JC / Railbird

Jockeys

A Jock’s World

Really nice photo essay by Bill Frakes on ESPN about Brian Hernandez, Jr., who rode McCraken to eighth in the Kentucky Derby.

Back to the Downs

The field coming around the clubhouse turn on the Suffolk Downs turf course
Rounding the clubhouse turn in race eight on Saturday.

It was a weekend of familiar names and familiar faces (and a familiar voice in the announcer’s booth), but you couldn’t call the first two days of racing this year at Suffolk Downs dull — not with three state-bred stakes and a bridge jumper and a horse running off (just to start).

“It feels so good to be back and see how excited the fans are. After all, no matter where you go, your roots are your roots,” Tammi Piermarini told the Daily Item. The jockey was at Suffolk with a broken nose — which she told the Boston Globe she set herself after an accident at Finger Lakes — this weekend.

Piermarini began Saturday well, with a 15 3/4 length win aboard 1-9 favorite Dr. Blarney in the day’s first flat race, the African Prince Stakes for Mass-breds. The track’s four-time leading rider got her second win of the weekend in Sunday’s fourth race with Cotton Pickin. Later that afternoon, she rode Miss Wilby in the Isadorable Stakes. More than $30,000 in a $34,000 show pool was wagered on the 4-year-old filly, a winner of three state-bred stakes at Suffolk in 2015 and a stakes winner at Gulfstream earlier this year. She and Piermarini finished fourth, triggering show payouts of $8.80 on back-to-back Isadorable winner Navy Nurse, $21.20 on runner-up Chasing Blue, and a whopping $84.20 on third-place finisher Lucky Sociano.

Sunday’s other Mass-bred stakes, the Rise Jim, went to Silk Spinner, who rushed up late to catch 2015 Rise Jim winner Worth the Worry by a neck. The finish wasn’t all that was dramatic about the race — rider Dyn Panell’s mount Im Kwik was a late scratch after the 6-year-old gelding ran off in the post parade, circling the track twice before tiring. “Pull the chute,” someone in the crowd shouted at the jockey as he tried to pull up his speeding horse.

The jockey who had the best weekend was Pedro Cotto, winner of five races, including Saturday’s feature, the Jill Jellison Memorial Dash. Forest Funds, entered off a second in a stakes at Monmouth Park last month, opened up in the stretch to win the turf sprint by 1 3/4 lengths over Harp N Halo, paying $9. Favorite Ruby Notion, making her first start since a 13th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last October, was fourth.

There was a touching scene in the winner’s circle after the race, as trainer Bobby Raymond presented the Jellison Memorial trophy to Cotto and winning trainer Jorge Navarro, surrounded by several members of Suffolk’s jockey colony. The race was named to honor the late rider, at one time the leading active female jockey, who got her start in New England with Raymond in the 1980s and died of breast cancer in July 2015. Everyone agreed, Jellison would have approved of Cotto and and Forest Funds’ run — coming from off the pace with a late kick was how she liked to win.

Photos from the weekend:

The hurdlers pass by the first time
The field for the first race on Saturday, a 2 1/16 mile maiden hurdle, passes through the stretch for the first time. Silver Lime, a 7-year-old gelding, suffered a catastrophic right hind leg fracture going over the ninth, and final, jump. Reporter, ridden by Kieran Norris, won the race.

Maggiesfreuddnslip in the paddock
Maggiesfreuddnslip in the paddock before Saturday’s feature race, the Jill Jellison Memorial Dash. The 6-year-old mare finished third in the turf sprint.

Forest Funds wins the Jill Jellison Memorial Dash
Forest Funds and jockey Pedro Cotto win the Jill Jellison Memorial Dash.

Presenting the trophy for the Jill Jellison Memorial Dash
Trainer Bobby Raymond presents the trophy for the Jill Jellison Memorial Dash.

Take It Inside
Piermarini had trouble getting Take It Inside to leave the paddock before Sunday’s fifth. She and the outrider ended up backing the mare out to the track after Take It Inside refused to otherwise walk down the ramp.

Navy Nurse in the post parade for the Isadorable Stakes
Navy Nurse and rider David Amiss on track for the Isadorable. The 2015 winner came back to win again this year, paying $8.60 as the second favorite.

Dancetrack and Chris DeCarlo gallop back after winning the ninth race on Sunday
Chris DeCarlo and Dancetrack, trained by Bill Mott and owned by Juddmonte, gallop back after winning the ninth race at Suffolk Downs on Sunday.

Walking over for the last race of the weekend
Simply Mas walks over for the Rise Jim Stakes on Sunday.

Baze Retires

Russell Baze, the winningest rider of all time, retired without much fanfare on Sunday. After Wahine Warrior finished in a dead heat for second in the 10th race on the last day of the Golden Gate Fields spring meet, the jockey told his agent that his 42-year career was over.

