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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jockey Dennis Keehan 1943-2011

By Katie Drews/Chicago Sun Times 5/23/2011 
The Chicago native later fueled his competitive drive by playing pocket
billiards -- on crutches or from a wheelchair -- in amateur leagues and
tournaments.
 
Denny "Sweet Stroke" Keehan, as he was sometimes called, became a
well-known figure in the pool circuit throughout the city and country.
Mr. Keehan, who last resided in Chicago Ridge, died of cancer on May 4
at his sister's home in Worth. He was 68.

Born on Jan. 19, 1943, Mr. Keehan grew up in Mount Greenwood on Chicago's
Southwest Side. While attending Mendel Catholic High School, Mr. Keehan
was a quiet, reserved student who dominated as a wrestler, winning 40 of
43 matches.

Because of his short stature and incredible strength, his wrestling
coach recommended he look into a career as a jockey. Though Mr. Keehan
had no experience with horses other than once taking a picture with a
pony, he turned down a wrestling scholarship for the racetrack, his
sister Dotty Schumpp said.

Mr. Keehan started at the bottom, cleaning stables and walking horses,
but he quickly showed his promise as a jockey.

Mr. Keehan took first place in his first professional race and later
broke two track records at the former Sportsman's Park in Cicero. He was
nationally ranked as one of the top apprentice jockeys with 625 mounts
and 83 wins in his short nine-month career.

"That is a tremendous feat," said his friend, Dan Lynch, a retired judge
in the Circuit Court of Cook County. "He had an extraordinary number of
mounts; that would be unheard of as an apprentice. That's how good he
was."

On April 25, 1964, at Sportsman's Park, Mr. Keehan fell during a race
and was trampled by other horses. After months of hospitalization,
doctors said he would never walk again.

"He accepted what happened to him," Schumpp said. "He had more heart
than anybody."

Though he had to use leg braces and crutches to get around, and later a
wheelchair, friends said he never complained and continued to live and
drive independently.

After the accident Mr. Keehan also discovered a passion for pool, which
he picked up during his downtime at the racetrack. As a paraplegic,
however, he had to develop gadgets that would help him reach shots
across the table.

Mr. Keehan ended up competing with some of the best pool players
nationwide, according to Jim Parker, president of the Illinois Billiard
Club, and he became the second leading point holder in the country in a
wheelchair league.

For some time, Mr. Keehan also owned his own billiard hall in Michigan.

"He was so inspirational in the way he dealt with all this adversity and
all this pain," Parker said. Occasionally, while maneuvering around the
pool table, "you could see that the pain would hit him. He'd just cringe
for 30 or 40 seconds and then it'd pass. He wouldn't say a word."

Mr. Keehan wrote a book about his life that, once published, will
benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

Mr. Keehan is preceded in death by his parents, Gerald and Dorothy
Keehan, and brother Jerry Keehan.

A memorial service is pending.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Jockey taking hot start in stride

 Ashley Prest /Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition
 
The 46-year-old Oregon native, who moved to Winnipeg this spring from Florida, is already jockeying for top spot in the race for most wins among jockeys in thoroughbred racing at Assiniboia Downs (ASD).

 "On opening day (May 8) I looked out the window and it was snowing and I was just, "nooooo," laughed Kenny, who grew up with occasional flurries but has lived in Florida and Arizona for most of the past 12 years. "It's been a bit of an adjustment. But coming from 90-degree (30-plus Celsius) days and 100 per cent humidity in Florida, I'm used to the heat so I'm just waiting for that."

In the first eight days of racing at Assiniboia Downs, Kenny rolled up nine wins to sit tied atop the jockey leaderboard with David Lopez. On Wednesday night, she slipped into second when Janine Stianson won three races to take the lead with 10 wins.

It was Stianson's second horse-racing hat trick so far this season while Kenny has also posted one of her own. Kenny won three races on May 21 aboard Lees Dyna Man, Cowboy At Heart and Coastal King.

"It's tough to break in anywhere and Assiniboia Downs is very tough to break into, but Jocelyne's made inroads immediately," said Darren Dunn, the CEO and track announcer at ASD.

"She's got a tremendous agent who's helped her make those inroads here, she has a huge smile, a great attitude and she's an extremely hard worker. That's going to create success every time."

