How I win races

The boy from Alberta has learned — and used—every trick in the race-rider’s book in becoming the champion jockey of all time. Here are his secrets, and here’s how they worked in the toughest races Longden ever rode

JOHNNY LONGDEN July 5 1958

How I win races

The boy from Alberta has learned — and used—every trick in the race-rider’s book in becoming the champion jockey of all time. Here are his secrets, and here’s how they worked in the toughest races Longden ever rode

JOHNNY LONGDEN July 5 1958

How I win races

The boy from Alberta has learned — and used—every trick in the race-rider’s book in becoming the champion jockey of all time. Here are his secrets, and here’s how they worked in the toughest races Longden ever rode

JOHNNY LONGDEN

TRENT FRAYNE

There is no yardstick I know of to measure the exact contribution made to a winning horse by his jockey. As somebody once pointed out, a hundred-and-ten-pound rider isn’t apt to throw a thousand-pound horse very far. It’s true that a good jock on a bad horse will finish just about as far up the track as a bad jock, but it’s equally true that a good one on a good horse will win far more often than a bad one on the same horse.

JOHNNY LONGDEN TELLS HIS OWN STORY • PART IV

How I win races

The boy from Alberta has learned — and used—every trick in

the race-rider’s book in becoming the champion jockey of all time. Here are his secrets, and here’s how they worked in the toughest races Longden ever rode

BY JOHNNY LONGDEN with TRENT FRAYNE

There is no yardstick I know of to measure the exact contribution made to a winning horse by his jockey. As somebody once pointed out, a hundred-and-ten-pound rider isn’t apt to throw a thousand-pound horse very far. It’s true that a good jock on a bad horse will finish just about as far up the track as a bad jock, but it’s equally true that a good one on a good horse will win far more often than a bad one on the same horse.

A sort of left-handed illustration of how a jockey can influence the result of a horse race was evident in the Kentucky Derby of 1957 when a single fleeting mistake by young Willie Shoemaker cost him close to ten thousand dollars personally and the owners of his horse just under a hundred thousand.

You’ll remember that race. I’m sure, if you’re a racing fan. It was televised all over Canada and the United States, and racing people everywhere talked of little else for months. Shoemaker, riding Gallant Man, was inches ahead of Willie Hartack on Iron Liege with a sixteenth of a mile to go. It was a thundering head-to-head climax to the mile-and-a-quarter race. For a fraction of a second, when Shoemaker saw the sixteenth pole there on the inside rail, he thought it was the pole that holds the finish wire aloft, high above the track.

He believed he’d won the race. He stood up in his stirrups as jockeys do when they’re easing their mounts to a gradual bounding halt. Then, almost in the act of doing it, Shoemaker realized his mistake and instantly flattened himself to Gallant Man’s withers and resumed his frantic urging. But it was too late. In that split

TRICK OF THE TRADE: to bring Arrogate’s nose across the finish line in front for his recordbreaking 4,871st win, Longden tapped him under the chin with his whip. Here’s the result.

second Iron Liege had gained a stride and it was Hartack, not Shoemaker, who took his mount into the winner’s enclosure.

If so brief a lapse can spell the difference between victory and defeat, it becomes apparent that the jockey often represents that whole difference, one way or another. And the thing that separates jockeys is a nebulous quality called, for want of a more descriptive word, feel.

A good jockey feels with his head as well as his hands. Sensitive hands are vital. You can literally feel the slightest message from a horse’s mouth, by way of the bit and reins, and a lighthanded jockey is in full communion with his mount. I can talk to a horse and he can talk to me—through my hands. I can tell exactly how my horse feels, how he is striding, how much stamina he has left—through my hands. With them, I keep my horse from flattening out or overstriding. I’m not hard on the horses 1 ride. I don’t like to abuse them with the whip. If I think a horse is cheating on me I might give him a couple of cracks. But I can get more run out of most horses by fanning them with the whip than by belting them.

It’s through this feel that I’ve mentioned that a jockey rates a horse; that is, holds him just below his top speed without pulling or fighting him until the moment in the race when he must ask for everything his horse has. No horse can win a race over a distance of ground—a mile or longer—simply by running as hard as he can for as long as he can; he must be rated. It’s said of a jockey who knows how to rate a horse consistently that he has a clock in his head. He knows to the fraction of a second how fast a ten-thousand-dollar horse, say, can run each quarter of the race and still have something left for the finish, and he knows the same thing about a hundredcontinued on page 30

Johnny Longden tells his own story continued from page 25

“Noor and Citation drove that last half-mile stride for stride”

thousand-dollar horse. When he's riding he can “feel” these seconds ticking off and if he knows his business he can judge almost to a stride whether his horse is going too fast or too slow for his capabilities.

