Looking Back at 25 Years of Association with the Jockey's Guild
by the late Eddie Arcaro
I consider it an honor and a privilege to be given this opportunity to reminisce over 25 years of association with the Jockey’s Guild.
Looking back, it is difficult to believe how hectic, hard and tough those early years were. For instance, in 1937 a group of riders met on the west coast to discuss organizing. Immediately they were called before the stewards and told in no uncertain terms that if any jockey even attended a meeting to form an organization he would be automatically ruled off.
It sounds ridiculous now, doesn’t it, but that was the status of the American jockey in those days. The stewards actually had that much power.
To illustrate, it was common practice for the stewards to tell a jockey to leave a race meeting, or a state, without affording him a hearing and no reason was given. A jockey just packed his tack and left. I could cite many specific cases of such injustices, but all that is now water under the bridge. The important thing to remember is how a few undaunted men were able to bring dignity and respect to the jockey’s profession.
The turning point for the Guild came in 1940, when it was incorporated in New York. The principals involved were the greats in racing at that time. On our team, and I shall name them alphabetically, were:
Marshall Cassidy, who has had no peer in racing knowledge, and at the time was “Mr. Racing” in New York…
Maurice Gross, whose tireless efforts helped us secure a uniform insurance throughout the United States…
Dr. Alexander Kay, our medical adviser, started with us and I am happy to say is still with us. Besides taking care of our health, he is like a father to the whole colony…
Colonel Lewis Landes, the lawyer who incorporated the Guild and wrote our original by-laws…
Ben Lindheimer, our friend who gave so generously of his time in guiding and leading the Guild forward.
We had as our first president Harry Richards, who was strong in character and who maintained a steady belief in our organization. Incidentally, he was one of the greatest riders of my time, the first switch-hitter in our business and the one from whom I copied switch-hitting.
The Guild’s first real achievement was its insurance. The younger generation of riders who have inherited this cannot possibly imagine the trials and tribulations we experienced. We were fortunate to have had a fine man like Maurice Gross to guide us through the whole battle – and believe me it was a battle! For a while we seemed to be jinxed. However, with the above-named gentlemen pulling for us our dream became a reality. These men contributed greatly to the Guild.
One opening day at Saratoga the jocks were told the track had not insured them and nobody would go out for the first race, which was a jumping race. Mr. Cassidy called me and told me to pay the premium – that he would guarantee to get my money. His word was his bond and 30 days later I was reimbursed.
The toughest problem with the insurance plan was to get all tracks to insure with the same company. Our reason for wanting this was that riders getting hurt in one state, going to another state, would encounter trouble getting their payments. Ironically, of all the people to give us a hard time, one was Ben Lindhemer! He wanted a different company than Lloyds of London. However, being the understanding person he was, he finally agreed to go along with us.
During my 13 years as president of the Jockey’s Guild I had one burning ambition before I quit riding, and that was to set up some kind of a fund for the riders. Too many riders, when they decide to quit, have no money laid away to tide them over difficult times until they can get going in another field. Nobody will ever know the man hours – the “blood, sweat, toil and tears” – that Bert Thompson, the board, and I put into that project.
We finally decided to set up the compulsory savings plan which is in existence now. However, in order to put this plan I motion it was necessary to secure for riders all over the United States a raise in mount fees. This was not accepted so easily. It took our organization two years to convince the owners of the necessity of a savings plan for jockeys. As a result, jockeys who never could save before now have a real nest egg.
Big money almost always attracts “smart guys” who want to get into the act. One minority group constantly agitates the idea that it can handle its money better themselves. Maybe so, but I would like to wager that the majority can’t, and this fund was set up for the majority who have been trying to destroy a great idea.
I rode for 31 years, which is considered six generations of riders. At this time I regret to say that I cannot count on my two hands the riders in that many years who had any important money a year after they quit. I only wish this savings plan had been in existence when I started!
Figure it out for yourself. I rode 25,000 races. At an average of more than 800 races a year, the money put into the fund, plus 4 per cent compounded interest, would have amounted to approximately $200,000. It would have been pretty sweet if at the age of 45 I could have withdrawn a nest egg like that, tax free.
If the average jockey today were to ride in the neighborhood of 250 races a year, he would put into his savings about $1,000 a year.
Were he to quit riding at the end of 10 years, the withdrawal value of his investment compounded at even 4 per cent – and the interest rate is higher today – would amount to between $10,000 and $15,000.
Believe me, it is worth sacrificing during a jockey’s riding years to have a substantial check waiting for him when he decides to retire. While this isn’t a fortune, most jockeys do not have that amount of money and it is the “most” of whom I am thinking. Perhaps I sound a bit cynical, but it really hurts me to see jocks who have reduced hard and taken thousands of chances with their lives wind up with nothing with which to begin a new life. It is sad but true that “ we grow too soon old and too late smart.” Don’t let that happen to you.
Our Guild is in a stronger position now than it has ever been. Bert Thompson and his team of managers work hard to do a bang-up job. I am very proud to say that I was one of the original leaders in our organization and earnestly hope it will grow into the greatness it deserves.
I am sure the generations that will carry on will never forget the Guild’s purpose, will never abuse its power. I have great faith in the younger generation of jockeys and feel confident they will uphold the respect and integrity that the name JOCKEY has gained.
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