Sunday, January 26, 2014
Few individuals have a racehorse named for them, but not many people have the ability to connect with everyone they meet like jockey’s agent Lisa Ciardullo. The tireless go-getter hustles book for Harry Vega, who she has worked for the past five years, and Jose Ferrer, who she managed during a previous Tampa Bay Downs meeting. Ciardullo is back home after primarily spending the past four winters with Vega on the Laurel/Penn National/Philadelphia winter circuit, and at Hawthorne last year. The daughter of a former Thoroughbred owner, Richard Ciardullo, Sr., and sister of trainer Richie Ciardullo, Lisa refers to her 1-2 punch as the “8,000 Club” (combined, Vega and Ferrer are about 40 wins shy of that figure). How much credit an agent should receive is subjective, but Vega says Ciardullo is vital to his success. “She’s a hard worker, she’s sharp and she works with people, and they appreciate that side of her,” said Vega, who won Saturday’s $60,000 Pelican Stakes on Palace Barista. “She helps anyone who needs help, and that makes it good for her as an agent and good for me as a jockey.” Over the past 18 years, Ciardullo has also worked for the likes of her ex-husband, Glenn Stannard; Joe Rocco, Jr.; Juan Umana; Jorge Guerra; Brent Bartram; and Paula Bacon (herself an agent and Ciardullo’s best friend). The horse named for her is Lisa Stannard, a 5-year-old stakes-winning Pennsylvania-bred. Lisa – who freely admits to possessing the gift of gab – shares her insights in the latest installment of Tampa Bay Downs’ series of “Racing In The Sunshine” profiles.
THIS GAME IS FULL OF SURPRISES, WHICH IS A MAIN REASON I love it so much. Consider the case of Purely Hot, a now-6-year-old mare I picked up for Harry last spring when we were at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa. She had raced for a $4,000 claiming tag as a 4-year-old at Penn National, but when she won a starter allowance race for us last May, she took off like a skyrocket. Her trainer, Nick Caruso, moved her to stakes company, and Harry rode her to victory in the $100,000 Satin and Lace Stakes 11 days later. But wait: It gets better.
WE WON TWO MORE STARTER ALLOWANCE RACES WITH HER, and Nick decided to shoot the moon and try her in the Grade II, $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters in September. The field included Groupie Doll, who just won another Eclipse Award as Outstanding Female Sprinter, and Judy the Beauty, who ran second to Groupie Doll in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Well, Harry and Purely Hot finished second to Groupie Doll, but it took a track record to beat them. Nick then entered her in the Grade II Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland, where she finished fourth behind Judy the Beauty and Groupie Doll. That led to Harry and I spending the three-week fall meeting at Keeneland, where we won three races and I had the time of my life. Being in the big time, it was like a dream – and a former $4,000 claimer (and Harry!) got me there.
I LOVE ALMOST EVERYTHING ABOUT BEING AN AGENT; I’m not going to lie and tell you I enjoy being at the track every morning at 6. My father dragged Richie and me to the track when we were kids, and it gets in your blood. I met Glenn Stannard, who was a jockey here, when I was in high school, and after I watched guys not working too hard for him, I thought ‘I can do this.’ (Tampa Bay Downs State Steward) Charles Miranda was a big part of me becoming an agent. He was training horses at Birmingham, and he used to quiz me every day about the condition book, making entries, all the things I had to know. I also got good advice from (Tampa Bay Downs) track announcer Richard Grunder, who is an agent in the summer.
BEFORE I STARTED HUSTLING BOOK, I WAS A MUTUEL CLERK here at Tampa Bay Downs. I actually started being a teller at Beulah Park in Ohio, when I was 18, and did it about four years. I enjoyed it, but it’s harder than it looks, especially with all the gimmick wagers available. Plus, you wind up liking a horse so you think ‘Maybe I’ll bet a couple of dollars,’ and sometimes you end up spending more than you make. So you’re better off being on the other side because you’re not so tempted.
IN THE PAST, I MAY HAVE THOUGHT BEING A WOMAN kept me from getting some of the more established riders and landing high-quality horses, but I no longer believe that is true. It all depends what type of person you are. Male or female, you have to know the business and what’s out there, you have to be likeable and approachable and you have to be able to get along with a variety of people. And you had better have a thick skin, because you’re going to get hired and fired often. And, in some cases, you’re going to go back to the people who fire you and work for them again.
