Tuesday, January 29, 2013
99 Problems but a mount ain’t one
Well, I’m assuming Russell Baze has some problems. We all do and there's barely enough booze to deal with it. And jockeys, lordy lordy, have some STUFF to deal with. You have to applaud Animal Planet. What subset of athlete is more interesting than jockeys? If HBO had a reality show the likes of Hard Knocks for jockeys, I think horse racing could get a ratings boost. Onward …
Baze knows this 50,000 times over.
This past weekend, aboard a horse named Finish Rich in NYC (c’mon, Finish Rich in NYC? This is one of the more unintentionally insensitive names for a horse. I’m extending this name to Wall Street, but, for all I know, the horse is owned by a falafel cart owner.)
Baze is 37 years into his riding career and rides every day with the passion and energy of a rider looking to earn his chops. Fifty thousand mounts in 37 years, that’s 1,351 per year. He’s won 11,839 races, for a 37-year win percentage of 24 percent. That’s very DRFese, but you handicapping-types get that.
Jesus was just 1,975 years old.
The Death Star hadn’t even been built yet. More accurately, we weren’t aware of its having been built until 1978. Until the intrepid intergalactic journalism of moonraker George Lucas, we would still have no idea what was going on above us a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. (Frankly, I’d like something more concrete, say in 346 years ago in the Andromeda Galaxy 2.5 light years away, but that’s just the reporter in me.)
Baze has the type of records and accolades that will never be surpassed. He came from an era of a sounder racehorse and an era of smaller purses.
It reminds me an awful lot of golf. The era where Nicklaus, Palmer, and Player played, they played because they needed to, they won because they had to. They needed purse winnings to pay for food, travel, and family. They won because losing meant going to the car dealership to apply for a job or bag groceries at the Food Lion.
Nowadays, thanks to Eldrick Woods, who won The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Monday, the purses are astronomical. The FIO had a purse of $6.1 million. Eighty-three players made the cut. So, 83 golfers receive an average payout of $73,493. Instead of having to win these tournaments to get paid, all they have to do is finish 83rd and they will likely get anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 for four days worth of work. Not to mention free clubs, shoes, gloves, and apparel (yes, I know they have to pay for travel, but if a golfer makes five cuts over the course of a 52 weekends, they can clear $100,000.)
Today’s jockeys enjoy a similar bounty, though not quite to the extreme of golfers. Jockeys at smaller tracks routinely make several hundred to several thousand dollars a day.
Because of this, what will the motivation be for a jockey to amass experience the likes of Baze? More importantly, with death and debilitation just a cannon bone away, why hang on for so long when the risk becomes reckless?
What will keep them around won’t be the money. It will be the drug-like addiction to piloting an animal 10 times heavier than they, to harnessing a carnal power woven into their DNA that knows no price tag. The end game awaits. It only ends once, everything until then is just the rush.
If you or a loved one—or an enemy you’re looking to lure into your confidence—would like a hardcover, first edition book, I’m giving away (while supplies last) copies of Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year. If interested, email me at and let me know how you would like it inscribed. The only catch is I ask you to review it on Amazon. That’s it! What a world!