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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ramon Dominguez Jockey of the Week

Dominguez, 33, posted 11 wins and $289,820 in earnings during the period. His most lucrative ride came aboard dual champion Gio Ponti as he finished second in the Tampa Bay Stakes on February 20.

Dominguez started the period with victories in the first five races at Aqueduct on February 17. He was shut out of the winner’s circle for the remainder of the day, finishing one win shy of becoming the 12th jockey to capture a record six races on a single NYRA card. “It’s unbelievable,” Dominguez said of his day. “Riding good horses without question, but things have to go right.”

Dominguez currently ranks first among all North American based jockeys by wins for the year through Tuesday with 66, 13 more than his closest competitor. His $1,844,160 in purse earnings.  Thoroughbred Times TODAY


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Meet Paul Atkinson

Caracortado and jockey Paul Atkinson upset the Robert B. Lewis Stakes.
Caracortado and Paul Atkinson upset the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.
The first question may be answered by a review of the gelding's form for trainer Mike Machowsky, solid build-up to a shot at the Kentucky Derby trail. The second will be answered in this article — and, if Atkinson and Machowsky get their way, in victorious post-race interviews after this year's Run for the Roses.

Racing pundits recognize that Atkinson, a native of Idaho Falls, Idaho, has been riding horses since he was knee-high. His wife Ami is an assistant horsemen's liaison at Santa Anita Park, has been for about 10 years. They have two young daughters, Makenzie (12) and Sarah (5), and they're all a respected part of the Southern California racing community, where Atkinson has done extensive work with the Jockey's Guild in the pursuit of reliable insurance and safer equipment and conditions for riders.

But that's not the nicest thing about the Atkinson story. The nicest thing is that Atkinson's recent success is all about a veteran rider getting his due. It's little guy makes good, a Facing the Giants-type of theme. And it's a reminder that all you need in this racing game is the right horse to take you places. Who doesn't love a story like that?

Let's start with the lead character, a kid who grew up out West on the bush tracks of Idaho and South Jordan, Utah. Naturally small, he started galloping horses when he was 15. His first event, in 1984, was a Quarter Horse race on the fair circuit aboard a runner named Hannell's Express. Of course, he won.

"I didn't really think I was ready," Atkinson recalled. "They kept telling me, 'Don't worry about it, you're ready, you're ready.' So then I was entered and I had no jock clothes, no saddle, no nothing. I wore blue jeans and cowboy boots and used an exercise saddle with an exercise pad, and all the other guys were in black boots and white pants and racing saddles … it was quite the experience."

Atkinson rode at the bush tracks until he was old enough to obtain his jockey's license — and some jockey clothes. His first pari-mutual race was at the now-defunct Wyoming Downs, but it wasn't long before an agent from the big city got wind of the talented country boy. Recruited to New York, he spent part of the winter at Belmont Park, working horses for Richard DeStasio.

"I didn't ride any races when I was there; I'd only ridden on the bush tracks and a few races at a recognized meet," he said. "I didn't figure I was ready yet, but I got on horses for the old man and I learned a lot from those guys, they helped me a lot. I got a little homesick so I went back home and rode that summer again at Wyoming and then I went back to school to finish high school, because I'd promised my mother I would graduate."

After high school Atkinson skipped around a little, hanging his tack at tracks in El Paso, Phoenix, Des Moin. He rode a little on the fair circuit in Northern California, didn't have much business, went back to Pheonix for the winter. In 1990, however, his focus began to narrow. Riding — and winning — at Fairplex for trainer Brian Webb, he met a lot of trainers from South Cal. Before he knew it, they were asking if he planned to stay.

"I didn't ever think I would set up base here," he said. "Sure, I thought it would be nice, but I didn't think I'd stay."

That all changed in 1991, when Jerry Ingordo approached the jockey about taking his book on the big-time circuit.

