East is East, but West best
for transplanted jocks

Mar 20, 2007 6:20 AM

"East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet," Rudyard Kipling wrote.

The reference, for the ill-informed, was that the culture of the West (Europe and the Americas) will always be very different from that of the East (Asia). Twain, which you probably did not know, means "two." The saying, which is part of the refrain from Kipling’s poem, "The Ballad of East and West," could apply in great measure to jockeys and how they vacillate when it comes to plying their trade in different regions.

More than one rider of renown has ventured from the original 13 colonies to try his hand in the Golden State, pronounced "Cowl-ee-FORN-yah" by Gov. Schwarzenegger, and left with his tail between his legs.

Angel Cordero Jr. comes to mind.

Of more recent vintage, however, Aaron Gryder, Jon Court and Richard Migliore, who have won more than 10,000 races between them, have turned a new leaf and haven’t looked back. Each has made a successful transition from tracks elsewhere to the warm, wafting climate of Southern California. Each currently is among the leaders at Santa Anita, and each recognizes the nuances in riding styles from East to West.

"You ride more aggressively in California getting horses in position than you do on the East Coast," said the 36-year-old Gryder, a native of West Covina, California, but who registered most of his more than 3,000 victories in the Midwest and New York before returning to Southern California a year ago.

"You let horses find their stride more at a track like Belmont Park (where the main track is a mile and a half in circumference)," Gryder said. "Track surfaces in New York don’t carry speed as much. Not that California is speed-dominant. That’s a misconception. They train a bit more aggressively in Southern California and there’s more focus on the first 50 yards of a race than back east. You come out of the gate a little quieter back there, let the horses settle and find their stride, then finish up more like a turf race."

The ambiance at Santa Anita beats all, too.

"I’ve raced everywhere in the country," Gryder said, "and there’s no place I miss more than training in the mornings at Santa Anita when the sun comes up. Nothing is more beautiful. If you’re upset when you start your day in this setting, then you’re just a miserable person, because there’s no atmosphere like it. We get to perform outdoors surrounded by beautiful mountains and sunshine every day. That’s hard to top."

Court was born in Florida, but was among the dominant riders in the Midwest before moving to California three years ago. The 46-year-old has been riding more than 27 years with over 3,000 victories. Simply put, Court says, a rider can make a smooth transition as long as he’s winning races.

"When you’re not doing well, it makes things much more difficult," he said. "When you have support of good horsemen, trainers, owners and have a good agent, it makes the transition easier."

For Migliore, leaving the frozen tundra of Aqueduct’s winters for California was like leaving Siberia for Paradise.

"A major difference is that in California, you want your horses running by the time you turn for home," said the 43-year-old native of Babylon, New York.

"In California, you want some momentum," he continued. "In New York, you can kind of sit, turn for home, straighten up, get on your right lead and then get there. If you do that here and someone else gets first run, it’s hard to win. You might come close, but it seems like you fall short. The tracks here carry horses a little further."

But even losing in California is almost better than winning at Aqueduct in the winter, at least for Migliore, as affable a guy as anyone would ever meet, and, like Gryder and Court, resolute additions to the Southern California riding colony.

"The setting at Santa Anita is beautiful," Migliore said, referring to the scenic track and its lush landscaping, nestled at the foot of the majestic San Gabriel Mountains. "The sense of history at Santa Anita is very strong," he added. "I appreciate that aspect of the game, and I really enjoy it. Let’s put it this way: It’s a heck of a different backdrop than the Belt Parkway."

The homestretch:

”¡ Two-time Kentucky Derby winner Jerry Bailey on Nobiz Like Showbiz: "I liked him until his third-place finish in the Fountain of Youth. He’s not developing. He’s still lugging in and doing the same stuff that’s nagged him all along, and it concerns me. They’re putting blinkers on (for his next race) and that will probably help." On Circular Quay: "I like him, but I don’t know what he beat in the Louisiana Derby, plus he’s got a lot of obstacles to overcome with his style, especially for a race like the Kentucky Derby. He needs pace and he needs to get a lucky trip. You can be 15-wide in the Derby very easy."

”¡ Corey Nakatani, the regular rider of two-time Santa Anita Handicap winner Lava Man, has fired agent Tom Knust and hired retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. "I think it’s a great move," the 36-year-old Nakatani said. "It worked for Johnny Velazquez and (Angel) Cordero. Gary’s a Hall of Famer and that’s my ultimate goal. Things just looked like they were going in the wrong direction, and when that happens, you need to stir things up. I want to be one-two at every meet and it seemed like it wasn’t happening."

”¡ I see where Duke is out of the NCAA’s after the first round. