Wednesday, March 06, 2013
‘A’ Is for Athlete
LOS ANGELES March 2, 2013—Were you aware that jockeys whose first names begin with “J” and “R” currently dominate the Sport of Kings in North America? Perusing the Equibase Jockey Standings the other day, I happened to notice that the first names of the top 6 ranked jockeys were Javier, John, Jose, Rafael, Rosie, and Joel.
Think that’s a coincidence? The 10 top jocks of 2012 were Ramon, Javier, John, Rafael, Joel, Jose, Julien, Rosie, Joseph, and Junior. In 2011, the top 6 were Ramon, John, Javier, Joel, Rafael, and Julien.
In 2010, Ramon led the way again over John and Joel, but the 4th slot was Garrett’s who previously beat out Ramon in 2009. Robby filled out the top 8 in 2010 and the top 9 in 2009 after Rajiv.
Whatever the initials, these are extraordinary pilots, not simply passengers.
“R” is for remarkable. Ramon Dominguez’s recent injury may have taken him out of this year’s running, but only after he led all jockeys in earnings for 3 straight years (2010-2012).
“G” is for great in the case of Garrett Gomez who actually topped the standings for 4 consecutive years (2006-2009), which is why he’s on the ballot for induction into racing’s Hall of Fame, in his first year of eligibility.
He should be a shoe-in -- a sure thing given his daunting display of character that showed him recovering from substance abuse to reach the pinnacle of his profession.
Still another “J,” Jerry Bailey, was 3rd in 2005, 5th in 2004, after also finishing on top 3 times in succession (2001-2003) following his 2nd place finish in 2000. This Hall-of-Fame rider also closed out his career strongly after struggling with alcoholism.
The foremost current “J” is Hall-of-Famer, John Velazquez, who finished first twice in a row (2004-2005). As Jockey Guild President, he led their recovery from the Gertmanian fleecing, yet he also faced public wrath and scrutiny for his controversial role in the Life At Ten (LAT) fiasco.
But JR is today’s most sought-after jockey – at least in the type of races he’s willing to ride. Unlike Ramon, for example, claiming races are seldom the source of earnings responsible for his ranking.
That Breeders’ Cup misstep involving LAT replaced Big Brown’s blown Belmont Stakes as the broadest bettor buster since Secretariat in stakes races starting with “W,” i.e., the Wood, Whitney, and Woodward.
That aggravatingly aborted Triple Crown attempt brings us to another Hall-of-Fame rider, Kent Desormeaux, who held the 3rd slot in 2008 and the 4th slot in 2009, but slipped to 15th in 2010, 52nd in 2011, 99th in 2012, and currently is 326th. A NY Times article documenting Kent’s battles with the breathalyzer is linked to from his own website.
The point here is that even the most successful jockeys have frequently had to overcome adversity beyond the expected risk to life and limb. Some have come back stronger than ever, and some continue to struggle. The Internet has eliminated struggling in private, while broadening the audience for public criticism.
Many whose on-track experiences were enhanced by Desormeaux’s dominance at Santa Anita during his heyday there remember an amazing athlete whose infectious smile always accompanied him on his way to the saddling area and then to the post parade.
Most of us are distressed if not depressed by the downward spiraling of his personal and professional lives, and are rooting for his recovery and career resurgence.
Riding at the current Gulfstream Park meet, he ranks 39th while John, Javier, and Joel round out the top 3. With 1 win in 57 starts, Kent’s name is seldom seen in Gulfstream results charts, although he did have as many as three mounts last Sunday and this Saturday.
Last Saturday, he rode twice, once for one-time benefactor, Bill Mott, but the duo finished last at 5-1. These days the mounts on Mott’s multiple stakes winners mostly go to Joel who seems to have also inherited Kent’s mounts from Dale Romans’ barn.
In an occurrence of the “There’s no situation so bad it can’t get worse” phenomenon, Kent did not travel to Fairgrounds for last Saturday’s Risen Star to be aboard again for the upset win by I’ve Struck a Nerve who is trained by his brother, Keith Desormeaux.
The question as to who decided that horse and jockey should part company after their 14-length loss in the LeComte, has so far been neither asked nor answered. It surely will be by Derby day.
It would be a terrible waste if Kent isn’t in the starting gate for the 2013 Run for the Roses. The three-time Derby-winning talent -- even if tainted by temperament and tragedy -- remains a threat to triumph in any Triple Crown event.
The proven ability to negotiate those particular 10 furlongs -- including last year’s close-up third on a horse whose only victories came on Polytrack – can’t be denied and shouldn’t be ignored.