There are a few things that I would have liked to accomplish that I couldn’t do, but I’ve had a great run,” Baze said, discussing his decision on Tuesday. “I’ve accomplished more than anybody could expect.”

It’s impossible not to dwell on his phenomenal record: From his first winner in 1974, Baze racked up 12,842 wins from 53,578 mounts, for earnings of $199.3 million (three years ago, he was profiled as racing’s $186 million man). He’s won more than 100 riding titles, ridden more than 400 winners in a year 13 times. He’s in the Hall of Fame. He was the subject of an award-winning multimedia profile in the New York Times.

He was also the regular rider of 2005 sprint champion Lost in the Fog, one of the most exciting horses of the early aughts, and one of the best to emerge from Northern California. He and Baze won the 2005 King’s Bishop:

It’s like being a roadie for a rock star. Everybody knows Lost in the Fog,” Baze said after the colt, who was then 9-for-9, won his first Grade 1.

The 2005 Swale Stakes was Lost in the Fog’s first graded win, and he looked so good, scoring by five lengths after a stalking trip, that trainer Greg Gilchrist considered trying him around two turns in the Florida Derby:

Baze’s record number of wins will likely stand. Other jockeys may not even get the chance to build the sort of remarkable journeyman career he had:

So with North American race dates shrinking, the number of annual races in a freefall, and entire circuits dropping off the grid entirely, will jockeys in the future be able to choose to remain in one place to build decades-long portfolios of accomplishments? Will the next generation of riders like Gall (who rode primarily at Fairmount Park near St. Louis), Ouzts (who currently rides the mid-level tracks in Ohio and Kentucky), and Carl Gambardella (a retired stalwart of the defunct but gritty New England circuit) be able to achieve top-20 lifetime rankings while competing close to home?

Best wishes to Baze. He won’t be forgotten any time soon.

6/25/16 Addendum: Take the time to read Jon White’s recap of Baze’s career (first win, all the big horses, Shoemaker and Pincay).

The East Boston Connection

Furthering my half-joking homer theory that everyone in American racing has a connection to Suffolk Downs is this story of jockey Edgar Prado:

In 1988, one of Bob Klesaris’ jockeys at Boston’s Suffolk Downs was suspended. Too aggressive a ride, too tight, the trainer was told. Klesaris challenged the decision. It was his first appeal at the racecourse. He was confident the stewards would see, as he did, that his jockey was “100 percent in the right.”

They didn’t, and when Klesaris returned to the barn area, he spotted the offending jockey.

“Listen, I’m going to send you to Maryland,” he recalled telling him.

Edgar Prado, who over the next decade in the state would become its leading jockey six times, turned to Klesaris. Not knowing much about the nation’s geography, he asked: “What country is that?”

Suffolk racing returns for the first of three weekends this year on July 9-10.

The Handicappers

How we talk about women in racing — an ongoing series. Today’s entry begins with Scott Raymond’s appreciation for Saratoga, which includes well-deserved praise for NYRA’s announcer and in-house handicapping team:

Yes, this is your NYRA crew like we just experienced at Belmont, but they deserve credit for adding to the Saratoga experience. They are among the best in the business. You have Larry Collmus, arguably the best active announcer in horse racing. Mike Beer, Andy Serling, and all the guys on Talking Horses do a great job. They are horseplayers; they aren’t talking heads. And Maggie Wolfendale in the paddock provides solid insight. Her husband is a trainer and she has experience as an exercise rider. She’s not just a young, pretty face they put on camera. Her insight from the paddock is key, especially in analyzing younger horses and first-time starters.

Only Maggie Wolfendale’s professional ability is defined in relation to another person and physical appearance. For fun, let’s rewrite a couple of sentences:

You have Larry Collmus, arguably the best active announcer in horse racing. His wife is a trainer. He’s not just a hot, sexy voice they put on mic. Mike Beer, Andy Serling, and all the guys on Talking Horses do a great job. Beer’s significant other is a jockey. Serling’s mother is a steward. They’re horseplayers; they’re not just handsome faces they put on camera.

It’s obvious that no disrespect was meant to Wolfendale, but it’s a good example of how a compliment can display the unconscious bias that women couldn’t possibly be good handicappers in their own right.

Sometimes the bias isn’t so unconscious:

“A lot of people see me and think my husband is picking my card, but I play my own,” [Jeannie] King said. “We don’t even sit in the same room when we’re playing.”

Judy Wagner, winner of the 2001 National Handicapping Championship, and the first horseplayer appointed to the NTRA board of directors, heard much the same when she began going to handicapping contests.

For the record, King has finished fourth in the NHC, and Wolfendale was a great handicapper before marrying the trainer!

See also:

Which was in response to this “joke”:

(h/t @superterrific)

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