"I moved everything I owned in November of '91, and it was pretty tough," Atkinson recalled. "I'd win a couple races — not many — and I was struggling along there and figured I'd just go back up to Northern California that summer, but before the fairs started up there my business started picking up pretty good, so I went ahead and decided to stay."

Before long, business was rolling right along. Atkinson picked up some nice mounts, including multiple graded stakes winner Memo. In 1995 he went to Hong Kong to earn a close second in the Hong Kong International Cup aboard Ventiquattrofogli. But as is the case with many talented riders, he never found his way to the top of the standings. Even as recently as July of 2009 he was on the sidelines, nearing the end of a 10-month recuperation period for wear-and-tear on his right knee.

Then along came the big horse, a speedy handful of a 2-year-old bred and trained by Mike Machowsky. The first time Atkinson rode Caracortado in a morning breeze, the grandson of Storm Cat turned loose from the pony and went to bucking down the stretch. It was like the Cat Dreams gelding's little routine, one Atkinson sat out with ease. When they entered a maiden claiming race at Fairplex at the end of last September, Machowsky knew who he wanted in the saddle.

"He was coming back from some injuries and hadn't ridden in a while, so I figured I'd put him on one that would win when we ran him," the trainer said. "He'd helped out a lot just breezing horses, and I figured that horse when I ran him would win."

Caracortado, Spanish for "Scarface," did just that. And he did it again in November in a starter allowance at Hollywood Park, and in December in another Hollywood allowance, and two days after Christmas when they ran him in a California-bred stakes race at Santa Anita. Atkinson was aboard for each victory, including the most recent, when the 5-for-5 runner overcame promising Derby contenders like Tiz Chrome and American Lion to upset the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. By that time, Machowsky figured his jockey/horse combination was a good thing.

"I've known Paul for a long time now and he knows the horse, he doesn't get rattled, he rides in the pressure races and it's like he's riding in those kind of races all the time," he said. "Even though he's ridden sparingly in the past couple years, he's ridden this horse so well." Add the fact that Machowsky has promised agent Tommy Ball that Atkinson will remain in the saddle should his runner reach Kentucky on the first Saturday in May, and you've got a nice little feel-good story on your hands.

"We've had people calling, trying to buy the whole horse," said the trainer, who owns Caracortado in partnership with Don Blahut. "The whole horse whole horse isn't for sale. We'd be interested in selling a part of the horse, sure, but one of the things we've stipulated is that he runs in Don's silks and Paul stays on him. We might not get an opportunity like this again, and Paul deserves the run."

"You know, Gary Stevens came up to me the other morning at Clocker's Corner," Machowsky added. "He said, 'Paul's got the ability above and beyond what it takes to get the job done if you're lucky enough to get there.' Years ago, no one could say who Stewart Elliott was, who Jeremy Rose was. That didn't keep those two from winning Classic races. Loyalty's gotta mean something in this game, I just believe that."

For now, the trio will focus on the March 13 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, a stepping stone to the April 3 Santa Anita Derby en route to the ultimate goal — the May 1 Kentucky Derby. In the San Felipe, Caracortado will face 2-year-old Eclipse Award winning champ Lookin' at Lucky, trained by three-time Derby winner and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and ridden by two-time Eclipse Award winner Garrett Gomez. It'll be a stiff test, but Machowsky and Atkinson believe in their horse — and in each other.

"I have all the confidence in the world that he'll run as far as we need him to run," the trainer said. "He's got great tactical speed and I don't think we've gotten to the bottom of him; he's got all these gears, and all I feel like we need to do is keep him healthy."

"I'm excited," said Atkinson. "He's a nice little horse and he's a lot of fun, and if it works out that he goes to the Derby, that would be great. But if not, I'm enjoying him now as it is."

Claire Novak is an award-winning journalist whose coverage of the thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets, including The Blood-Horse Magazine, The Albany Times Union and She lives in Lexington, Ky.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Straight Talk About Danger

The NBC-TV Evening News anchor was moved by grief to deliver his paean to downhill skiers, snowboarders, skeleton and bobsled sliders, ski-crossers and aerialists following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvilli in a practice run. Kumaritashvilli’s death was his sport’s first fatality since 1975.

