Advice or not, Jockeys ride to their own drummer

Dec 5, 2000 6:46 AM

International news item: "The Victorian Jockey’s Association, the governing body for riders in that Australian state, has denied a petition by owner John Thompson that jockeys’ instructions be tape-recorded or written down.


"Thompson and trainer George Hanlon alleged that rider Jim Cassidy’s defiance of their pre-race instructions caused their horse, Caulfield Cup winner Diatribe, to lose the Melbourne Cup.

A hearing later cleared Cassidy of any wrongdoing for his ride. Association president Neville Wilson told the Australian Broadcasting Company that Thompson’s request was ridiculous because a race is unpredictable, and said the association had cleared Cassidy of any misconduct."

Such a petition in the United States would have as much chance of flying as Al Gore’s goal of winning Florida’s electoral votes via recount.

"You’re not running an auto race," says trainer Vladimir Cerin, "And even then, you don’t know how the rest of the field is going to react in a given race. A trainer gives instructions based on what the race looks like on paper. You just have to leave strategy up to the jockey."

"You can give general instructions; tell him, ‘Look, this horse won’t go inside. Please don’t go inside no matter what.’ Then the rider shouldn’t go inside. But other than that, things happen in a race that you can never predict. (In the $500,000 Hollywood Derby) I told Laffit (Pincay, Jr.) to get to the rail as quickly as possible (aboard Designed for Luck, who broke from the No. 11 post position in a field of 12), sit about three or four lengths off the lead, and just save ground on the rail, because our only chance was to sneak through on the rail and win. Well, he’s in the 11-hole. How the hell is he going to get to the rail? So he sat close to contention, three-wide, and rode a perfect race. The horse drifted out a little bit, but other than that, it was perfect."

But not perfect enough. Designed for Luck, off at 58-1, was disqualified from first to fifth, costing Cerin’s owners $265,000 (first place was worth $275,000; fifth, $10,000) and resulting in a five-day suspension for Pincay.

"Before David Flores won (last Wednesday’s first race) on Fleet Friend, I asked him, ‘Do I need to give you instructions for this race?’ David just laughed, because he knows the horse is pure speed. David knows what he is going to do and what the horse is going to do. Now, if he had taken the horse to last, I would have asked him why he did that. But maybe the horse didn’t feel good that day. It’s impossible to take that horse to last, but if Flores did something that was completely out of character, then a trainer could have some questions.

"Other than that, most of these jockeys have been riding forever and ever. At times, it’s insulting to give them instructions. We should just leave it to their judgment. They ride better than I ride."

Wesley Ward, presently a trainer, was the nation’s leading apprentice rider in 1984 and winner of the Eclipse Award that year. He’s been on both sides of the fence.

"Ridiculous," Ward said of any proposal to tape pre-race instructions for riders.

"I never really listened to them anyway. I’d have had about a thousand lawsuits against me had that been the case. I’ve been riding Laffit since I started training some 10 years ago. I never once gave him instructions; just wished him good luck because I knew he was going to do what he wanted anyway and he’d already mapped out his plan going into the race."

"But on closing day at Santa Anita last meet, I had Men’s Exclusive (a confirmed front-runner), and I kind of wanted to take the horse back that day. I talked to Laffit in the morning about it and again before I gave him a leg up on the horse. He broke from the gate in front, and that was it. The jocks are going to do whatever they want."

John Dolan, an unsung but successful trainer on the Southern California trail, tells this tale. "I was running Norcielo and I told Kent (Desormeaux) to take him from off the pace," recalled Dolan. "First step out of the gate, he was on the lead and he went wire-to-wire. He got the highest Beyer number he ever got in his life. But it was an off track and it was sealed, so sometimes jockeys have to make adjustments."

Antley remembered -- There was no in-between with the emotions of jockey Chris Antley, which ranged from ebullient to reticent.

"It seems like he had some sort of problem with somebody," said agent Ron Anderson, who once handled business for the former jockey, found dead of suspected homicide at age 34 in his Pasadena home late on Dec. 2, believed to be from trauma to the head.

Anderson now represents Jerry Bailey.

"He was really a good kid," Anderson added. "Obviously he had problems (with substance abuse and his emotions). He was a good-hearted kid, but kind of a lost soul. At one point, I loved him like a son."

Antley won the Kentucky Derby twice -- in 1991 aboard Strike the Gold and in 1999 on Charismatic. Antley hadn’t ridden since last March.

THE HOMESTRETCH: Two weeks into the Golden Gate meeting, perennial Bay Area training leader Jerry Hollendorfer had 23 wins from 52 starts, with four seconds, eight thirds and earnings of $357,295. Runner-up Greg Gilchrist had four wins from 18 starters, with two seconds, four thirds and earnings of $79,450 . . . Comment from a Hollywood Park usher on another Wednesday when the on-track crowd was just 4,395: "It will be life and death to stay awake today." Wonder what he had to say two days later, on a Friday afternoon, when the on-track attendance was a lowly 4,118 . . . With most horsemen saving their stock for Santa Anita’s big winter meet that begins on Dec. 26, is it any wonder that on last Friday’s Hollywood Park card, only 54 horses were entered, an average of 6.75 horses per race. Christmas Eve racing, anyone?