ALL JOCKEYS NEED SOMEBODY TO HELP KEEP THEIR BUSINESS in line and their schedules together. As an agent, you tell them where they need to be in the morning and what they need to do. They can’t do it all themselves. They’re in the room getting ready to ride when future entries are being drawn in the racing office, and they need someone to stand up for them when they get a double call (named on two horses in the same race) or another jockey takes off a horse. I have my schedule down to a ‘T,’ and as an agent, I might even call trainers when a field looks a bit light and say ‘Why don’t we take a shot in this race.’ You try to hit every barn every day, even if you aren’t currently riding for that trainer. Another jockey might be late for a workout, and if I’m lucky enough to have one of my jockeys with me, you offer to do that trainer a favor knowing it probably will come back to you. Everybody is on the hustle.
I HAD THOUGHT ABOUT TAKING A BREAK THIS WINTER, because I had to get out of the cold and wanted a change of pace and Harry was planning to stay up north. Maybe go to bartending school; I think I’d be a great bartender. Then I found out Jose Ferrer was coming here, and since I had worked for him in the past, I contacted him and asked if he wanted to get back together. Then Harry decided to come here, and it’s worked out great. Harry got off to a flying start and Jose is starting to pick up more business. I am fortunate to have two established journeymen who adapt to the style of the horse, are equally strong on a speed horse and coming off the pace and are excellent turf riders. For now, bartending school can wait.
I ALWAYS SAY I HAVE A GREAT JOB, BUT THE DRAWBACK is we work seven days a week. It can be tough explaining to people off the racetrack what’s involved, or why you can’t get away for a weekend. On race days I start at 6 a.m. and go right through to 6 p.m., and when I am done with that, guess what – it’s time to get something to eat, relax and go to bed. But where else can you go to hang out with your friends, watch the races and have a beverage or two while you’re working? Everyone who does what we do loves the animals, loves the sport and wants to see it thrive.
AN AGENT GENERALLY MAKES 25 PERCENT of what their jockey earns, and if you have a good week your rider might give you more for doing a good job. But it can be feast or famine, and I’ve gone through tons of struggles. This business doesn’t always go the way you want, and you just have to keep going, knowing it will pick up again. I could make $900 one week and $100 the next. You definitely learn how to budget your money.
THE SUMPTUOUS FEASTS ARE THE DAYS I REMEMBER BEST. I hustled book for Jorge Guerra here in 1995-96 when he won the riding title with 97 victories, and I also had Paula Bacon, who finished third in the standings. That year, Jorge won the Tampa Bay Derby on Thundering Storm and the Florida Oaks on Mindy Gayle on the same card, beating horses ridden by Pat Day in both races. I think we won five on the card. And in 2001 at Colonial Downs, I had Brent Bartram’s book when he won the Virginia Derby on Potaro for trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Those days, and my experience at Keeneland, stand out as my most memorable moments.
I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW A HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER ME until an agent friend, Gerald Brooks, told me Lisa Stannard was making her first start at Penn National two years ago. What happened was, a trainer I knew from Delaware, Andrew Simoff – who names some of his horses after friends – did me the honor. I hadn’t heard about it, though, but I made sure I bet her that day and she won by 14 lengths, naturally. Wait; it gets better. I knew she was running at Parx one night and I was driving through Delaware, so I stopped at the simulcast facility and bet her real quick. I didn’t have a program, so I just wheeled her on top in everything. She won and paid $19, so I made a nice lick on her that day. I don’t play tennis and she’s no Chris Evert, but she’s made more than $200,000 and I’m kind of proud of her. I just love hearing the announcer call her name.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
At 27, Jim McMullen left his job as an assistant trainer under his uncle, the late Philip “P.G.” Johnson, to become a stockbroker with Shearson Lehman Brothers in New York City. Count the next three years as an exercise in wilderness-wandering for McMullen, who came to realize his calling was with Thoroughbreds. “The racetrack was all I had ever done, so I thought I needed to see what else was out there before it was too late,” the Chicago native recalls of his venture into assets management. “But once I got into it, I realized it was more of a high-pressure sales job than really helping people build a portfolio.” Given another chance at fulfillment, the University of Kentucky product set an unofficial track record getting from Manhattan back to Chicago, where he opened a public stable in 1993 and has been training since. Among his top horses are the 10-year-old multiple-stakes winner Yankee Injunuity, who has raced twice at the current meeting; $2.5-million career earner Cloudy’s Knight, who rewarded McMullen with a victory in the Grade III Fair Grounds Breeders’ Cup Handicap in 2007; Bonnie Rob, a gelding he trained to win the 1996 Grade III Swoon’s Son Handicap at Arlington Park; and Daisies and Nites, who won three consecutive stakes in a 10-week span in 1999. Now in his fifth season in Oldsmar, the 51-year-old McMullen and his significant other, Ginger Haas, have a 3-year-old daughter, Teagan. Ginger owns Yankee Injunuity. His younger brother, Mike McMullen, is a starter at the New York Racing Association tracks. McMullen took time recently to offer his thoughts on his enduring love affair with horses in the latest installment of Tampa Bay Downs’ blog, “Racing In The Sunshine.”