In comparison, 150 jockeys have been killed in a thoroughbred horse race since 1940, 60 are permanently disabled and three have died from their injuries in the last three and a half years, according to Terry Meyocks, national manager of the Jockeys’ Guild. A jockey has to have nerves of titanium, and bones of steel, just to work everyday.

A racehorse can fall in practice, clip heels with another runner in a race, bolt unexpectedly on a turn, or rear in the starting gate. One can’t predict when an occurrence of dire consequence will transpire. And, perhaps the random nature of accidents associated with such unforeseen animal behavior enables a rider to carry on.

Nevertheless, occasional bad luck’s no excuse for not keeping a history or at least an accounting of events that cause people to die or be injured on the racetracks. The tragic death of the Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, a horse, brought about the formation of The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. One would think that we’d want the same for our sport’s human participants.

“As an industry, we’ve got to work together to save lives and improve the safety of the sport,” said Meyocks, when I tried to learn more about the number of jockeys who have died or experienced career-ending injury as a result of an accident. The veteran horse racing industry executive credited Keeneland and Dr. Barry Schumer for taking a lead position in helping to develop jockey safety and mentioned a long list of other organizations and people that have contributed to their efforts. But he said also, that despite the work and generosity of many, no official database exists and that having one is imperative. “Everything takes time in this industry,” Meyocks admitted, seemingly frustrated.

In the meantime, apprentice Michael Straight, a graduate of Chris McCarron’s North American Racing Academy, is one person who can tell Meyocks and the Jockeys’ Guild friends what it’s like to stare death in the face while on horseback. Straight is spending time in a wheelchair now, the victim of a nasty spill at Arlington Park. The East Greenbush, NY native has fingers crossed that he’ll walk eventually, but a lifelong dream to live the life of a jockey seems no more than a dream for him now.

“Being a jockey, I knew there was a risk. But you have to be bigger than that,” Straight acknowledged in a telephone interview a few days ago. “Every time I got in the gear, I would think about where I was. I was thinking of everyone else in the race, hoping that I wouldn’t do something to hurt them,” he added. I couldn’t help but believe that in Straight the sport had lost someone special. He was polite, humble and grateful that he’d gotten as far as he did in his chosen field, and wasn’t bitter with the cards that the sport dealt him.

In recounting his intimidating first mount at jockey school, Straight said, “Lots of kids had to not go along with it because they were too scared. But I wanted to be a jockey since I was seven or eight, so I wasn’t afraid.” The jockey credited an upbringing in a supportive family and friendships with jockeys at nearby Saratoga Racecourse as key to his learning process. I can’t be certain, but in talking to him, he sounded as a person well-grounded in a deep faith in God, too.

Nevertheless, Straight admitted that it is “a bit reckless” to ride horses. He believes jockeys who aren’t willing to go for an advantage when presented in a race weren’t up to the task. He also admitted that his youth accommodated a beneficial impetuosity. “I’d handicap my races knowing that some older jockeys would ‘stay safer’ and then played it out as it goes. During the running of a race, you rely a lot on instinct,” he said. Straight was 24 when his accident occurred.

As for which sport is the testiest, does it really matter? There’s no denying that the Olympics have been souped up considerably with daring in the last 30 years. After a slump in the TV ratings in the late 1980s, the organizers of the Winter Games deliberately began staging high-risk Medal sports that would appeal to a younger audience. This year’s ratings, in turn, are fantastic, even better than American Idol. Considering how the Olympic athletes are flinging themselves down the slopes, reaching breakneck speeds in the chutes, sliding faster than oysters down throats and soaring four stories above the surface of the mountain, Williams was spot on to say that they were cut from a different cloth than the common Joe.

Yet, jockeys are extraordinary, too. “I definitely thought we are braver than the average guy,” Straight replied when I asked him if jockeys, like the Olympians, were unusual. “If you want to do it, you don’t think that you’re going to be hurt. You don’t care so much about injuries,” he said.