In this regard, one race stands out in my memory as the most grueling and in some ways the most gratifying of any I ever rode. It was the San Juan Capistrano handicap at the Santa Anita track in California in 1950 for a purse of one hundred and twenty thousand dollars. I rode a big black Irish-bred named Noor against the heavily favored Citation and six other top thoroughbreds. This was at a timé when horsemen were debating whether Citation was a better horse than Man o’ War and therefore the finest American-bred of all time.

Citation was a beautiful animal, with a shining copper coat and classic conformation. The race was his fourth as a five-year-old. As a two-year-old Citation won eight of his nine races, and as a three-year-old he won just about everything in sight, including the Triple Crown, in running first nineteen times in twenty starts and lifting his earnings to $865.150. His trainers, Ben Jones and Ben's son, Jimmy, turned him loose in Calumet Farms pastures when he was four, and then brought him back to the races in January of 1950 in response to owner Warren Wright’s desire to see him become the first million-dollar winner in turf history, which, eventually, he did.

Noor, which had raced as a two-yearold and three-year-old in England, had been bought along with a horse called Nathoo for $175.000 by Charles S. Howard from the Aga Khan, but the horse went wrong soon after béing placed in training in California. After several months of roughing it on upland pastures he grew sound but it took him a while to adjust his great stride to our comparatively sharp turns. He never did like to break fast from the gate.

I considered all these factors the night before our race, and I realized I couldn't let Citation get too long a lead because I knew he had reached his top form. Still. 1 was back in sixth place after we’d gone a mile in this mile-and-three-quarter grind over the turf course, and I looked up to see Citation in second place, breezing along easily. Then he moved up to the front and nobody was giving him any trouble. I decided I'd have to move up now because if I didn't, if 1 waited until I hit the head of the stretch to make my run. Citation would have too much left for me.

So I let Noor out a little, giving him

more freedom from the restraint of the reins, and we caught Citation at the halfmile pole. That last half-mile run to the wire was the greatest duel in which I've ever been involved. I realized then that if I’d waited until Citation had reached the quarter pole to make my move with Noor I’d never have caught him.

As it was, we drove that entire last half-mile stride for stride, head to head, nose to nose. The able jockey Steve Brooks, on Citation, had let his mount loose too, so that we both were under a sustained all-out drive. We were flattened against our horses’ necks, timing our flicks of the whip with their strides, pumping rhythmically in our saddles with the motions of the horses, something like a child pumps to work up the speed of a rocking horse. Noor was taking great, ground-consuming bounds, his eyes flaring, and from the corner of my eye I could see the straining copper form of Citation beside me,, his mane flowing majestically as he matched Noor’s every stride.

It occurred to me during those last frantic seconds, unconsciously, I suppose, or as the reflex of experience, that the whip could be doing Noor no good, that he was already giving his last dram of energy and determination and courage. In that last split-second I decided if I hit him again I might only hinder him. So I laid my whip aside and, as it turned out, that might have been enough to make the difference. I pumped Noor under the wire a lip in front of Citation, and a lot of people still remember that race as the greatest stretch duel they’ve

ever seen. I know that we were thirteen lengths ahead of the third horse in that eight-horse field. And Noor’s time, two minutes, fifty-two and four fifths seconds, lowered the Santa Anita track record by almost six full seconds, and set a new American mark for the mile and three quarters. Little things, such as laying the whip aside in that race, can often make the difference between winning and losing. I remember back in 1945 when I won the first of my four Santa Anita Handicap victories. I was riding for Louis B. Mayer, the movie-maker, that day, on a horse called Thumbs Up. The horse had been assigned to carry a hundred and thirty pounds in the mile-and-a-quarter race for a hundred thousand dollars added. The word “added” means that all nomination fees and entry fees are added to the guaranteed purse of a hundred thousand dollars. This figure runs into thousands, with the exact amount dependent on the number of horses nominated, the number that go to the post, and the size of each fee. In handicap races, the racing secretary evaluates the field and then assigns weights accordingly. The horses with the best records carry the most weight. Usually the difference between the jockey’s weight and the assigned weight is made up by lead plates that are slipped into saddle packs across the horse’s back. But in this race I wanted to keep the extra weight off Thumbs Up's back, I was weighing about 112. which meant the horse had to carry eighteen pounds of dead weight. So I strapped on my moneybelt and filled it with buckshot and buckled it around my waist. That transferred the weight from Thumbs Up’s back to his withers, where I was perched, and the withers are the strongest part of a horse, directly above his front legs. We won that race by the narrowest of margins over a horse called Texas Sandman. Maybe we’d have won it anyway. but I like to feel that the weight distribution made the big difference in those final few strides to the wire. On another occasion, a little thing may again have meant a great deal. It was the race in which 1 set a new winning record for jockeys with my 4.871st victory. The English jockey, Sir Gordon Richards, had retired in 1954 with 4,870 wins. With dusk gathering late in the afternoon of Sept. 3, 1956, at the Del Mar track near San Diego I got my opportunity to establish a new record. It was a tough race, as most of them are when there's a big stakes pot waiting for the winner. The Del Mar Handicap wasn't as big as some, but it was for

thirty thousand dollars added, so nobody was apt to be handing me a victory for sentimental reasons. I was riding a horse called Arrogate. Jockey Ray York, who once saved my life after a spill, was up on one named Honey's Alibi. 1 expected most of my opposition from Ray, and that’s how it turned out.

