When Russell Baze rode his 9,531st winner, breaking Laffit Pincay Jr.'s astounding record, it caused this admirer to reflect on how these remarkable athletes play their trade.
The racing of horses is an inexact science. The riding of racing horses is the most inexact phase of an inexact science. So my admiration for jockeys is immense. They get far more blame than they deserve, since racing - and especially betting on racing – is a highly emotionally-charged endeavor, losing efforts are subject to unfair criticism. Someone has to be blamed for a losing effort! The jockey – the pilot of the horse – is the logical, available target. In truth, 90 percent of the time a loss is due to the fact that the horse could not run fast enough. This unhappy factor lies in God’s domain.
Jockeys are remarkable athletes, possessing unbelievable perseverance, patience, stoicism, guts, stamina, and dedication. They must rise before dawn each day to hustle business in the barn area. This translates to exercising several horses for trainers. They must kowtow to both owners and trainers, eat like a bird, and/or workout to maintain a weight which is often 20 pounds less than they should carry. This can result in illness, weakness, and irritability … yet they must come into the paddock in the afternoon, sometimes after an infuriating trip in the last race, and laugh, shake hands, kiss cheeks and chat up owners, responding to tired, boring questions and jokes and then go out and do their best on a 20-1 shot who they know will get nothing out of the race except being hot and dirty.
They make super crucial decisions in nanoseconds – decisions concerning the melee of a dozen 1,000-pound animals going 40 miles an hour in very tight quarters. They must then come back and think of something to say that is both tactful and protective of the horse and his conditioner. The good jockeys must constantly fly across the nation in the wee hours, to ride or maybe even just to work a horse, fearful of losing business if they don’t.
Jockeys deserve a lot of credit and so do their agents – sharp, intuitive operatives, who put their riders on productive horses.
Being the jockey of a racehorse is an awesome undertaking. It is the one unique livelihood that provides prestige and athletic stature to men of very small size. Many of these men have the mental capacity and personality to succeed in any field of endeavor. But, unfair though it be, their singularly small size could be a hindrance psychologically in most fields. Being a jockey adds a good foot of measurement to their persona.
I have seen many jockeys in my time. The best (of those whose careers have concluded)? Lester Piggott, Eddie Arcaro, Angel Cordero and Jerry Bailey.
Hooray for jockeys. All of them.
This is Cot Campbell and this is my view.