Remembering racing legends

Remembering racing legends

May 16, 2017 3:11 AM

Horseracing and pari-mutuel wagering remain big business, despite a slow and steady diminishing of the industry in the past decades. On Kentucky Derby day more than $207 million was bet on that race alone. Handle was up all over the world and interest seems to be at an all time high.

The Kentucky Derby is now as much a worldwide event as a horse race and seems to garner, once more, the attention it deserves.

So, while horseracing has the world’s attention, it’s time to remind ourselves of the spectacular athletes who sit astride the magnificent thoroughbreds. It’s a perilous task and it is time to take additional notice of what can happen when things go wrong.

That is why The Jockeys and Jeans Committee in conjunction with Parx Racing and Casino in Bensalem, Pennsylavnia will host the fourth annual “Jockeys and Jeans” fundraiser on Saturday, June 3, 2017, a week before Belmont Park’s Belmont Stakes.

Proceeds will benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF), which makes monthly payments to over 60 former jockeys who suffered catastrophic, career ending injuries. Over half are either pari- or quadriplegics. In three years, Jockeys and Jeans has raised nearly $700,000 for PDJF.

“Once again a major racing facility has come forward to provide the infrastructure and personnel needed to honor and financially assist severely injured riders and at the same time provide their fans with the rare opportunity to meet our sport’s most storied athletes,” said the group’s president, former jockey, Barry Pearl. “We believe that the track’s participation along with the heart touching response we have received from the racing community will allow us to top the record $235,000 we raised last winter at Gulfstream Park.”

We’ve all noticed the letters “PDJF” on the trousers of many jockeys at tracks all over the country. I have to include myself as one of those not taking enough notice of the riders who risk life and limb to entertain us as we enjoy and bet on the races.

Thanks to Jockeys and Jeans there is now something we can do to help. I hope you will join me in going to to purchase a special hat marking the event at Parx. My order just went in. Or, if you reside near Parx, go there June 3 to participate.

I wish I could be at Parx for the meet and greet with, among others: Laffit Pincay, Jr., Manny Ycasa, Johnny Rotz, Chris McCarron, Ramon Dominguez, Edgar Prado, Bobby Ussery, William Boland, Earlie Fires, Pat Day, Don Pierce, Jorge Velasquez, Sandy Hawley and Tom Walsh.

Recently added to the proceedings are Julie Krone and the most intelligent man I know of when it comes to racing, East Coast journeyman Tony Black. These retired riders are all more than legends to me. They’re heroes, as well.

The event will be emcee’d by industry veteran Jeremy Plonk.

Sadly, in Las Vegas, the racebooks are not as profitable or as high profile as they used to be, except for racing’s big events. I fondly recall the old “Legends of Racing” festivities at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and at the Caesars in Atlantic City. Although not a memorabilia collector, one of my prized possessions is a program from the 1988 celebration in Atlantic City. Among the autographs on the program are jockeys Angel Cordero, Jr., Willie Shoemaker and Bill Hartack as well as trainers Woody Stephens, Jack Van Berg and Charlie Whittingham – Hall of Famers all.

The 2016 Jockeys and Jeans attracted 14 Hall of Fame jockeys and a host of famous riders along with Academy Award winner Robert Duvall, Hall of Fame golfer Raymond Floyd and former ambassador to England, Will Farish and his wife, Sarah.

Jockeys and Jeans was founded in 2014 by a group of former jockeys to publicize the dangers inherent in race riding, honor the courage of severely injured jockeys as they rebuild their suddenly changed lives and raise funds for their ongoing support.

We simulcast players need to do our part to help. That’s for certain.