Who'd wan't to be a jockey?

TRENT FRAYN August 20 1955

Who'd wan't to be a jockey?

TRENT FRAYN August 20 1955

Who'd wan't to be a jockey?

You have to live like a Spartai diet like a dowager and wrestle wil a thousand pounds of unru] horseflesh six or eight times a da And the greatest reward yo can hope for is to become a famoi millionaire ... if you live long enoug

TRENT FRAYN

THIS IS THE JOCKEYS’ LIFE YOU DON’T

JUST AFTER Ted Atkinson had ridden Nashua to victory in the Wood Memorial handicap in New York last spring he was asked to tell several million television viewers about the race in which his mount barely managed to beat Summer Tan, another outstanding American three-year-old. Atkinson himself had done everything he could to help Nashua win the race—everything that’s legal, that is. Now, facing the TV cameras, he groped to find the word for Nashua.

“I’d say he’s, well, ungenerous,” he said.

It was an unusual word in the world of sports, where superlatives are not only employed but overworked, and it shed a fresh light on the severe requirements for success in the horse-riding business. But. Atkinson’s care in selecting the word was significant, for jockeys study their mounts almost to the point of psychoanalysis to learn how to get the most out of them. When they come on one that is ungenerous, or a loafer, or is fractious, they must call on more than the whip or an aimless boot in the ribs if they are to succeed.

A lot of people who visit race courses have the notion that not much more than an ability to sit on a horse without falling off is required of a jockey. The office hours look hard to beat, too; the first race goes to the post each afternoon at two o’clock,

and three and a half hours later the last jockey on the last horse in the last race has concluded his business for the day even before bankrupt bettors, optimism still burning brightly in their breasts, have begun stooping to examine the numbers on discarded pari-mutuel tickets.

There is also a widespread impression that jockeys are grouped toget her in ignoble little bands plotting the outcome of races long before they’re run and growing rich on the two-dollar bets of ignorant dopes in the grandstand.

But there is another kind of people around the racetracks who feel that a jockey’s life is one of the hardest in the world. These, by and large, are the jockeys themselves. They can argue—and even prove t hat a jockey’s life is full of danger. Four or five or even eight times a day these little men pilot a thousand pounds of wrought-up horse in the middle of other straining, bumping horses, and the incidence of injury is understandably high.

Grooms and valets at Woodbine Park in Toronto claim that veteran jockey Pat Remillard has broken every bone in his body at least once, and they’re not exaggerating much at that. Remillard, who is still riding although he’s close to fifty, is inclined to be more conservative, however. “Never did break my jaw,” he says. It’s a fact, though, that he has broken his back twice and fractured both

legs, both arms, all his ribs, a collarbone, and on one occasion he was unconscious for eighteen days after a spill.

By the very nature of their occupation jockeys are the smallest of all at hletes, rarely weighing more than a hundred and ten pounds. Race handicappers seldom assign more than a hundred and twenty-five pounds to a horse and occasionally as little as a hundred pounds. Consequently, the lighter a jockey is the more mounts he can handle; a jock weighing a hundred and fifteen stripped, for example, would not be able to accept a mount to which the handicapper had assigned, say, a hundred and nine pounds. But a jockey weighing a hundred and nine could accept a mount that has been assigned a hundred and fifteen. The extra six pounds is made up by t he addition of weights, flat pieces of metal placed in pockets under the horse’s saddle. Young riders breaking into the business, called apprentices, have an advantage over graduate riders if they can keep t heir weight down. They are permitted a five-pound allowance in the case just mentioned they would carry only 110 pounds. Thus, even for recruits, weight is a vital factor in acquiring mounts.

A jockey is classed as an apprentice, or “bug,” for a year after he wins his first race, or, as they say, “breaks his maiden.” If he doesn't win forty races in that year he continues as an apprentice until he does, still gett ing his five-pound edge on graduate riders.

Continued un page 41

[III FREQUENT SPIFFS, THEIR JOB IS ALWAYS DANGEROUS, BUT THE HARDEST PART IS KEEPING WEIGHT DOWN

Who’d Want to be a Jockey?