MOST PEOPLE REMEMBER MY UNCLE, P.G. JOHNSON, as the man who owned and trained Volponi to a shocking 43-1 upset in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Arlington Park. To me, he was the guy who introduced me to the magical world of Thoroughbreds. As a boy, I spent every summer from the time I was 12 at his barn at Belmont Park and Saratoga. I got there early every morning and worked hard because I wanted to learn everything and absorb as much as I could. I wasn’t as attracted to racing as I was to the horses – their spirit, competitiveness and athleticism.
I WASN’T ABLE TO BE AT ARLINGTON WHEN VOLPONI WON, but it’s still one of my greatest memories. I was living in Delaware and my horses were stabled at Laurel, and I couldn’t get away. Such is the life of a trainer.
I ALMOST GOT TO THE BREEDERS’ CUP MYSELF in 2009 at Santa Anita with Yankee Injunuity. He had won the Arlington Sprint Handicap at five-and-a-half furlongs on the turf, which was an automatic “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. In fact, he beat Chamberlain Bridge, who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs in 2010. I owned Yankee Injunuity then with my college roommate Dwight Back, who is now the President of TROT (Thoroughbred Retirement of Tampa, Inc.) and a friend of his from grade school, Gary Rose. We were thrilled about the opportunity, but the horse just wasn’t 100 percent when it came time to decide whether to go. If I had thought we had a chance of hitting the board, we would have taken a shot. Regrets? None at all.
I’M STILL IN AWE WHEN I THINK ABOUT P.G. training for more than 50 years – longer than I’ve been alive – and winning more than 2,300 races. My uncle had a genuine love and respect for his horses, and I think that rubbed off on me. I was always an animal person, and I had gone to college to become a veterinarian, but the idea of going to school another five years or doing what I loved pulled me back to the barn. I went back to work for him for six years before I tried Shearson Lehman, then I went to work for Elliott Walden for three years before going out on my own.
LEARNING UNDER THOSE TWO GUYS MAKES ME BELIEVE in divine intervention. My uncle was up every morning at 3:30 a.m., and he was back at the barn every afternoon. He taught me all my horsemanship skills. I don’t remember him doing anything else. He bred horses too, including Volponi, with his wife Mary Kay and their daughters under their Amherst Stable banner. Working with Elliott Walden – who trained so many stakes winners, including 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop – helped me fine-tune everything for going out on my own. He helped sharpen my skills on communicating directly with owners and entering horses. He also gave me my first stakes winner, Moment’s Best.
I CONSIDER MYSELF A BETTER HORSEMAN than I do a trainer. When you run a public stable and are trying to attract owners, you have to be a bit of a politician and a salesman. Adapting to the pressure of having to win a high percentage of races is very challenging. People tend to look only at your record, and if you’re not winning 20 percent of the time, you must not be any good. There is a lot more to it than that. My focus has changed over the years to where I’m more aware of doing the right thing by my horses.
A LOT OF TIMES YOU HEAR ABOUT A HORSE THAT’S LAZY and doesn’t try, but the ones who cheat usually do so for a reason. So it’s your job as a trainer to get them right. What I’ve found over the years is when they are in a spot where they belong and they’re healthy and feeling good, they give you their all.
