Horses races? "Booorrrrring," you say! Been there, done that. Dozens of races are run every day and all they do is run in circles. But what’s going on in Maryland, on the other hand, is not something you see every day and raises the entertainment quotient significantly.
Laurel Park and Pimlico handicapper Frank Carulli is leaving his post, ditching to Vegas (hot dog!), opening up the spot to four contestants to fill his very big chair. The Four Horseman of the Pimlicopolypse are:
Gabby Gaudet: 22, daughter to the undisputed mayor of the Bowie backstretch, Eddie Gaudet, finishing up her last semester at nearby Towson University studying mass communication and design.
“I think I’m really good at looking at horses,” says Gaudet, “how they can perform. I have a lot of nice connections growing up on the racetrack. I really like communicating with trainers in the morning and watching specific horses train.”
Jackie Savoye: 25, assistant trainer to Dale Capuano, has done on-air work with Gulfstream and Monmouth Park.
“It's not just about looking at the program,” says Savoye. “It's about research, pedigree, past performances, their connections, and most of all their training. That's where I play in.”
Dylan Smith: 24, daughter of a father and mother, worked under trainer Dickie Small after graduating from Kennedy High School in the District of Columbia in 2006.
"Being a horseman gives us an edge because we can see the emotional and physical traits horses have that effect their running," says Smith. "Most track workers are around horses all day, it becomes natural to just be able to pick up on little things that some who aren't around horses may not notice."
Ryan Fogelsonger: 31, the 2002 Eclipse Award-winner for Apprentice Jockey, won 1303 races, injured many times, eight riding titles in Maryland.
Three woman, one man, this has the makings for a reality show that, at the very least, is more watchable than Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
“It will be an interesting contest,” said Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas. “Ryan was a good interview when he was riding but can he transition that to the set? Jackie and Gabby seem to be naturals in front of the camera, while Dylan is an astute handicapper. With their backgrounds, all four can provide unique perspectives while trying to pick winners. We want to see who steps up and takes the position.”
Maybe it has more of a making for an arena battle more gory than the Hunger Games, Chukas as President Snow, the handicappers as tributes. Who can’t see them slinging tack at one another?
“I don't think any one of us are looking at this as whose going to win or how am I going to be one up on the other contestant,” says Savoye. “I'm friends with all of them and I would be proud for any one of us to get the job. We can all give something of our own to it.”
Hmm, OK, maybe not. But they want to win and they get a day on air to show their chops. Fogey went yesterday. Smith goes on the air today, Savoye hits it tomorrow, and Gaudet rocks out Saturday.
“I’ll say that we all have our advantages and disadvantages,” says Gaudet. “Myself? I study mass communications in college [so] the camera shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I know Dylan Smith, she’s a very good handicapper and knows what she’s talking about. Ryan has previous experience on the backs of horses winning the Eclipse award. Jackie is also an excellent horsewoman. Honestly, they all have their advantages. It’s going to be a hard decision.”
Looking at these past performances I’d give the edge to Fogey. Jockeys have to be astute handicappers while on the track to figure out who will threaten the pace scheme. What difference is there when making the transition to the camera? I don’t see any, unless he gets gun shy, or smacks his lips worse than this guy.
However, as Smith sees it, Fogey has no more advantage than the women.
"All of us work with horses, I don't think he has a special edge over us because he rode races," says Smith, "just like Jackie and I don't have an edge over him because we have trained horses. I think just working with horses in general gives any of us an edge over those who don't work around horses. We can pick up on some physical traits that maybe those who haven't been around horses wouldn't notice. But as far as having an advantage because you rode races-I don't think that's true. We are all capable of seeing things in the race that may have happened just as jockeys are. Even things like horses displacing or bleeding, and the chart doesn't note it. The only advantage the jockey could have is if he was on the horse and knew something went wrong-but we are just a capable of picking up on that as jocks are."
Gaudet is an interesting play as she was born into this life. What insights will she bring? Being good friends with the wunderkind Rosie Napravik—both of whom were practically born on horses—gives Gaudet more than a puncher’s chance.
“When you’re in it from the get-go, you definitely know a lot more,” says Gaudet.
Savoye, an assistant trainer to a Maryland mainstay, knows the ropes as well as anyone. Naturally she must know where horses in her care have the best shot to win, which takes a working knowledge of conditions—who belongs, who doesn’t?
“I'm out on the track all morning talking to trainers, asst, exercise riders, etc,” says Savoye. “I see the horses breezing and training so I am getting a first-hand look at the horses. I have become close and friendly with most of the trainers and backside workers over the years.”
Ultimately it comes down to who deals with the pressure. Gaudet reveres Jeannine Edwards, a media stalwart who got her start in the very paddocks one of these handicappers will frequent. Smith and Savoye seem like they have the camera presence to go along with the knowledge. Fogey, well, he knows what it’s like to feel the pressure of a thousand bettors, not to mention pressure from owners and trainers.
“It has been a lot of pressure due to the amount of publicity it's getting, but you know what?” says Savoye, “I am taking it as something gained and what did I learn from this? I plan on giving it my best and treating the audience as friends that want to know my opinion but most of all be myself. If you act like somebody you aren't up there then you are lying to the public.”
“My style, I’m going to go up there and be myself, that’s the main thing I’m focusing on,” adds Gaudet, “if you try to pretend and talk about things you’re not confident in it will come across to the viewer.”
May the odds be ever in your favor.