Kenny came out of semi-retirement to ride at the Downs. She had great success in Phoenix in 2000-08. She moved to Florida in 2008 and stopped riding full-time.

"I was exercising horses for some big barns down there, riding a few here and there, and I rode a total of maybe 75 horses in the last three years," Kenny said. "So this is a bit of a comeback for me."

Kenny said her agent, Mike Pierce, has been able to match her with some quality mounts.

"My agent knew people, had been here before and got me in some good barns and that's kind of propelled me so far," Kenny said. "I was fortunate winning two on opening day and part of it is hard work. You've got to come out here and work every morning."

She said there's a great atmosphere within the smaller jockey colony of 18 at Assiniboia Downs.

"I love to ride and I wanted to do this in Florida but it's just so tough down there, there's so many riders and it's tough to break in," Kenny said, noting Calder Race Track in Florida where she was working as an exerciser had a jockey colony of 100. "It (riding at Assiniboia Downs) is more accessible because you're not competing with 60 other people."

Kenny said she hasn't set any goals for herself and just wants to take her good start in stride and see where the season takes her.

"It's been really nice and it's been kind of reassuring because you never know after you've come off a layoff how you're going to come back," she said. "The fitness issue is in the back of your mind too because it doesn't matter how many horses you gallop or how many horses you work out in the morning, you don't get race-fit. It takes race riding to get race-fit so I've had to work at that part of it. The more I go along the better I feel."

She said a good season here this summer could open doors for her this winter.

"If Hialeah in Florida happened to open up to thoroughbreds, because they're just running quarter horses, if they were able to run a mixed meet down there (thoroughbreds and quarter horses) this winter, I may try to go ride down there," Kenny said, referring to Florida's Hialeah Park Race Track near Miami, which has applied to the Florida division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to restore its thoroughbreds racing permit.

"Any time you do well on a recognized track anywhere, people notice."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Guidry back at Churchill working for Romans

Jennie Rees/Courier-Journal.com
  
“Training was good,” he said. “I just ran out of horses, ran out of clientele. So you got to do what you got to do.”

Guidry said he “ran out of horses” at his training base at Evangeline Downs in his native Louisiana. He won 30 of 300 starts in a training career that began in 2008. He retired as a jockey Nov. 10, 2007, and turned to training after attending the racing officials school at the University of Louisville.

Guidry said he has one more horse to run at Evangeline Saturday, an Alabama-bred filly.

He said he will be “a utility player” for Romans, who won Saturday’s Preakness Stakes with Shackleford. He has been getting on a couple of horses in the morning.

“Wherever he needs me,” Guidry said. “You know he’s doing all the good right now. You know I ain’t going to follow no empty wagon.”

Guidry was the long-time kingpin of Chicago racing before relocating to Kentucky in hopes of getting on better horses. He finished in a tie for the 2005 fall riding title with Rafael Bejarano.

His biggest victory was the 2005 Kentucky Oaks on Lemons Forever, whose win payoff was a record $96.20. Guidry also won the $750,000 West Virginia Derby in 2006 with the Romans-trained Bright One and the 2005 West Virginia Derby on Real Dandy, as well as the 2005 Santa Anita Derby on Buzzards Bay, 2001 Arkansas Derby and Turfway Spiral Stakes on Balto Star.

As for Romans, I might be missing someone, but I believe that he joins Bill Mott, Steve Asmussen, Kiaran McLaughlin and Bob Baffert as the only trainers to win the Dubai World Cup, at least one Breeders’ Cup race and at least one Triple Crown race.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jockey Mike Smith poised for UK bow

Geoffrey Riddle/The national
 
Smith, who has amassed more than US$200 million (Dh736m) in prize money and was admitted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, will take the ride at Folkestone on Gentlemans Code, trained by compatriot Wesley Ward.

Smith, who has been staying in Newmarket and has ridden out for Luca Cumani this week, flew to England on Sunday after finishing third in the Preakness Stakes in the US aboard Astrology.

If Gentlemans Code wins, Smith hopes it will mean a start at Royal Ascot next month.

"At this stage of my career, to get an opportunity to ride at Royal Ascot is very exciting," he said.

"If all goes well I'll ride there all five days."

Smith became the first US-based jockey to win a European Classic when he partnered Fourstars Allstar in the Irish 2,000 Guineas in 1991.

He made his Dubai debut this season when he finished second on Euroears, trained by Bob Baffert, in the Dubai Golden Shaheen.