If there is a difference between Straight and White beside the obvious, then, it’s not age, gender, weight, height, and daring, but purpose. White and his colleague Olympians court danger to make millions off the public’s fascination with it, while jockeys, like Straight, live with danger merely to keep working, their acceptance of risk rarely noticed. Vic Zast/Horseracing Insider

Monday, February 22, 2010

Remembering Jockey Jack Robinson, which provides a long list of current and past jockeys, had this to say about Robinson: "Jack Robinson is a make-believe or mythical person who is invoked in English language conversation to indicate a very short amount of time.... The normal usage is, '(something is done) faster than you can say Jack Robinson' or otherwise '... before you can say Jack Robinson.'"

With a little more digging, plus some help from my friend Jeanne Wasserman, Satellite Manager at Pleasanton, I discovered a truly remarkable story. Jack Robinson was definitely much more than make believe.

Robinson, who won races at every track in
California in his 30-year career, died at the age of 46 during a race at the Solano County Fair in Vallejo on June 20, 1973. By all accounts, he put himself in jeopardy atttempting to assist a young rider in serious trouble. Robinson was thrown during a quarter horse claiming race and trampled to death an instant after reaching out to keep jockey Jorge Cruz from falling from his mount. He died 45 minutes later at Vallejo General Hospital. He left his wife, Betty, a son and five daughters.

Robinson was known as much for being a fearless rider as for his kindness and generosity. News articles written after his death are filled with testimonials to Robinson's care and concern for his fellow horsemen, especially anyone he knew was in need. Even 18 years after his death, racing journalist Darryl Hove wrote in a glowing memorial piece about Robinson, "Jack Robinson was not a saint, but you'd be hard pressed to find a person to tell you otherwise."

A native of
Philadelphia, Robinson rode thoroughbreds, quarter horses and appalosas in California and across the nation. He rode 11,079 thoroughbred races for 1,369 wins and earnings of $2,548.444. One of his biggest victories was aboard Jungle Road in the La Jolla Mile at Del Mar. He won his first race at Caliente in 1944, but was best known for riding in Northern California, especially on the fair circuit.

In December 1974, a year after Robinson's death, a statue of him was unveiled at Bay Meadows Racetrack and the Jack Robinson Memorial Award inaugurated. It was presented annually to an outstanding jockey in
Northern California. The initial recipient was Mel Lewis, and in subsequent years the award would be presented to such riders as Merlin Volzke, Bill Mahorney, Russell Baze, Tom Chapman and Ron Warren Jr.

When Bay Meadows closed down, Jeanne Wasserman decided she wanted to give the statue a worthy home. She was able to obtain permission to move it to the Pleasanton Satellite Wagering facility, where it now resides in a lovely garden patio. Thanks to Jeanne for preserving an important part of
California racing history and for helping educate race fans about a truly remarkable man.
Posted by Mary Forney's Blog
Monday, February 22, 2010

Borel Wins Woolf Award

  Presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950, Borel will become the 61st recipient of one of racing’s most coveted awards.  The Woolf Award honors and recognizes those riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual rider and the sport of Thoroughbred racing.

            The Woolf Award was created to honor and memorialize Woolf, who was one of the greatest riders of his era and who died soon after a spill on the Club House turn at Santa Anita on Jan. 13, 1946.  The Woolf trophy is a replica of the full-size statue of the late jockey which adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area.

            “Bo-Rail,” as he is affectionately known due to his propensity to hug the inner rail en route to heart-pounding victories, outran four other Woolf finalists:  Garrett Gomez, Randall Meier, Gallyn Mitchell and DeShawn Parker.

            The regular rider of the superstar filly and eventual 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, Borel stunned the racing world by orchestrating an unforgettable rail-skimming, last-to-first victory aboard New Mexico-based Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby.  Off at odds of 50-1, Mine That Bird executed the second biggest upset in Derby history and his winning margin of 6 ¾ lengths was the biggest since 1946, when Assault won by eighth lengths.

