as Solis’s tattoo attests: “[My tattoo] is about life. Life is beautiful. A lot of great things happen.”