"Riding at Meydan was incredible. I never rode at Nad al Sheba, which is a shame," he said.

"It's just a real blow that I finished second on Euroears."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

MICHAEL BAZE MEMORIAL AT HOLLYWOOD THURSDAY, JUNE 2

Hollywood Park/Publicity Dept.
All those wishing to honor Baze, who passed away May 10 at the age of 24, are invited to attend. The tribute will be held in the Sunset Room.

Baze was the leading rider at the Spring/Summer meet in 2007, the youngest jockey to accomplish the feat since Bill Shoemaker won the title at 19 in 1950.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

RODRIGUEZ MAKES 2000TH VISIT TO WINNERS CIRCLE

David Mattice/Finger Lakes Publicity Dept.

 
The 44-year-old journeyman from Cuba notched his first career victory aboard Binnbie at Calder Race Course in 1988. Rodriguez won the Calder jockey title in 1989 and in 2005 he was inducted into the Florida track’s Hall of Fame. Rodriguez has been riding at Finger Lakes since 2002 and achieved 740 of his 2,000 victories at the Western New York track.

"I’ve been fortunate to have a good career," said Rodriguez. "This is nice to get this milestone."

Rodriguez was aboard 2008 "Horse of the Year", Tin Cup Chalice, when he became the first horse ever to sweep all three legs of the Big Apple Triple. He also won the Grade 2 $514,100 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park with the $868,680 earner on October 4, 2008.

Rodriguez swept the early double on Tuesday and earned win number 2,001 aboard Doodlin in the second race. He is currently third in the 2011 Finger Lakes Jockey Standings with 16 victories.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bravo still at top of his game after all these years

By Steve Edelson/Asbury Park Press
He personally acknowledged every exercise rider in the saddle that passed on the way to the track. Each golf cart stopped so the occupants could pay homage. Prospective employers at one barn after another were engaged like they were the only thing in the world that mattered.

As Bravo guided the Todd Pletcher-trained Turbo Compressor to the wire in the sixth race on Saturday, it was the opening salvo in what the 39-year-old hopes will be his 14th riding title at a place where his mounts have earned something north of $50 million since the late 1980s. Twenty-five minutes later he had his second winner of the meet.

"He's the consummate professional. He's Mr. Monmouth Park," track general manager Bob Kulina said.

"We've had a lot of Hall of Fame riders here for periods of time during their careers, and no one has ever dominated like he has. He knows every inch of the track, he knows every person and he has a contagious personality. Throw in all the bad luck he's had over the years (with injuries), and it's quite amazing he's still at the top of his game."

With a record $50 million up for grabs at Monmouth Park last year, the best jockeys in the country descended on the Jersey Shore looking for their piece of the pie, with the regulars expected to grab whatever scraps that the likes of Garrett Gomez left behind.

All Bravo did was earn $4,639,966, second behind only Paco Lopez and the most he'd ever earned at Monmouth Park, in winning 81 races.

"I really wasn't trying to prove anything to anybody," Bravo said. "I was just doing my job. If you have fun out there you're going to do well at whatever job. I love horse racing. It's been my life. I don't ever want to give it up. I'm having fun.

"However, what I do depends on the horses I'm sitting on. I had a nice Gulfstream meet, finished fourth there and won some nice stakes over the winter."
 

At 39, Bravo's a survivor in a sport where young, talented jockeys are everywhere, and landing underneath a 1,200-pound thoroughbred traveling at a high rate of speed is an occupational hazard.

He's broken his back four times. The last time, on opening day at Gulfstream in 2006, was a particularly difficult rehab, both physically and psychologically.

"It was one of those times when I really thought that was going to be it for me," he said. "I got into a real hole mentally. I was really miserable and people were trying to call me and I turned my phone off, but the only one you're really hurting is yourself. The people who were calling were friends trying to help you out, and I decided I didn't want to be that person. It's nice to be out there and have people around you. This game has been my life and I love being part of it."

He came back that summer and won the riding title at Monmouth Park, and now he's as healthy as he's been in quite some time.

"I feel good right now," he said. "When you go through injuries and stuff and when you're in pain, you're not really a happy person.

"I'm going to let my body decide how long I ride. Every time someone asks me that I say, "Three months or three years.' Like I say, everything is three months or three years in my life. I don't know what tomorrow is going to bring."