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 23

In most cases a jockey can’t eat what or when he wants to. And if he does pick up an extra pound or two he must sweat it out in a steam room or running

in a tight-fitting rubber suit under a broiling sun, or just sitting in the jocks’ room over a spread of paper, chewing gum and spitting constantly for an hour to "dry out” a final stubborn half pound.

All jockeys — except the tiny handful who weigh a natural one hundred and three or so and couldn’t top it if they washed down a peck of creamed potatoes with a barrel of beer - curse their war with weight and they speak in strange terms about it.

Whadda yuh doin’ today?” one jockey will ask another.

"A lousy ’eleven,” he’ll probably say. "You hit the suit?”

"Natch.”

"Whadda yuh pull?”

' ' M ay be two. No more. ”

"Goin’ in the box?”

"I’ll have to. I’m ’twelve in the third.”

Getting this conversation off the racetrack, it translates loosely like t his:

"How much do you weigh today?” "A hundred and eleven pounds and t hat ’s too much.”

"Have you been out on the track

running in your rubber suit?”

"Of course I have.”

"How much weight did you lose?” "Two pounds at the most.

"Are you going into the steam room to try to lose more?”

"Yes, the track handicapper has assigned a hundred and twelve pounds to my mount in the third race. My saddle and equipment will put me away over that weight so I’ve got to get off as much as possible.”

Dick Buisson, a young, black-haired jockey from Montreal, finds that liquids add unwanted pounds and he is accordingly plagued by thirst. He is a normal hundred-and-twent.y pounder who can stay around ’twelve (jockeys never use the word hundred) if he’s careful of his diet. He has two boiled eggs or an eggnog for breakfast, eats no lunch, and has a broiled steak "with the blood coming out” and tomatoes and lettuce for dinner most nights.

"Toward three-four o’clock in the morning I always wake up,” he says. "I’m so dry my mouth feels like it’s full of cotton. Every once in awhile I can’t stand it. I say the hell with it, and go down and raid the icebox of any liquid 1 can find—milk, beer, orange juice—anything. But I can’t quench my thirst. All I get is a bloated feeling from all the liquid and I’m still thirsty.”

After such binges with, say, four bottles of pop Buisson may add as much as five pounds. Then he must hit the rubber suit—sleeves, ankles and throat are elastic to form an airtight sweating chamber—and run around the racetrack for two or three miles in I the morning before the day’s races, j Then he’ll hit the box—the humid j suffocating steam room just off the jockeys’ dressing rooms at the track— j to get rid of another pound or two.

I Mike Mafale, a curly-haired young-

ster from Baltimore who rides in Canada each summer, decided one day this year that he’d better pull a final pound in the box. This was after a full morning of exercising horses—galloping them around the track to get them in condition to race—and then a session on the track himself in the rubber suit. He’d had half a cantaloupe for breakfast. Mafale had been in the steam room barely fifteen minutes when he suddenly felt nauseated. Next thing he knew he was lying on one of the double-deck bunk beds on which jockeys catch a catnap between assignments during the afternoon’s racing. He had passed out in the steam room, had been carried to the bunk bed by two jockeys and when he regained consciousness he was so ill that he had to cancel his mounts for the day.

An Amazing String of Spills

While weight is always good as a conversation piece there is no such preoccupation among jockeys with their other occupational hazard — severe injury. If he is aware of the dangers of falling from a horse rushing at roughly forty miles an hour (Citation holds the world’s record for a mile at 1.33 3-5 and almost any thoroughbred worthy of the name can do it in ’forty) the jockey rarely speaks of it. The fact that his wake is full of the pounding hoofs of five or six other thousandpound tornadoes, and the knowledge of what they can do to him seldom, apparently, emerges from his unconscious mind. "If you thought about that, you wouldn’t last a turn around the track,” says Ted Johnson, a pole-thin rider from Vancouver who led all jockeys in victories in Canada last year.

Fear never entered the mind, either, of a youngster named Howie Bailey

who was nonetheless compelled to give up riding after an almost unbelievable series of spills.

Bailey, a sad-faced skinny native of Toronto who is now twenty-six, rode Jim Fair’s Last Mark to victory in the King’s Plate of 1948 and was the leading rider at Woodbine that spring. Then the horses moved to Fort Erie racetrack, across the Niagara River from Buffalo, and his luck turned all bad. He was aboard a four-year-old called Hicks one afternoon, lying fourth as the horses pounded out of the back stretch into the far turn.

Two horses fell in front of Bailey and he couldn’t see them in the whirl of dust. One was just struggling, terrified, to its feet when Bailey’s horse ploughed into it broadside. Bailey’s ! horse, Hicks, turned a somersault and landed on top of the jockey, who had been thrown. It was almost five ! minutes before track attendants could guide the horse to its feet, during all of which time Bailey was pinned under it, the horse sprawled across his left leg. The jockey had a broken shoulder, all of the ribs were caved in on his left side and his leg was so badly crushed there was fear for five months in Fort Erie hospital that he’d lose it.

A bone-graft operation on the left thigh ensued in Toronto General Hospital and Bailey was released after seven more months. His surgeon, Dr. R. I. Harris, told Bailey at the time of the operation that he didn’t believe the : boy would ever ride again.

Twelve spills later the jockey decided he’d indeed had enough. A horse ! called Washington Sky crossed its legs j as it left the starting gate, throwing Bailey; Port Chester broke its leg in a fall and Bailey, leaping from the ! falling horse, landed on his face and skidded along the track, scraping off skin from his chin to his hairline and causing a severe concussion; Autorun bore in toward the rail, clipped it and then spun over it into the infield. Bailey again had jumped clear as the horse was going down, and all he had this time was a broken leg.

' After a dozen spills I figured it was crazy to go on,” he recalls. That was three years ago. Today he works for a trainer named Rip Boden on the j Ontario circuit, helping to condition horses and hoping that he has come up with a good one himself, four-year-old Belle Rose which he bought last spring. Occasionally he takes horses to "the pot”-—the place where old or no longer useful horses, or horses that have broken down are destroyed. He does j this for his owner and it’s all part of his | job. 'The pot, an abbreviation for the glue factory or the glue pot, pays thirty-five dollars for such an animal— about three and a half cents a pound.

Sometimes a near-miss will shake up a jockey almost as much as an injury. Flric Barber, a reddish-haired solemnfaced veteran of the Ontario circuit, was once riding a horse called Khabula when another horse jarred his mount so severely that Barber was unseated. There were at least four other horses | jamming together and Barber underwent a frightening split second as he j started to go down. He grabbed at Khabula’s bristle of mane and hung on for his life. He was dangling low at the horse’s left shoulder, holding on with his right hand, and he managed to swing his left arm under the horse’s neck and bring it up until he could intertwine the fingers of both hands. J’hen he swung his body up so that he could lock his ankles at the horse’s withers.

I must have looked like a kid hanging from the branch of a tree,” he recalls. 'T was staring that horse square in the face.”

He stayed that way until the field had passed Khabula, eliminating the danger of being trampled, and then he slowly lowered himself until his feet could drag the horse into a canter.

Another time, the late Eddie Kilgore was on the rail when a bump knocked his horseagainst the fence, unseating the jockey. He held grimly onto the reins as he fell inside the rail, landing on his feet in the infield. He ran and was jerked half a dozen steps, his feet churning like those of a child holding the hand of a hurrying parent, and then he hauled himself with a swinging leap back over the fence and onto the

saddle. He finished third and remarked later, ”1 woulda win easy if we don’t get bumped.”

Ordinarily, though, a spill is a brush with serious injury. Jockeys often have their troubles with horses even before they get to the starting gate, particularly with two-year-olds which go to the races for the first time at that age. Two-year-olds are tremulous and easily frightened at a track jammed with roaring crowds. Some refuse to go into the starting gate, rearing and pawing the air with their forelegs, their eyes wild and their flesh quivering.

They’re difficult to ride until they become accustomed to the routine of going to the races and the jockey gets virtually no help from his riding tack. Racing saddles appear ludicrously inadequate, weighing as little as a pound and a half, and they’re no more than six inches wide as they’re slipped across a horse’s withers. By comparison, a western or cowboy saddle, with the big horn over which a lariat can be looped, weighs upwards of thirty pounds and covers the horse’s back like a blanket. Consequently, jockeys don’t sit their saddles; they ride their

stirrups, or irons, hunched high behind the horse’s ear, and hold the mounts with their thighs and knees, balancing themselves and guiding the horses with their hands.

Yet, with such fragile assistance, jockeys often win a reputation on just such a high-mettled, emotional twoyear-old. There was one called Baffin Bay, one of the Queen’s Plate favorites this year, which as a juvenile was a filly with a mind of her own, as frisky as a kitten. Once, at Fort Erie, the filly threw herself down on the track in the parade to the post, and then leaped right up again. Her jockey declined to ride her again. Next time out, Whitey ! Stevenson, the custodian of the jockeys’ room, called down the long room lined with lockers and piled with the jock s equipment, asking if there were any volunteers for Baffin Bay.

Dick Buisson, sitting disconsolately ; on a bench in front of his locker,

I thought about the assignment a moment, then called:

"Put me on her.”

He later explained why he’d volunteered: 'T wasn’t doin’ no good, I j couldn’t win for losin’ and I was I gettin’ discouraged. When I’m like that I figure there’s no sense trainin’ so I eat too much and my weight goes up.

At the starting gate Baffin Bay reared high and Buisson leaped off. The filly flipped over on her back but the instant she came up Buisson jumped back on, talking quietly, stroking her neck, and finally settling her so that she’d permit herself to he led into the gate. At the start she came out like a rocket and led all the way. Buisson rode her four times more, including a big victory in the Coronation Stakes, a rich race for two-year-olds at Long Branch. He did so well that Baffin Bay’s owner, Russell Graul of Montreal, and her trainer, Mike Long, gave him other mounts from their stable, and thus his fortunes improved.

A Quick Ride to Riches

Jockeys are paid by the ride. Under the rules of their guild, the international Jockeys’ Benevolent and Protective Association, they are paid on Ontario tracks, which have the longest ! and largest, meetings in Canada, a minimum of fifteen dollars per mount.

■ They can earn more if their horse finishes in the money. For races in which the purse is two thousand dollars ! or more, the winning jockey gets fifty 1 dollars, which includes the minimum fifteen per mount. The second rider ! gets thirty-five dollars, the third gets twenty-five and the fourth twenty. If the purse is less than two thousand, the scale is thirty-five, twenty-five and ! twenty, with nothing extra for the fourth-place rider. In handicap, or j stakes races, owners generally reward the jockey with ten percent of the winnings.

Thus, in the Queen’s Plate, where the winner’s share of a thirty-two-thouj sand-dollar purse is approximately twenty-five thousand dollars, a jockey j can earn twenty-five hundred dollars in a ride lasting less than two minutes. The figure exceeds ten thousand dollars in some of the big U. S. stakes, such as j the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah in Florida, the Florida Derby at Gullstream and the Santa Anita Handicap in California, where purses for these big stakes races are well in excess of a hundred thousand dollars. Some riders, such as Johnny Longden, who grew up in Alberta, and the late Géorgie Woolf, who was horn there, became millionaires from their sueS cesses in stakes races.

But expenses are high and the average jockey figures he can keep no more than fifty percent of his earnings.

Jockeys pay twenty percent of all they earn to their valets and another twenty percent to their agents. They figure roughly ten percent for income tax and equipment such as saddles and riding hoots, which they buy themselves.

Valets and agents keep a jockey in business. The valet, as the name implies, is his personal Jeeves, dressing him, keeping his boots shined, his equipment in repair and his silks in order. Owners supply the silks, the brightly colored blouses and caps worn by jockeys which are changed for every ride, depending on the owner’s colors. The silks are kept in a large so-called color room off the main jockey quarters and the valet hangs the proper silks in a jock’s locker before each race. The agent, again as the name implies, gets him his assignments, mingling with owners and selling the virtues of his particular "boy.” Valets and agents are usually former jockeys who’ve grown too big or too old for riding.

A jock needs more than outside help, however, if he’s to keep getting new mounts. What makes a jockey sucessful? Experienced horsemen say it’s not a single quality but several. The rider must have a knowledge of pace, an instinct like a tightrope walker’s sense of balance; he must know how fast to the split second he is traveling at any given moment, and to choose the pace be knows most favorable to the horse he’s riding.