RIGHT NOW, I’VE GOT A GROUP OF OWNERS WHO SHARE MY THINKING, like Vanessa Nye, who lives in Tampa, and Lou Stevens and Steve Breen, who are from Chicago. Personally, I think we are at a point where we can do without all forms of medication, including Lasix. The 2-year-old I have will start without Lasix, and we’ll go from there. Stricter medication rules won’t completely level the playing field because there are always people who are going to look for an unfair advantage. But with all the negative media attention surrounding the issue, I think that is the best way to go.
IT LOOKS LIKE ILLINOIS RACING IS GOING TO HAVE THE SAME DATES in 2014, but much beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess. The horsemen are fighting for slot machines on-track, but in the meantime we’re struggling. I believe there are 10 casinos in Illinois, and they have racinos at ThistleDown in Ohio and Indiana Downs. In this day and age of instant gratification, that is tough to wrestle with. We’re planning to go back to Illinois this year, but going forward we might have to make some adjustments. The slots are here to stay and we need them to stay competitive.
I DO BELIEVE THE RACING GODS SMILED ON ME with Yankee Injunuity. I bought him as a yearling as part of a three-horse package for $50,000 with Dwight and Gary, and he is closing in on $500,000 in career earnings. He is still a full horse so we might breed him to something, but his pedigree is relatively undistinguished so we may just keep him as a barn pet or retrain him for another career. Ginger also owns another horse that was part of the deal, Mr. Seabra, who won twice at Tampa Bay Downs and is in the stall right next to Yankee Injunuity.
THE BEST HORSES NEED TO RACE LONGER to keep more people interested in our sport. At this stage, that is hard to accomplish because the stud values are so high for horses that win graded stakes at 2 and 3, and the cycle keeps perpetuating itself. But I do think if industry leaders make a concerted effort to phase out medication, horses will last longer. It doesn’t do the sport much good to have the best 3-year-olds nowhere in sight when they turn 4 years old.
AS FAR AS HOBBIES, ANYTHING COMPETITIVE DRAWS ME IN, but my main hobby is my daughter. Teagan is in pre-preschool, but she comes out here almost every day for the afternoon feedings and chases the cat around. She already knows every horse’s name. But I don’t know if I want her following me into the business. It is more of a lifestyle than a job, sure, but to be successful you need to be here seven days a week and keep your eye on everything. I think there are easier ways to go.
MY PARENTS, JAMES AND JOSEPHINE, STILL LIVE IN CHICAGO. My older sister Bridget lives in Sugar Grove, Ill., my younger sister Mollie is in Chicago and our brother Mike is with NYRA. My dad was born on the South Side so he’s always been a White Sox fan, but I always go for the Cubs. Ted Lilly, the former Cubs pitcher, is good friends with Ginger’s cousin, and he used to get us seats in the Cubs family section. Wrigley Field is kind of a step back in time; everybody is there to enjoy baseball and sunshine. It’s kind of old style, not to mention the Old Style you drink. Now about that Cubs curse. …
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Shannon Uske knew breaking in would be difficult at Tampa Bay Downs, where an abundance of returning journeymen ride for most of the leading stables. But the 27-year-old native of Freehold, N.J., has never discouraged easily. After visiting Monmouth Park with her mother for the first time, when she was 4, Uske declared her intention to be a jockey. At 7, she started taking riding lessons; at 13, she began competing in horse shows; and two years later, she placed eighth in the nation in the Capital Challenge Horse Show in Maryland on a former Thoroughbred she describes as “a cheap racehorse but an excellent jumper.” She had already practiced galloping horses on a nearby 3/8-mile racetrack, and at 16 she headed to Belmont Park to pursue her ambition. After working for a few other stables, Uske was hired by Allen Jerkens, the Hall of Fame trainer perhaps best known as the man who beat Secretariat twice in 1973 with two different horses. Uske learned the game from the ground up under “The Chief,” accompanying Jerkens to Gulfstream in 2003 after her mom agreed to let her finish high school online. Uske is 2-for-25 locally, but her agent, Michelle Patrick, says her enthusiasm and faith have never wavered. “Shannon has a great attitude and goes into every day with a positive approach. If a horse has got it, she’ll get you there. She just needs to show people,” Patrick says. In this latest installment of Tampa Bay Downs’ blog, “Racing In The Sunshine,” Uske reflects on her career and what she finds special about racing.