If opening day was any indication, he's going to take a whole lot more money out of this place over the next four months, winning three times, including the $75,000 Decathlon Stakes.

Added Bravo: "It's like a dream. I'm able to walk into a race track, I'm on seven horses and my longest shot is 3-1. All the horses ran great. I'm just thankful to have some good trainers behind me so that when I come back they put me on the best horses."

And Saturday was a perfect example why.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Arlington Park Tribute to Michael Baze

Click here to view:
 
 
Michael Baze biography and career highlights

Born: April 14, 1987 in Renton, Wash.

Meet titles: Hollywood Park, 2007; Del Mar, 2007; Arlington Park, 2010

Career record: 6,969 mounts, 918 wins, 918 seconds, 817 thirds; purse earnings of 32,462,572

Highlights: 20 graded stakes wins topped by Grade 1 Darley Debutante in 2009 aboard Mi Sueno

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Memorial Service for Michael Baze Set for Friday at Churchill Downs

From Churchill Downs Communications Office      
The memorial will follow the fourth race, which has a scheduled post time of 4:18 p.m. (all times EDT). 

        Baze’s body was found in his car in the Churchill Downs stable area late Tuesday afternoon.  Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Jim Wesley said an autopsy performed on Wednesday revealed “no anatomical cause of death.”  Wesley said toxicology reports would be available in about three weeks.

        Baze is a member of great Northwest U.S. racing family that includes Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze, racing’s all-time win leader, and jockeys Tyler and Gary.  He rode at Churchill Downs for the first time during the

2010 Fall Meet and had planned to ride during the ongoing Spring Meet.  Baze had no mounts during Kentucky Derby Week and had been named to ride one horse on Thursday’s racing card.

        Baze won 918 races, 52 of those in stakes events, in a career that began in 2003.. He won riding titles at Del Mar, Hollywood Park and Arlington Park.  He scored 34 wins in the 2011 meet at Oaklawn Park.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

John Velazquez Named TT TODAY Jockey of the Week

The victory in the $2,171,800 race also pushed the 39-year-old native of Puerto Rico to the top of the list of leading North American jockeys by earnings for the week ended May 10.

The day before the Derby, Velazquez’s scheduled Derby mount, champion twoyear-old male Uncle Mo, was scratched from the race because of the lingering effects of a gastrointestinal tract illness.

A few hours later, he was named to ride Team Valor International’s Animal Kingdom in place of Robby Albarado, who was taken off the colt after Albarado was kicked in the face by a horse before a race on Wednesday and took off his mounts on Friday.

Velazquez used an efficient trip to get Animal Kingdom in position for a run in the stretch, and the Leroidesanimaux (Brz) colt made the most of it, charging down the center of the track to a 2¾-length victory.

Velazquez found himself in similar situations each of the previous two years when early favorites Quality Road (2009) and Eskendereya (2010) were scratched in the days leading up to the Derby.

For the period, Velazquez had four winners from 15 mounts that earned $1,785,491, more than double the amount of his nearest competitor, Martin Garcia, whose mounts earned $865,849.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Velazquez and Irwin agree to share Kentucky Derby winnings with Albarado

By Marty McGee/Daily Racing Form
 
Irwin announced Tuesday that Albarado “is being taken care of” in the aftermath of bad feelings that emanated from the series of events that unfolded prior the Derby. Albarado suffered a broken nose and other facial injuries in a pre-race accident Wednesday at Churchill, then took off his mounts Thursday and Friday to heal up for Saturday. On Friday morning, however, Irwin announced that he was not comfortable with Albarado staying aboard Animal Kingdom and replaced him with Velazquez, who had become available with the defection of Uncle Mo from the Derby field.

“Obviously we don’t feel that good about all that happened,” said Irwin. “I don’t think it would be appropriate to disclose the amount of money that’s involved.”

Albarado won the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on Saturday aboard Sassy Image, the longest shot in the field.

The winner’s share of the Kentucky Derby purse was $1,411,800, meaning that the standard 10 percent earned by Velazquez was $141,180. Jockeys typically pay their agents 25 or 30 percent of their earnings. Irwin said Velazquez’s agent, Angel Cordero Jr., will be paying the same percentage of his winnings to Albarado, too.