He must also have a fairly general idea how the other horses are going, even those behind, and to know by the "feel” of the horse under him how much speed and courage he has in reserve. If, in addition to this, he has a pretty sound knowledge of what the other horses are capable of doing, he’ll probably succeed in his business. He must know these things because often the difference between first and eighth place in a race is no more than a couple of seconds.

And yet, with all this knowledge, there’s still the matter of his mounts. Johnny Longden, one of the world’s great jockeys who had ridden 4,520 winners to the end of last season, once remarked: "If anybody ever asks you what makes a good jockey, tell him it’s a good horse.” Eddie Arcaro, whose 3,469 victories had earned $17,500,000 worth of purses by the end of last season, put it another way: "A good horse will win lots of times with a bad jockey, but the best jockey can’t win with a bad horse.”

Arcaro, a natural one-hundred-and -six-pounder, once graphically illustrated his point to an overenthused owner. In giving the jockey his instructions before the race, the owner told Arcaro: "I want you to be fourth on the turn, third on the back stretch, second at the far turn and then take the lead at the head of the stretch and come on and win.”

Arcaro followed each piece of instruction until the horses reached the far turn. He was driving for second position when his mount ran out of steam and before they went under the wire six other horses had passed him.

The owner, livid, confronted Arcaro.

”1 thought I told you to move up at the far turn and come on and win from the head of the stretch,” he stormed.

Arcaro looked at him quietly for a moment. "What?” he said drily.

And leave the horse?”

There are times, though, when a good jockey on a good horse can make the difference, a point made clear in the 1954 Queen’s Plate when Chris Rogers, aboard the outsider Collisteo, employed bis greater experience to outmanoeuvre young Bert Albert on E. P. Taylor’s favored Queen’s Own, a horse that went on to become Horse of the Year for 1954 in Canada. In the Queen’s

Plate trial, a race held a week before the Plate to give owners and the public a better line on the candidates, Queen’s Own had beaten Collisteo handily, but Rogers had observed that Queen’s Own tended to loaf, that is, ease up a little, when he got in front.

So, as they neared the stretch run in the Plate, Rogers let Queen’s Own pass Collisteo and the less experienced jockey Bert Albert figured his horse was moving on to win, just as it had done in the trial. Immediately that Queen’s Own let down a little, Rogers gave the whip to Collisteo for a

desperate dash to the wire. The horse pulled into the lead as Albert, awakened a fraction too late, strove to shake up Queen’s Own once more. Rogers, coordinating his weight with Collisteo’s stride, virtually shoved the horse’s head under the finishing line scant inches ahead of Queen’s Own.

A long memory was never a handicap to a successful rider, either. Ted Johnson, Canada’s leading rider last year, recalls riding a mare named Slateford in Vancouver. She was owned by Angus Macplierson who told Johnson before his first ride on the mare that

she positively refused to respond to any kind of urging.

"She won’t be hit, or she’ll quit, and you can’t even chirp at her,” instructed Macpherson. "You’ve just got to sit there.”

Into the stretch they came and Slateford was only half a length behind the leader. Johnson refrained from using the whip, but he couldn’t resist an urgent little chirp—a sucking noise made by intaking air through pursed lips. Sure enough, Slateford let up and was beaten.

About a month later Johnson was aboard another horse running against Slateford. This time the mare was ahead and her jockey was dutifully avoiding any sort of urging. Johnson, recalling Macpherson’s instructions, began to chirp, Slateford, hearing the noise, went into her routine. Johnson’s mount passed her and won.

"It was a dirty trick to play on Mr. Macpherson,” said the sharp-featured jockey who used to be a steward on west-coast boats. "He was awfully good to me.”

It’s an axiom of the business that "you’re on your own when you’re on the track,” and dirty tricks by one jock on another were commonplace before the advent of film-patrol movies. These are taken by automatic cameras installed in four sections of a racetrack and are viewed by the racing commission assigned by the government (state or provincial) after each day’s racing to give a complete picture of the race. Ontario tracks installed cameras in 1951 and, according to veteran rider Herb Lindberg, "they changed riding

from night to day; you don’t get away with much these days.”