I KNEW I HAD TO BE REALISTIC ABOUT COMING HERE because there are so many jockeys and a lot of them came with outfits they’re already established with. I had a good meet this summer at Monmouth (18 victories), but after staying up north the last three winters I wanted to be somewhere a lot warmer. People told me it might take two or three years here to establish myself, but I’m comfortable with that because I felt it could open up some new opportunities to meet people and expand my future business. I didn’t realize this area was so nice, and I’ve been riding almost every day, which I’m happy about. If I don’t have any mounts, or I’m only on one or two early on the card, I go to the gym to stay fit or watch the races on TV to see how the track is playing.
I’VE ALWAYS FELT GOOD ABOUT BEING ON A HORSE. My issue when I first got to the track was being quiet. I was a shy kid growing up who didn’t talk much, and I knew getting into the business I had to be more outgoing, especially being a female. Once I wound up in Allen Jerkens’ barn, that’s where I learned a lot and started becoming a ‘racetracker.’ You learn to be outgoing in that barn, because there is no other like it on the racetrack.
I HAD BREEZED A FEW OF HIS HORSES BEFORE HE GOT BACK FROM SARATOGA in 2002, but when I first told him in person I wanted to work for him, he gave me a hard time. He starts in a high-pitched voice, ‘I want somebody who is a serious rider. You’re probably just here to mess around. You think it’s going to be fun to say you’re a jockey. You need to want to work – are you really sure you can handle this?’ I was pretty determined, so I showed him the best way I knew. Besides galloping and riding, I worked all day at his barn, doing the horses up, icing them, taking care of their legs.
THOSE FIVE YEARS WITH THE CHIEF might have been the best years of my life. He had some of the toughest horses I’ve ever been on, and that makes it so much easier now to get on any kind of horse. He wants his horses fired up. If he thought a horse was being too quiet, he might have me ride them behind the starting gate for 5 minutes, just to get them hyped up, then tell me to gallop them a mile-and-a-half. Or he would smooch at one when I was galloping past if he didn’t think it was pulling me hard enough. I won some big New York stakes for The Chief with horses like Chilly Rooster (2004 Grade III Fort Marcy), Smokume and Miss Shop.
WHEN I WAS A YOUNG GIRL, I liked to follow Julie Krone. She was riding at Monmouth then, and I was at the races almost every weekend. I was also a big fan of Jerry Bailey, because he was the jockey on Cigar and that was the first big horse that caught my attention. Then, when I started riding races in New York, Mr. Bailey gave me a lot of good pointers, especially about riding the turf. To be 16 or 17 and have him help me out – that was the coolest thing ever.
I WON THE FIRST RACE I EVER RODE on a mare named Lilah, at Calder in 2003 when I was 16. And to me, it really shows what a great man The Chief is. My mother Diane had come to visit me for the holidays, and Allen Jerkens put me on a 4-5 shot that ran even better than her odds. We drew the outside going five-and-a-half furlongs, and all I really had to do was just sit there. I won seven races on Lilah, and she became a graded stakes winner, but it was really special having my mom with me in the winner’s circle after my first race.
I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I MIGHT BE DOING if I wasn’t a jockey. Nothing holds my interest like horse racing. I actually started riding my German shepherd before I could walk, and I was in awe of the power and competitiveness and beauty of Thoroughbreds from the get-go. Maybe I would be a trainer, or find a job training racehorses to become jumpers. I like to take horses off the track and retrain them and help them find good homes whenever I can. I have a horse back home in Jersey I call ‘Playboy;’ his racing name was Gimme Shelter, and he’s my big pet. Another I have at home is Exchange Partner, who I rode for (trainer) John Tammaro III and I’d started to jump before I came here.
IN 2009, I RODE A HORSE NAMED TWO NOTCH ROAD in his first start sprinting for trainer Glenn Thompson, and he only beat one horse. I told Glenn I really wanted to ride him a mile on the turf, but it was hard to find that kind of race at Monmouth, so Glenn dropped him from maiden special weight to maiden claiming and was going to have Jose Velez, Jr., ride him. But Two Notch Road dropped Jose in the post parade and got loose and had to be scratched. A week later, I got to ride him in the Continental Mile Stakes going a mile on the turf at Monmouth. He was still a maiden, but I was very confident going into the race.
