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Jul 16, 2004

Half the Race is Out of Your Control (Part 6)

By: Joe Takach



Do you know how many jockeys on your home circuit ride while hurt?


I’ll take a wild guess and say every one of them! 


Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that 100% of your jockey colony is hurt at any given point in time.  But what I am saying, is that every jockey on your circuit at one time or another will ride knowing that he is not 100% sound and unable to offer his best.


Once in a while you can spot these situations if you are awake and paying attention, but most other times you can not.  Consider the following.


The most recognizable situation comes about whenever a jockey comes back far too soon from a serious injury.


If his mishap gets written up in your local newspaper or in the Daily Racing Form, it will usually state that he or she is expected to be out for 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 10 weeks or whatever. 


The expected recovery time stated in the newspaper is not relevant.  What’s important is the actual time that it takes for the injured jockey to return to the saddle.  If he comes back as scheduled, he’s probably fully healed or close to it.  If he’s early, he’s most likely not 100%.


It’s been said that pound for pound, jockeys are the best conditioned athletes in the world. 


I’ve never subscribed to that antiquated theory.  Furthermore, I seriously doubt that you could get any competent doctor to endorse such a ridiculous theory.  Granted, jockeys are superbly conditioned sport figures, but are we to actually believe that they are in better shape than football, basketball or hockey players? 


I doubt it!


Most likely this antiquated myth came about because nearly all jockeys miraculously return from their specific injuries much faster than expected.  Football players can’t seem to do this.  Neither can hockey players or basketball players!  


So how do jockeys accomplish this? 


Do jockeys have better doctors?  Do jockeys possess better recuperative powers?  Are jockeys intrinsically more healthy and in better shape than other athletes? 


If you answered yes to any of those questions, they’ve been fooling you for many years and they continue to do so to this very day.


The only reason that jockeys return to their sport faster than any other type of athlete is the fear of losing their business. 


They don’t have better doctors.  They don’t have any mystical recuperative powers.  And with their stringent and restrictive diets to maintain their riding weights, I can assure you that they are positively not any healthier than other athletes on non-restrictive diets.  In fact if anything, they are less healthy than most athletes because of their diets!


When Laffit Pincay was on his successful quest to break Willie Shoemaker’s win record, a local newspaper journalist once asked him why he continued to accept mounts in 8K and 10K claiming races?  With his riding tenure, didn’t he know that these cheap horses were more likely to break down during a race and potentially put him in the hospital.  Laffit’s reply was an honest one that hit you right between the eyes.  He fired back that “you can’t win races sitting in the jockey’s room”!


This is exactly what goes thru the mind of every single injured jockey when he sits on the sidelines waiting to heal.  He can’t fulfill riding engagements sitting in the jockey’s room or sitting at home.  What’s more, he doesn’t have any guarantees that another jockey won’t take over some or all of the business that he had before his misfortune.


So what does he do?  He prematurely returns to riding after “getting by” the track doctor by saying that he’s no longer in pain and feels 200% better.


When doing this he might keep his business intact, but he rarely wins until fully healed.


Since I’m always in the paddock before a race taking copious physicality notes on horses, I’ve often spotted jockeys that were quite obviously not 100% physically correct.  It might be the way that they walk or the fact that they’re sporting an Ace bandage on one of their wrists.


Whenever I spot these jockey negatives, it is either right after a spill where they didn’t take any downtime or soon after they return from a more serious injury.


Another way that you can learn about jockey injuries is by being lucky enough to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.


Some years ago at Santa Anita I was walking past Gary Stevens’ agent when he remarked to another guy next to him that Gary took a nasty spill during morning workouts and injured his right wrist.  He further stated that Gary was going to ride anyway. 


Stevens had 4 mounts that afternoon, to include a 9-5 morning line favorite in the 8th race that I initially had planned to bet.  I watched Stevens struggle thru his first 3 rides of the afternoon and I do mean struggle!  It was obvious to me that he was merely “going thru the motions” and was far from 100%.  I also noted that whenever he whipped a horse, it was only with his left hand.


When the 8th race rolled around, I knew that I had a bit of “proprietary information” that few others possessed.  Gary would be atop a runner that was the type of horse that had to be kept to task the entire length of the stretch.  He would have to whip both left-handed and right-handed to win the race!  That just wasn’t going to happen!  I decided to pass the race!


I have to credit Stevens.  Even though he was hurt and in pain, he gave it everything and tried his best.  He even attempted to encourage his mount right-handed when it was called for, but dropped his whip when he struck his horse the first time. 


He finished a well-beaten 4th.


As mentioned above, I was very lucky that afternoon to overhear his agent’s conversation and saved myself a bad bet.


But most times, we are not privy to such information.  At one time or another all of us wager on horses piloted by injured jockeys. 


This situation surely ranks up there with other aforementioned scenarios to potentially make a portion of some races out of our control.




Note: The remainder of Joe"s articles will be posted after the Del Mar meet on or about 09/14/04




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