“They’ve changed riding from night to day. You don’t get away with much now”

It used to he that a rider passing a horse on the rail could gain the preferred rail position more quickly by veering in on the horse he was passing, in the manner of one car sideswiping another. He’d shout a warning, "Take out, jock!” or "Take hack quick!” and a rider had to know how to ride, according to Lindberg, or "he’d wind up in the sod,” that is, in tin; infield.

"One of the easiest things in the world is to throw a horse,” says Lindberg, meaning that it is easy to make another horse fall. "You just veer over sharp in front of him as he tries to pass and you’ll spill him. You try that, nowadays in the back stretch and the films pick it up and you’ll he set down

by the stewards and probably fined.”

Frankie Mann, a Toronto jockey who rode a horse called Stand Pat in a rich handicap race at Suffolk Downs in 1935, tells of trying a trick in a race against the great Alfred Vanderbilt colt, Discovery.

As Discovery swept past Stand Pat in the back stretch Mann reached out and grabbed Discovery’s saddlecloth, the white banner that lies across a horse’s back under his saddle on which his number is painted. Mann was helped along like a hoy on a bicycle holding on to an automobile as the great sire of the famed horse Native Dancer paid virtually no attention to the additional eleven hundred pounds or so he’d suddenly acquired. Mann released his hold in the stretch and

Stand Pat faded to fourth position. The stewards, nevertheless, saw no humor in the situation. They advised Mann that the horses at Suffolk could probably get along without him. They set him down for thirty days.

Similar antics have caused jockeys to finish out of the money, and sudden temper flare-ups resulting in fist fights in the jocks’ room are not uncommon. An automatic fine of fifty dollars on Ontario tracks for fighting has curbed the tendency toward fisticuffs, and the film patrol has cut down on illegal tactics during races, hut jockeys still try a few tricks. One of the most common is called "herding” in which a leading jockey peeks over his shoulder to ascertain the invisible lane down which his closest pursuer is charging. If he is to the left, the leading jockey will move his own mount into that lane, forcing the pursuing horse to "take up,” or to move wide to try to pass. As he moves, the leading jockey will ease his horse gently over to block the route. Just last June, the stewards at Woodbine Park set down Pat Remillard for eighteen days for "herding.” The ruling cost Remillard roughly a thousand dollars in riding fees at an average of thj-ee mounts a day.

Cheating Doesn’t Pay

The final charge levied by people who feel jockeys have an easy life—the charge that they’re living in luxury on the bounty of fixed races understandably draws heated denial from any active jockey. The last known attempt to fix a race on Ontario tracks occurred at Fort Erie on July 25, 1951, in what is now remembered as the "North Drive race.” It was exposed by the three-man Ontario Racing Commission shortly after its appointment, and testimony at ORC hearings indicated that six of the eight jockeys had accepted bribes which permitted the horse North Drive to win. The race was the culmination of twenty-one days of operation by a Toronto gambler named Harry Swartz who in that period successfully fixed four races, tried to fix at least three others and with his accomplices reaped close to two hundred thousand dollars in profits. Six jockeys were ruled off the turf for life by the commission for their part in the shabby affair.

Most jockeys manage to resist corruption, and those who succumb usually discover it doesn’t pay. During Harry Swartz’ 1951 operations at Fort Erie, a jockey named Charlie Bright, who weighed only a hundred and five pounds, took three hundred dollars to pull a horse called Hey Hey. But Hey Hey was full of run that day and although Bright stood straight up in an effort to pull the horse he was unequal to the task and Hey Hey triumphed in spite of him.

Perhaps the unkindest cut of all for Swartz and his fixers came on July 14 that year when they arranged to have four horses pulled in an eight-horse field, including the two top favorites, and decided to scatter their bets over the four remaining long shots in the race. They stood to win a hatful, hut at the last moment they concluded that a horse named Tab Wales, whose jockey hadn’t been bribed, had no earthly chance of winning, and they ignored him. So instead of covering the four "loose” horses—that is, the four whose jockeys had not taken bribes—they piled their money on only three of them.

Well. Tab Wales won. He returned a juicy $75.50 to investors who had bet two dollars he’d win, and he proved once more that jockeys have their troubles every day, in every race. ★