The distance was a mile and an eighth. We didn’t get off too well so I headed Arrogate for the rail, well back in the pack, and saved ground for three quarters of a mile. I moved up on the last turn, clucking into Arrogate’s ear and letting out on the reins, giving him some head. I took over the lead as we came into the stretch and I figured I had it wrapped up.

But all of a sudden here comes Honey’s Alibi. Ray York was flattened out on Honey’s neck giving his horse the stick. I shouted, “C’mon baby doll!” to my mount, and Arrogate responded to my pumping, and the two horses went flying for the wire looking like a dead heat. Just as we went into the last jump I reached out with my whip and tapped Arrogate under the chin. His head bobbed up. Honey’s Alibi’s head was down. The photo-finish picture showed Arrogate in front by this much.

That’s an old trick, that business of tapping your horse’s chin, but it worked. Next time you’re looking at a tight photo-finish picture, notice that the horse who wins it is the horse whose head is up at the wire.

I’ve used the word “pumping” a couple of times in describing close finishes. I’ve often been referred to by the racing writers as The Pumper because of my style of riding which, to say the least, is unclassical. In Australia one time, in fact, a writer said I looked “like a frog on a log.” I think my agent, Basil Smith, the man who has booked my riding mounts for years, possibly described the style best when a reporter once asked him about it. “Longden has won more nose finishes than any other jock because of his pumping style in the stretch,” Basil said. “He has very short legs. His riding style is more of a stand-up than a sitting crouch. He raises and lowers his body in rhythm with the horse’s stride and at the finish he raises up, pumping his arms vigorously, in order to get more out of a horse, hand riding his mount for that last effort.”

Coming from behind to win, as I’ve described with Noor and Arrogate, is one of racing’s great thrills but there’s a personal satisfaction in rating a horse so well that you can break first from the gate and lead all the way to the finish. In my thirty-one years of racing I’ve acquired a reputation of being a jockey who likes to ride on the front end. I’ve been able to win from wire to wire, I guess, through long experience in developing that sense of feel I mentioned. The horse in front has many advantages, providing the jockey knows how much horse he's got. When I’m on the front end I can dictate the race’s strategy. Jockeys behind must decide if I’m taking too much out of my horse in the early stages and therefore will have nothing left to withstand a challenge in the stretch. If they decide this is the case and fall behind, and I do have something left, they’ll never catch me. If they decide to stay with me it’s possible that their horses will have nothing left, unless they’ve rated them correctly. If we’re all right, then you’re going to see one hell of a horse race down the stretch.

I’ll never forget the first time I rode at Ireland's famous track, the Curragh, in the town of Kildare near Dublin. It was in 1949 and I had been given what amounted to a courtesy mount on a horse

called Pink Larkspur. My wife Hazel and I had just arrived for a vacation, and there was a race coming up in which Ireland’s horse of the year, Beau Sabreur, was entered and was an odds-on favorite. The owner of Pink Larkspur, a twenty-to-one outsider, had courteously offered me the mount if I wanted the experience of a race at the Curragh. I accepted.

The tactics over those hilly clockwise courses apparently were to sit back and let somebody else set the pace. I sat back for awhile, racing across the turf, but I soon was convinced that the pace was wrong. I was sure it was slow. So I took the lead. I was two lengths ahead, then four, then a full dozen lengths and still nobody started to move. I know now that they were certain my horse would run out of gas, but he felt strong under me and I maintained my pace. It turned out that the other riders had underestimated Pink Larkspur. We won handily.

It would be folly, however, if a jockey were to assume that the other riders would often underestimate the opposition. A successful rider lays careful preparation for every race, and even if he’s never seen some of the horses he’s in against he knows pretty well when he

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goes to the post what to expect from them.

He does this during his “homework.” Every night when I come home from an afternoon of riding I study the next day’s races in the Daily Racing Form and read the tiny agate type more thoroughly than any two-buck bettor. I look to see how heavy I’ve got to be or how light. Then I look over the horses I’m in against to see what they can do off their past performance. If it’s a horse I haven’t seen before I look to see how he made out against horses I have seen. I determine what horse seems to have the best chance so that I’ll know which one I’ve got to worry most about. Then I look at the other horses, find who’s got the speed and how my horse runs. That way, when I get to that particular race, I’ve got a good idea of what to expect from all the horses.

