Riders Up !

by Ed Meyer

posted on April 18, 2018 in General Discussion, Handicapping, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

Sharon Crute - Detail of 1 1/16 #1 - Horse Racing Canvas Giclee


For years we’ve watched with wonder as Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens, Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay, Bill Shoemaker, Jorge Velasquez, Pat Day, Jacinto Vasquez, and Angel Cordero. – There are so many talented riders it would take up ten pages just to scratch the top.- It was the time. Going to the races was an event you started thinking about days prior to pick up the Daily Racing Form a day in advance so you could study and be prepared. – We would watch with wide-eyed wonder as these small men would magically glide on a 1,000 pound Thoroughbred. – There are so many that are etched in our mind, and thinking back to these well-trained athletes bring a smile to our face. -Here are a few that touched my love of the game and made an impression.


Pat Day was a small gent who gently walked through the tunnel at Keeneland. The race had just gone official and if Pat was coming back last he was probably getting his picture taken in the winner’s circle. – He would sign autographs and speak the gentle gospel. He wouldn’t impose but would leave an impression on you. There was something about Pat Day that left you feeling cleaner. He had battled his demons and if you really wanted he would ask you to stop back after the next race and he would briefly continue. There was a gleam in his eyes that left you knowing a little more about the man. He was one of the most impressive riders who used his hands to communicate with his mounts but used his words to bring you closer to God. He was a man who never blinked about his journey and would take a moment and pass this on. To this day, every time I have ever spoken with Pat Day he left me feeling cleaner. A feeling where you would walk a little taller and have a little more bounce in your step.

Jerry Bailey was the original magic money man. Bailey was a very talented rider, but his real secret was he just made fewer mistakes. – If there was a hole for a horse to chase, Bailey would get his mount there at just the right time. He could win more head-to-head races than anyone as he saved just enough in the tank. – Jerry was cocky, confident and talented. The only one who could beat Jerry was Jerry. – Just watching him ride was a pleasure.

Jacinto Vasquez was a rider who looked like he just came off the golf course. Probably did as the stories mounted about he made as much on the links as the professionals. – I first saw him ride at Keeneland after he did a one-year suspension from a 1975 accusation of race fixing. He fought in the courts and came back in 1984. – I was a very young handicapper and was in awe. He was the famed rider who gave up Foolish Pleasure to ride the great Ruffian in the “Great Match Race.” – Vasquez was riding in the Lexington Stakes in 1988 and he was aboard Risen Star facing the impressive Forty Niner. – At the top of the stretch, he glided off of the rail and spun wide into the lane to get up just in the shadow of the wire. At the time I made my biggest wager of $50 to win and he got up by a nostril. – Impressive to say the least and the talented Panamanian would stay in my memory forever.

Gary Stevens was like watching a conductor direct his band. – He started in 1979 in his home state of Idaho. He did every job on the track and the “Bionic Man” for his many joint replacements, just made it look easy. – If you’re a new fan or a handicapper who missed many of his years of riding, you probably remember his role in the 2003 movie Seabiscuit. He played the role of George Wolff and acting looked to be his new calling. – But if you watched this meet at Oaklawn Park you watched with wonder as he guided horses to the wire like he was still 18. – I saw him go down on Storming Home in the Arlington Million and God was watching over this day. I thought he was finished, but the “Bionic Man” made his way back into the saddle.

Angel Cordero was the first Puerto Rican rider to be elected into the Hall of Fame. He won three Kentucky Derbies and two Kentucky Oaks. – His asset was voiding of fear. He was always seen with his bright smile and he rode his mounts like a fearless madman. He would pin riders against the rail, shut off a hole for seconds before a horse could make his way and ride very close to others. He saved ground and was a master with the whip. – Cordero’s craft was not on display on weekly horse racing shows on ESPN as the simulcast explosion had not happened. If you weren’t in a New York OTB or at the track, or lucky enough to be in Las Vegas, you would have missed much of his magic. – I used to watch with eyes glued to the screen as ESPN showed the past weeks big races with host Chris Lincoln. I learned much about the master and how he held court. He was a confident rider who wasn’t afraid to use the stick and jump his horse into a small gap along the rail where only the fearless ventured. – Cordero has taught more riders the skill of the sport and how to use these tactics to their best. – Picture John Velasquez, Jose and Irad Ortiz, and the retired Ramon Dominguez. At some time there must have been plenty of conversations with these new riders as they had the look of the master.

These were the riders I grew up watching and wagering. – They seemed like magicians who plied their trade with a gentle hand and always seemed to be there at the wire when the money was on the line. – There are some riders who still amaze me with their abilities and the new faces in the jock’s room. – Irad Ortiz Jr, Jose Ortiz, Tyler Gafflione, Flavien Prat, Manny Franco, Eric Cancel, Evin Roman, and Asa Espinoza to name a few. – That’s the best part of the game for me is getting to watch the new riders learn their trade from the pros. The game keeps running and the talk in the back row at every OTB or track is the “remember when” type when retired riders and horses held court.