The only obligation that Team Valor had toward compensating Albarado was the jockeys’ mount fee, which in the case of the Derby is $500.

A text message seeking comment from Albarado was not immediately returned Tuesday. He said in published reports following the Derby that although he congratulated the connections of Animal Kingdom on their victory, he felt his plan to heal up for Saturday by taking off his mounts the two previous days “backfired” on him.
 
Albarado, who rides regularly at Churchill, has never won the Derby. The Derby win was the first for the New York-based Velazquez
Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Racing gods smile on John Velazquez - at long last

By Jim Litke / AP Sports Columnist  
 
Never mind that John Velazquez had plenty of reasons to think otherwise, even after a fellow jockey’s misfortune cleared the way for him to climb aboard Animal Kingdom on the eve of the Kentucky Derby.

"I guess when it’s meant to be for you, it’s meant to be for you," Velazquez said, his grin for once, nearly as wide as he was tall. "No matter what."

That rarely rang truer than it did across this aging racetrack for two minutes on a cool, overcast late afternoon. Velazquez has been at the top of his trade for at least a decade, but he was an unlikely and even more unlucky 0-for-12 in the one race that mattered most.

For three years running, Velazquez arrived in Louisville with a mount that had favorite written all over him, only to see each one erased days before the race. This time around, it was Uncle Mo, the juvenile champion sidelined by a bad stomach just 36 hours before the gate was set to open. The year before, it was Eskendereya, an impressive beast felled by a leg injury that turned out to be a career-ender. The year before that, it was Quality Control.

The strange thing is that Velazquez had already established himself as the No. 1 jockey for the No. 1 operation in the game — the mega-stable run by trainer Todd Pletcher, who knew a thing or two about Derby droughts himself. Uncle Mo and Eskendereya were his horses, too. But plenty of that pain was eased last year when Super Saver, another of the seven horses Pletcher brought to Churchill Downs, stormed down the rail with Calvin Borel in the saddle to steal the race and snap the trainer’s own 0-for-24 streak at this place.

And here’s where the story takes a final twist.

Robby Albarado was supposed to ride Animal Kingdom, but got his nose busted earlier in the week when he was thrown off his horse, then kicked in the face. When Uncle Mo was scratched Friday morning, that freed Velazquez up as a potential replacement. That also left it up to Barry Irwin, a former racing writer who now heads the group that owns Animal Kingdom, to decide whether a switch was warranted.

"If Robby rode on Friday, then we were going to go with him," Irwin said. "But if he didn’t, we would consider that to be a telltale sign, because that was just a risk that we weren’t prepared to take.

"We just didn’t dump Robby just to get Johnny. We wouldn’t do anything like that," he added. "This thing just came up bad, and believe me we will find a way to make this up to him."

They better.

"The reason I took off was to get well for today. It kind of backfired on me," Albarado said after climbing off a horse in the race after the Derby. "It’s going to take some time to go gather this together."

The two jockeys crossed paths only once after the switch, earlier Saturday, when Velazquez asked his fellow jock how he was holding up and Albarado said only, "You’re riding a good horse." Velazquez said that depending on how good, he might have a little something for Albarado the next time they met.

"I told Robby if we win this race," Velazquez recalled, "’I’m going to take care of you."

But that was only because the he took care of the important business first.

Breaking from the No. 16 post, he guided Animal Kingdom to the back of first flight and sat four lengths off the lead heading into the first turn. Before the race, trainer Graham Motion had kept the instructions as simple as possible: Stay out of trouble, don’t give up too much ground, save him for a push at the end.

As little as Velazquez knew about the colt, he turned out to be a quick study. As the stampede pounded down the opening stretch, he sensed he was going to be in the mix by the finish.

"He gave me so much confidence going into that first turn ... it’s like you have the horse to get out of trouble and get to the spot you want," he recalled. "And when I asked him to run, he was there for me. It’s a feeling you can’t describe."

It might not be the only exhilarating moment Velazquez knows this month. He’s a finalist for the Hall of Fame, with the results announced May 13. A week later, he will be getting ready for the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, with racing’s version of a quarterback controversy: whether to stay in the saddle for Animal Kingdom or go back to Uncle Mo.

"I think I’m going to cross that bridge when we get there," he said, grinning again.

"No, seriously, I think this horse, the way it runs today, it would be a very hard decision for me to get and go to another one. That’s just the way it is."

PDJF

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