I’VE NEVER WANTED MY MOM TO BET ON ME, because I thought it was a jinx. But I’d told her all week that I loved Two Notch Road and that he was going to love the turf. We came through on the rail and he won by a length-and-a-quarter. When I galloped him back, I saw the odds were 99-1 and thought ‘Wow, we just blew up the tote board.’ As you can guess, my mom did not bet on him. She told me ‘I should have just bet and not told you.’ He paid $216.40 to win, but I took my mom to dinner and she got to be in the win picture, so I guess it turned out OK.
MY MOTHER WILL ALWAYS BE MY NO. 1 FAN. She was here Dec. 29 when I won two races, for Kathleen O’Connell and David Hinsley. On the one hand, she is petrified watching me ride, but she also gets so excited it’s funny. I know I will always be her little girl.
I’M DETERMINED TO MAKE RACE-RIDING MY CAREER. I’ve seen what other riders go through with injuries, and I’ve been hurt a few times myself. I broke three vertebrae in my neck in 2007 and came back too soon, and that slowed me down. But I never think about those kind of things, or slumps, as being low points. It’s easy keeping a positive attitude when you love something as much as I do. Plus, I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of good people who have been loyal to me, and I try to return that loyalty to them.
YOU’RE ALWAYS GOING TO GET PEOPLE WHO SAY they can’t ride a girl, but I figure the best thing to do in that case is go out and beat them. But it’s really not an issue, and that is because of people such as Julie Krone and the other women jockeys who came before her and opened doors for people like me. I can’t imagine what they went through. For the most part, if you show people you’re strong and capable of doing everything a male jockey can do, you get treated equal.
Sunday, January 5, 2014
As the son of a champion Quarter Horse jockey, Tampa Bay Downs newcomer Quincy Hamilton might have been expected to ride before he could walk. But the Jasper, Texas native resented racing as a young boy because it meant his father, John Hamilton, was away from home most of the time. After his parents divorced, Quincy’s mother married a crane operator, and a succession of promotions for his stepfather resulted in Quincy attending 12 different schools. It wasn’t until he entered high school and moved with his father to Houston that Quincy caught the riding bug, and it has never let go. “On my days off I would drive him around to work horses at different farms, and he talked me into getting on a couple,” Quincy says. “Really, since then, my father and I have pretty much been best friends.” With help from his veteran agent, Doug Davis, Hamilton has made a strong early impression locally, with four victories and 14 in-the-money finishes. Hamilton – a four-time riding champ at Sam Houston who has ridden 1,370 winners since capturing his first victory there in 2003, and who compiled mount earnings of more than $3-million three consecutive years, from 2005-07 – shares some thoughts on a jockey’s life and his relationship with his wife, Mandy, and their children: Emma, 8, and Carter, 6.
MANDY IS THE DAUGHTER OF A VERY SUCCESSFUL Midwestern-based trainer, Moises Yanez. She raises our kids just like they were her own, and they love her like she was their mother. It’s a perfect match. When Mandy and I got together four years ago, after my divorce, I was very hesitant to ask her to raise my kids and move around the country with us. I never had to ask. I could never have imagined somebody could take that love into their heart for my kids. It has been a huge blessing. She understands the racetrack and how it can be stressful moving around the country. She has been right there by my side the whole time.
I’M ONLY 30, BUT WHEN YOU HAVE A FAMILY it’s natural to think about settling down. That’s why I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to ride in Florida year-round. We have a place in Ocala where Mandy’s mom lives, and she helps her mom at the farm. They probably have 60 head there. Her mom, “Boots” – that’s what everybody calls her – is the brains of the operation. She breeds the mares and sends them to Chicago (to qualify as Illinois-breds) and breaks the babies to send to my father-in-law to train. Besides working at the farm, Mandy is in cosmetology school. She wants to have her own salon, and hopefully one day we can make that happen for her.