            Mine That Bird gave Borel his second career win in the Derby, as his first came with Street Sense in 2007, in very similar fashion.

            Due to his association with both Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird, Borel maintained a high profile on racing’s biggest stages throughout 2009.

            Following his win in the Derby, Borel became the first jockey in history to take off of a Derby winner to ride another horse in the Preakness Stakes.  Opting for Rachel Alexandra, with whom he had won the Kentucky Oaks, Borel defeated Mine That Bird and a field of 12 other males by one length and thus became the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924.

            Borel and Rachel Alexandra would go on to again defeat 3-year-old males in the

Gr. I Haskell Stakes, and males aged 3 and up in the Gr. I Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, becoming the only distaffer to ever win the prestigious 75-year-old stakes. 

            Born Nov. 7, 1966 in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana, Borel won his first recognized race in 1976.  Like so many top Cajun riders before him, Borel began riding match races in his native Louisiana long before he was old enough to compete at recognized racetracks.

            From “matching” at age eight, to winning his first Kentucky Derby at age 40, Borel’s career has been punctuated by hard work and a no-nonsense approach to the sport’s daily rigors.  Borel can commonly be found mucking stalls and performing other menial stable chores for his brother, trainer Cecil Borel, at Oaklawn Park’s annual winter/spring meeting.

            An iconic figure on the Kentucky-Arkansas-Louisiana circuit, Borel has won riding titles throughout the region and he is held in the highest regard by people at every level in the racing business.  From owners and trainers, to officials, media, grooms, hotwalkers, pony people and exercise riders, Borel has earned a level of respect and depth of affection seldom seen in what is an ultra competitive sport.

            Borel will receive the Woolf Award at Santa Anita in late March or early April, with a specific date to be announced shortly.
Santa Anita Communications Department



Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bejarano Named Jockey of the Week

Bejarano earned $493,000 last week. He leads all North American jockeys this yearby earnings with $1,789,408 through Tuesday. Bejarano also ranks third on the season by wins with 41 through Tuesday.

Bejarano, 29, captured the $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (G1) on Saturday when Blind Luck nipped Evening Jewel by nose at the finish line. The following day Bejarano rode Tuscan Evening (Ire) to victory in the $150,000 Buena Vista Handicap (G2).

Bejarano has enjoyed success riding on the West Coast, joining Patrick Valenzuela and Chris McCarron as the only jockey to sweep the riding titles at all three Southern California tracks in a single season when he accomplished the feat in 2008.

Born in Arequipa, Peru, Bejarano studied his craft at that nation’s riding school for 18 months and was the leading apprentice at Hippodromo de Monterrico before moving to the U.S. in 2002. He went on to lead all North American jockeys by wins in 2004 with455 victories.  Thoroughbred Times TODAY

Thursday, February 18, 2010


 Dominguez kicked off the streak aboard Chevalier Stable’s Thunder Reigns ($10.40), followed by Lee Lewis’ Framed ($5.00); Edward Evans’ Elusive Gift ($3.60); Michael Martin’s Simmy ($5.80); and Mike Hushion’s Wicked Diva ($3.90). 


Though Dominguez was named to ride morning-line favorite Lord Greystroke in Race 6, the horse was an early scratch.  In race 7, Dominguez finished third aboard Bobs Pinup Girl.


In race 8, a six-furlong allowance optional claimer for 3-year-olds, Dominguez had the call to ride Darley Stable’s heavily favored Liston, his last mount of the day.  Liston stumbled at the break and Dominguez was subsequently forced to check sharply to avoid riderless longshot Mia’s Angel, who unseated Angel Serpa at the start (Serpa was uninjured).  Dominguez and Liston continued to be bothered by Mia’s Angel and finished sixth.


“Probably my longest shot on paper was the horse in the first race,” Dominguez said.  “She had a good trip and things worked out well for us.  I knew I was on mostly favorites from then on, but you never know.  Things have to fall into place and today it was just one after another.”