I try to ride a race as it comes up. If a horse gets away from the gate well, then I take advantage of it. I go to the top and try to stay there, making my own pace. If he doesn’t get away well, I ease him back and drop him in by the rail to save all the ground I can. Knowing from experience and from the past performance of a horse what to expect from him, you base your race on your knowledge, as I did in the race I described against Citation when I made my move early in the race because I knew he’d have too much left for me if I waited too long.

Once, I won a race from a horse called Deuce Admiral because I knew what to expect from him. I was riding Arrogate this time, the same horse on which I won my 4,871st race. The boys at my bam told me after the race that it looked as though I was threading a needle with Arrogate when I made a dash between

two horses in the stretch. There was only a small opening, it's true, but I knew that Deuce Admiral, the horse ahead of me on my right, would bear out as soon as his rider set him down, meaning let him go all out in the stretch. He always does. And, sure enough, when the drive for the wire got real hot, Deuce Admiral bore out and I was able to dash through.

You find out a lot of things about a horse during the running of a race, too.

It he won't run for you, you try changing his bit or putting blinkers on him or pacing him differently in succeeding races. I once rode a horse called Ballet Marshal, trained by my old friend Willie Molter, one of the most successful trainers in racing. I met Bill years ago on the prairie circuit in western Canada where he was a jock, too. in the Thirties. The first time I rode Ballet Marshal for Bill he told me to get the horse away quickly and show all the early speed he could so that we could see how he ran from the top. He ran poorly. So the next time .1 took him back to about third or fourth from the gate, and Ballet Marshal came on to win. He was a horse who just wasn't interested in running as long as there was nothing in front of him.

Other times you do everything right but you run into bad racing luck. You get wedged in against the rail by another horse, or a green jock bumps you off stride or lugs over in front of you. or you get a bad start from which you're unable to recover—any of these things and you just can’t get up to win.

In fact, the only time I ever bet on a race is after something like this happens.

I know the horse should have won his last start, that he would have won it with ordinary racing luck. So the next time he’s out I bet on him if I’m riding him because I figure he won’t have bad luck twice in a row. I bet fifty dollars or maybe a hundred in a case like that, but a case like that won’t come up more than once a month. Even then there’s no guarantee the horse won t get shut off again or be in against a stronger field or get beaten by a horse that also had bad luck or wasn’t quite sharp in his last outing.

This is one reason why I never give people tips on horses. If somebody asks me about a horse I’m going to ride. 1 just tell him, “It's your money, bet him if you want to. I’m going to give him the best ride I know how.”

I used to give tips if somebody asked me, but not any more; not since an experience involving my dad that now, in retrospect, has a very humorous side but which at the time made him sizzle.

A friend of mine named Frank Hobbs, who knew my dad, wanted to buy a horse. He borrowed the money from me and claimed one for $2,500 at Santa Anita. This was a mare named Bunny Martin and as soon as Frank got her he stepped her away up. I mean by that that he entered her in a race with horses that were obviously well above her class.

My dad. who died in 1942, was visiting me in California from his home in Taber and of course he was interested in the chances of our friend Frank's filly.

"How about it today?" my dad asked me the day of Bunny Martin's race. "Can she win?”

He wanted to get a bet down if he figured he could "steal” some money on Bunny.

"Not a chance in the world." I said. "Frank has stepped her away up."

You can guess what happened. Here comes Bunny Martin down in front, and she had gone to the post at sixty-five to one! One thing about it, the price was right.

My dad had listened to my advice and

hadn’t bet on the race. Well, sir, he stomped out of the race track, refusing to wait for me after the last race as he usually did, and he walked all the way to our house in Arcadia, a couple of miles from the track.

When he saw Frank Hobbs the next day he said, "I just didn't think my John would do a thing like that.”

He wouldn’t speak to me for three days. He was convinced that I knew Bunny Martin would win.

I’ve ridden close to 5.200 winners in my thirty-one years and there was never

one of them that I knew would win before we crossed under the finish wire. I’ve had too many things happen, even in the stretch, when I've been leading by half a dozen lengths, ever to presume anything in a horse race.

And I don't know a jockey who feels any differently about it. although 1 suppose some of the younger boys will pass out tips until they learn that no race is predictable. In fact, the only jock I know who’s expert at passing out information is Billy Pearson and he went into television to do it. Billy’s the fellow who

made something like $96,000 for answering questions about art on the tw>o programs, the $64,000 Question and the $64,000 Challenge. I’d like to tell you about Bill, and about some of the other jockeys 1 have known, in the next and concluding installment of this series. And I'll try to tell you why, after all these years, I haven’t retired, a question that seems to have been puzzling people for nearly a decade. ★

Johnny I.ongden’s story will he concluded in the next issue of Mud eon’s.