Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Jockeys

Rider’s Eye View

The late John Oaksey’s bittersweet account of the 1963 Grand National:

It was, I think, setting out on the second circuit that the thought of victory first entered my head. Carrickbeg had long since made the fences look and feel like hurdles and, after jumping the water well behind, he moved up outside his field turning away from the stands with a surge of power that warmed my heart.

At Becher’s second time round he made one of the few mistakes I remember, and for an awful moment his big brave head seemed to rest on the quarters of another horse stumbling in front of us. But then, somehow, we were clear, and at the Canal Turn, as Ayala blundered badly, Carrickbeg nipped inside him like a polo pony.

Now there were only a handful ahead, and as the fences flicked by we pulled them back, one by one, until four from home, when for the first and only time in this hectic, wonderful race, fate took a hand against us.

He was denied the win. “I know who you are,” a man said to him on the street years later, “you’re the b—– who got tired before his ‘oss“.

The Girls’ Room

Suffolk Downs has been welcoming to women jockeys for years (in 1974, the late Denise Boudrot became the first female rider to win a meet title at a major track when she rode 94 winners as an apprentice*), but the seven-member East Boston lady riders’ colony is particularly strong this summer:

When Vicky Baze was riding at Suffolk last month, the women’s jocks’ room contained the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-winningest female riders of all time and three of the top four active women jockeys. Piermarini, fourth with 2.129 wins; Baze, fifth with 2,098 wins; and Jellison, sixth at 1,856 account for more than 6,000 wins together, and Piermarini entered Wednesday just eight wins behind Patti Cooksey for third on the all-time list behind Julie Krone and Rosemary Homeister.

Tammi Piermarini, the track’s leading rider the past three years, is currently leading the standings; Jackie Davis is running second.

Local photographer Bud Morton has been documenting Suffolk’s riding women — this photo, of Piermarini and Davis breaking from the gate, is really good. (The expressions on their faces!)

*Enjoy this Sports Illustrated profile of Boudrot from 1974: “At Suffolk almost every jockey has been beaten by Denise, and they have learned to live with it, which is not an easy thing for these little men who have discovered a place of their own in a big person’s world.” Boudrot died in 2010, at age 57.

7/23/12 Addendum: Congratulations! With three wins at Suffolk Downs today, “Piermarini becomes third-leading woman rider.”

The Must-Reads, 2011

As each year comes to its end, I go through all the racing stories I’ve bookmarked or shared over the past 12 months and pluck together a short list of pieces that stand out, whether for great reporting or great storytelling. If you haven’t read the stories linked below yet, take a few minutes to enjoy some of the best turf journalism from 2011 before 2012 begins:

As 10-year ban hangs over Rick Dutrow, opinions vary about controversial horse trainer.” The definitive profile of the New York trainer, handed a record suspension this year, by Jerry Bossert for the New York Daily News.

For Pletcher, managing a training empire is all in a day’s work” Joe Drape on how he does it, for the New York Times.

Pletcher was an assistant to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, dubbed “The most interesting man in racing,” by Gary West this spring, in one of the last posts published on his Star-Telegram blog. That the formidable turf writer with the superb flapdoodle detector was let go by the newspaper was a loss for Texas racing. Fortunately for readers, West now appears on ESPN.

Claire Novak won her first Eclipse award this year with “Pressure off Durkin at Belmont,” about the announcer’s decision to step down from calling the Triple Crown races on NBC, but I’m biased toward her terrific Kentucky Derby week story, “The Inside Scoop: Why Calvin Borel owns the rail,” which appeared on Kentucky Confidential. For fun, and a touch of Gay Talese, Novak’s recounting of a New Orleans cabbie’s racetrack story can’t be beat.

At Suffolk Downs, a rider reached a significant milestone: “Piermarini gets win 2000 on Sugar Trade.” Susan Salk of Offtrack Thoroughbreds talked to Tammi Piermarini about becoming only the fifth female jockey in racing to crack 2K.

Ryan Goldberg added context and depth to this year’s intense (and ongoing) Lasix debate with his well-researched and matter-of-fact story for the Daily Racing Form, “Lasix: Demystifying the drug, methods of training without it.”

DRF photographer Barbara Livingston shared some marvelous historic racing photos from her private collection this year, as in this post: “Man o’ War’s funeral: Remarkable final tribute for majestic champion.” The great horse was laid out in a casket for viewing; thousands filed past to pay their respects.

