Don’t blame jockeys’ agents

January 09, 2001 6:55 AM
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The latest culprits taking a hit for Lilliputian-sized fields in Southern California are jockeys’ agents.

Agents are thick-skinned folks who book mounts for riders, traipsing prayerfully after trainers in need of someone to guide their horses around the track at race time. Most agents represent two jockeys. They read condition books with the guile of a zealot, and often know where a horse will fit in an upcoming race better than the trainer.

"They know who’s going in every race, so they will tell a trainer they should wait," Hollywood Park racing secretary Martin Panza told the Daily Racing Form in a Dec. 20 article. "But a lot of times, the agent might have two good calls in the same race, and rather than lose one of the mounts for his rider, he convinces one of the trainers not to enter. That’s their job, but it’s not healthy. If an agent only had one journeyman rider and one apprentice, it would help the spirit of competition."

Richie Silverstein says the criticism is unfounded, although not exonerating his cohorts completely. He has been in racing for 23 years, an agent for 21, and presently represents Martin Pedroza and Luis Jauregui.

"What they’re saying is, if agents only had one (veteran) rider, every agent would be out there trying to hustle a race to make it go," Silverstein said. "The feeling is, if you’ve got two riders, chances are you know up to five horses that are going in a race. Let’s say you have (Kent) Desormeaux and (Victor) Espinoza, and you have two mounts in one race for Espinoza and one for Desormeaux, and the race is going to go with six horses. You could tell the trainer planning to enter the inferior Desormeaux horse, ‘Look, Victor rides this one, Kent rides this one. There’s two horses you can’t beat. Why don’t you wait for another race for your horse?’

"But the fact is, even if you had only one rider and you had three possible horses to ride in the same race, nothing is farther from the truth. Then you’d have to give two horses to two other agents (for their jockeys to ride), knowing you’re not going to get those mounts back. This way, if you’ve got two riders and you’ve got the favorite and second favorite with Espinoza, you don’t tell a trainer not to enter. You tell him, ‘What about (riding) Desormeaux?’

"I can see where having two riders in some ways has hurt the game. But in no way — in no way —has it hurt the entries. The agents want to get out of here at 10 o’clock like everybody else. We’re stuck here till two, three in the afternoon now (waiting for races to fill and entries to close). Agents are the ones who are going out and plucking horses to help fill the races.

"We don’t need busting up agents with two riders, or fewer racing days. We need more horses. That is the simplest solution to the immediate problem, and there are two ways to go. The first is to give owners a tax break, like they did in the 1980s. The state, I believe, takes, takes, takes out of every dollar. It’s always getting its piece of the action and not giving back. The way it gives back is through tax incentives to breeders. What it does for owners is terrific, but if no one is breeding horses, it doesn’t matter if we have owners or not. There are no horses to own.

"With the stock market going so good the last few years, there’s an abundance of money in that cage. People are hungry for horses. But there aren’t horses to buy or claim. They’re just not there. The obvious answer is to breed more horses. Another answer is more subtle. Tracks now have liaisons (to horsemen), and they do a good job. They pass out programs, make sure owners have their passes, whatever. But it should be a much more in-depth job. They should be given an expense account to travel to Canada, Louisiana and New York, and bring a few of those stables to California. We’ve got the best racing in the world. The purses are good, the weather’s great.

"When racing is canceled for the winter in Western Canada because of inclement weather, those stables go to the Fair Grounds. That’s crazy. Send reps from Southern California up there, let them spend a little money, wine and dine these guys, and bring them to California. The myth was that out-of-town trainers couldn’t win in California. Trainers like Stanley Hough and others who came here in the ‘80s got their clocks cleaned because they were racing against guys like (Charlie) Whittingham and Lazaro (Barrera). I’m not saying it’s easy, because today you’d have to race against guys like Baffert, Mandella and McAnally, and I don’t want to trivialize our racing. It’s still tough. But the guys who came here before got the idea that they didn’t fit, and because of that, they didn’t come back.

"The bottom line is, (Jerry) Hollendorfer fits. He’s got 160 horses. Why doesn’t he have a 35-horse string in Southern California? It wouldn’t deplete his stable. I can see stables going from Eastern Canada to Louisiana, but going from Western Canada makes no sense. But we have no one from California representing us in these areas. We used to have people in California all the time from Churchill Downs and Keeneland. Who did we lose to Kentucky? Christopher Speckert, Murray Johnson, Michael Stidham and strings of horses from Baffert and Lukas. We have no problem racing there. Why is nobody coming here? It’s not the weather. The purses are great. Somebody has to show them a condition book, show them where their horses fit, show them that in the winter, the money is here."

OK, let’s say new outfits come to California. Where will they be stabled?

"Once Hollywood Park’s stable area is refurbished, and if area tracks — Hollywood, Santa Anita, Del Mar, Fairplex, San Luis Rey Downs — don’t battle with one another, we could accommodate new stables," Silverstein said. "If an alliance is formed and there are 3,200 horses but room for only 1,800 (at Santa Anita), there’s nothing in Southern California that can’t be worked out. There used to be a problem with workmen’s comp being too expensive here. Now the rest of the country’s caught up with us.

"But this thinking that agents are killing racing is preposterous. What’s killing racing is no horses. Take a look at Hollywood (the show business industry), where the top agencies handle the top stars. They don’t stop making movies because they can’t get Mel Gibson. You get John Travolta. Same thing here. You don’t enter a race because you can’t get McCarron. You get Solis.

"We have great jockeys. We have great trainers. We have great owners. What we need are great horses."

THE HOMESTRETCH

Kent Desormeaux’s 23-month-old son, Jacob, born deaf, had a second operation Jan.3 that could enable him to hear. The first was unsuccessful. "The internal device doctors put in Jacob’s skull was supposed to last a lifetime, but after five weeks and after everything was supposed to be all healed, it didn’t work and we had to start all over again, redo the surgery, take out the internal device and put in a new one," Desormeaux said. "Now we have that long, long wait again to find out if he can hear. What gives me hope is that they haven’t proven he can’t hear yet through the device." . . . Neil Drysdale expects promising 3-year-old filly Freeforracing to run again later this year. The trainer says impressive turf winner Live Your Dreams will get a break and return for 3-year-old filly grass stakes. There are no plans to try the daughter of Mt. Livermore on the dirt. The Drysdale-trained Hawksley Hill, second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 1998 and 1999, is nominated to the $1 million Duty Free at 1 1/8 miles on the turf in Dubai on March 24 . . . Pat Valenzuela, eligible to reapply for a riding license on Feb. 11 after a year’s suspension, won’t have trouble getting mounts. "Somebody will ride him," one horseman said. "They always do." . . . Eoin Harty is back in Dubai, where he will train his 3-year-olds, including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile third-place finisher Street Cry, for the Triple Crown. "They won’t have any Kentucky Derby prep races in the United States," the former Baffert assistant said.