Today was the fifth time that Dominguez has recorded five wins on a single Aqueduct card, with the other four coming November 4, 2009, February 7, 2009, April 13, 2007, and January 19, 2007.


Eddie Castro holds the national record for races won on a single card, winning nine races at Calder on June 4, 2005. NYRA Communications Department

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Velazquez Named Jockey of the Week

Velazquez racked up $388,895 in earnings during the period and currently ranks fifth among jockeys by North American purse earnings with $1,116,050 through Tuesday.

Quality Road’s Donn victory accounted for $300,000 of Velazquez’s $388,895 in earnings. It also was the jockey’s first Grade 1 triumph of the year.

“Watching the replay it looked awesome, it felt awesome,” Velazquez said of the Donnvictory. “It was just awesome.”

Velazquez accomplished a unique feat in 2009, winning two races at the Royal Ascot meet in England. He won the Windsor Castle Stakes aboard Strike the Tiger and the Queen Mary Stakes (Eng-G2) with Jealous Again, both for trainer Wesley Ward. It was the first time a U.S.-based horse won a race at Royal Ascot.

Velazquez, 38, has served as the Jockeys’ Guild chairman of the board of directors since July 2006.  Thoroughbred Times TODAY


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Bejarnao Named Jockey of the Week

The Peru native won the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint aboard Quisisana to earn $110,000, his most lucrative score during the period.

Bejarano, 28, ranks second this season among North American-based jockeys earnings with $1,010,318, only about $100,000 behind leader Ramon Dominguez, through February 2.

Bejarano began riding in his native Peru in 1999 and immigrated to the U.S. in 2002.

Since that time, Bejarano has proven to be one of the country’s most consistent riders with meet titles at the four main Kentucky tracks—Keeneland Race Course, Churchill Downs, Turfway Park, and Ellis Park—and the top three Southern California tracks—Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita Park. Thoroughbred Times TODAY


Wednesday, February 03, 2010



A gray (or roan) horse was going to win the first race.


No question about it.


Of course, even a novice handicapper could have figured that out, considering the conditions of the race. Named for a horse called Arromanches, it required entrants to be gray or roan, and indeed, the seven starters who ranged in age from 4 to 9, were all various shades of gray.


“It was,” said track announcer John Imbriale, “interesting.”


While a gray winner was assured, which gray winner was still to be decided.


Najarans Star (a dark gray mare) was the favorite, but jockey C.C. Lopez, aboard longshot Good Karma (a light gray gelding), thought he might have just that working in his favor.


That’s because, back in the day, Lopez was the regular rider of Arromanches, a hard-knocking (and light gray) claimer who once won eight straight races in 2001.


While the horseplayers who sent Lopez and Flying Zee Stables’ Good Karma off at 13.50-1 might have been surprised when he crossed the wire a half-length in front of Najarans Star, Lopez was simply elated.


“Arromanches!” he said triumphantly as Good Karma was led to the winner’s circle.  “My big horse!”


Arromanches was a consistent horse, winning 31 of 78 lifetime starts and earning $807,924, much of it at Aqueduct.  Appropriately, it was at Aqueduct in 1997 when Lopez first climbed aboard to score the first of 17 wins the pair would share; Arromanches was retired after finishing second in a $16,000 claiming contest at the Big A on December 7, 2002, with Lopez in the irons.


“He was a really cool horse,” Lopez said.  “I rode him for nearly everybody that had him – and I can’t tell you how many people had him – and he made money for all of them.  I was very fortunate – he was a great horse to ride and I really loved him.”


Lopez was so fond of the horse, in fact, that he had a pair of riding pants embroidered with Arromanches’ name at the back of the waist, which he proudly displayed after Wednesday’s win. 


“I had these other pants on and when I saw this race was named for him, I ran back inside and put my Arromanches pants back on,” Lopez said.  “I can’t tell you how proud I am to win this race for him.”  NYRA Communications Department




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