In search of the Kelco.” Bill Christine, at HRI, on the handicapping gizmos of yesteryear (which gave me an excuse to post about the Race-o-meter).

Gray Thoroughbreds, a precious relic of the breed’s earliest days, became a rarity on the racecourse for a good part of the 19th century.” I had no idea. Kellie Reilly on the revival of grays in the 20th century, on BRISnet.

Napravnik on Fire

In March 1969, Diane Crump* became the first female jockey to ever win an American stakes race, taking the Spring Fiesta Cup aboard $21 Easy Lime at the Fair Grounds. On Saturday, Anna “Rosie” Napravnik became the first female rider to win the G2 Louisiana Derby at the same historic track:

Outside the ring of people pressing to get close to her and beyond the insistent clamor of the television cameras, there arose cries of “Rosie.” And there she stood, in the middle of the turbulence, smiling somewhat sheepishly, as if not entirely comfortable with the attention and the outpouring of congratulatory emotion, horse racing’s latest, if somewhat unexpected, star …

Those who have followed the 23-year-old since her start on the Mid-Atlantic circuit in 2005 probably wouldn’t call her new-found stardom unexpected — it seemed only matter of time before people caught on to “the Napravnik magic … that makes horses run like they never have before.” New Orleans horsemen are now well acquainted with the skill and talent (not magic) possessed by the rising jockey, apparent from early in the meet:

… with the young woman from the East Coast becoming the go-to rider for a group of hardened, middle-aged Louisiana trainers. Napravnik’s inroads into this group owe much to her agent, Derek Ducoing, the son of local trainer Sturges Ducoing, who has put Napravnik on eight winners at the meet through Feb. 7. Napravnik also has gone 5 for 13 for native New Orleanian Eddie Johnston and 4 for 14 for another local trainer, Andy Leggio….

“Julie Krone was one of the great female jockeys, and I think this kid is going to be one also,” Leggio said. “She just does everything right.”

If she keeps it up, Napravnik will be one of the great riders of either sex.

In addition to her Louisiana Derby win, Napravnik made history as the first female rider to top the Fair Grounds standings, with 86 wins (13 stakes). Nationally, she currently ranks #4 by earnings and #2 by wins, and plans to ride at Keeneland next month before returning to Delaware. Will a stop at Churchill come between? Trainer Kelly Breen said that Louisiana Derby winner Pants on Fire is pointing to the Kentucky Derby after his Saturday surprise.

The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep schedules have been updated. Beyer speed figures of 94 for Pants on Fire, 91 for Animal Kingdom in the Spiral Stakes, 90 for Twice the Appeal in the Sunland Derby.

At Oaklawn yesterday, Arienza made it 2-for-2 and now points to the Fantasy. “It may be a little ambitious trying to come back in two weeks,” said trainer Danny Peitz, “but we certainly don’t want to rule that out.” Azeri’s daughter by Giant’s Causeway got the final eighth of the one-mile allowance in a superb :12.19, confidently rebuffing runner-up Hidatsa in the stretch.

And at Palm Meadows, Uncle Mo breezed four furlongs in :49.45, taking dirt as part of his training. (Well, if he’s not going to get that experience in racing …)

*Crump was also the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby, finishing fifteenth on Fathom in 1970. Owned by Louisville whiskey baron W.L. Lyons Brown, Fathom was one of six field horses entered in that year’s Derby, and not a well-regarded contender, with or without a female jockey. “If she were riding a good horse, I wouldn’t mind betting on her,” a handicapper told the New York Times. “But her horse isn’t much good.”

Saturday Notes

The Suffolk Downs-NEHBPA dispute has made Paul Daley pessimistic:

Sadly, within the next month, live thoroughbred racing in New England may become the stuff of history books.

Despite the resumption of negotiations on Thursday with the NEHBPA, six simulcasting signals are still blocked at Suffolk Downs. For the second consecutive Saturday, Massachusetts bettors will take their money elsewhere: “My good friend, suffolkdownslova, has to drive all the way to Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park to place the bets he so lovingly needs.”

Monmouth’s experiment has been mentioned as a model for Suffolk’s future, but a more instructive success might be Tampa Bay Downs, where many Massachusetts horsemen winter. Ed DeRosa highlights just one example of what the track has done well — the reduced takeout Pick 4, up 31%.

Orlando Bocachica, Suffolk’s leading rider in 2009, is hot at Gulfstream.

2/20/11 Suffolk Dispute Update: The track has presented the NEHBPA with a new offer for the 2011 meet. More information will be available on Monday.

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