COMING TO TAMPA BAY DOWNS HASN’T SEEMED like too big an adjustment. It is like the type of racing I experienced early in my career at Sam Houston in Texas and Remington Park in Oklahoma, which I called home the first five years of my career. Both track surfaces here seem to fit my riding style, so you just kind of roll with the punches. Everybody has been welcoming, the jockeys here are good to ride with and the trainers have shown some interest. My agent, Doug Davis, is a hard worker, and I’m excited about going forward with him.
THERE AREN’T TOO MANY SIMILARITIES IN STYLE between a Quarter Horse rider and a Thoroughbred jockey, but my father and I are pretty alike. He put it in my brain that if you can’t outride them, you have to outwork them, and I feel if I’m not out every day hustling for myself, I’m not going to be as successful as I want to be. And he helped me realize if you aren’t out there every day, horsemen are going to forget you. I have a quick reaction out of the gate, and I credit that to learning how to break with my dad.
IN THE YOUNGER YEARS OF MY CAREER (I’m sure the guys in their 40s love me saying that!), weight was never really an issue. But since I started inching closer to 30, it seems I have to try a little harder. You might see me jogging around the track between working horses in the morning and riding races. I’ll jog anywhere from 3-to-5 miles, five days a week, to try to sweat off a few pounds. My diet was awful when I was younger, but I’m learning to eat right. Fresh fruit was never anything I was into before, but Mandy has been finding new recipes for smoothies and stuff to keep me eating healthy and enjoying it.
THE FIRST THING I DO BEFORE A RACE is evaluate my horse’s demeanor in the paddock. As soon as you hit their back, you have to find out whether you need to get them to relax as much as possible, or if you’re going to try to get them geared up. With 10 minutes between the paddock and the starting gate, you don’t want them wound up that whole time because they’ll spend their race. A horse feeds off your energy, and I feel that if I’m quiet at the right times and dynamic when it counts, that is the right combination. When the race starts, the horse will let you know for the most part where they are comfortable running. I always try to keep my horse happy.
I’VE BEEN BLESSED NOT HAVING TO TAKE OFF MAJOR TIME due to injuries, but I expected the worst the first time I galloped a horse when I was 16 back in Texas. The track had a 3/8-mile chute with a ½-mile oval, and I was riding a horse that had been around the track a million times, and my dad was on the pony next to me. All of a sudden, my horse was laying on the pony and my leg was getting sucked underneath the horse, so I told my dad he had to cut me loose, that I wasn’t going to make it. He cut me loose, and my horse got around there real nice and easy – the first circle.
MY HORSE STARTED PICKING UP SPEED THE SECOND TIME AROUND, and by the third time around he was running off with me. At this point, I’m like a noodle. My dad, who is an excellent pony rider, decides he is going to catch me. I see him turned sideways in the middle of the track that is not as wide as this room, and here I come. I think I am going to T-bone him when my dad picks up speed, but as soon as he reaches out, my horse hits the brakes and I go over his head and land under the pony. The pony stomps me nearly to death and my face is bloody, but I was more scared of my dad being mad at me for the horse getting loose and running around the track.
THEY CAUGHT THE HORSE AND BROUGHT HIM BACK TO ME to gallop him around there again. By now, I was sure he was tired, but I guess I was so tense and nervous that when I hit his back, he took off running – going the wrong way this time. When he sees the chute where he is supposed to go home, he ducks down toward the gap and throws me over the fence. I was more mad than hurt, but when I got back to the barn everyone thought it was hilarious. My ribs were sore and I was limping, but when they brought out another one for me to ride, my pride took over. This time it went smooth as butter, and ever since then I figure it can’t be as bad as my first ride.
IF I WASN’T A JOCKEY? I probably would be working at a McDonald’s drive-in. I don’t really have many other talents. I love cars, and I work on a few hot rods and a few boats, but other than horse racing I don’t really have many other passions.
I HAVE MY KIDS’ INITIALS TATTOOED ON MY ARMS and my anniversary tattooed on my wrist, but I guess the tattoos on my back are the most unique. My son Carter’s footprints are on the left side of my back, and daughter Emma’s are down the right side. They are taken from their birth certificates, and there are four feet on each side so it looks like they are walking. I had them all done at the same time. I just wanted to show off how proud I am of my children, and it remains the same. I never get tired of showing them off and I never get tired of talking about them.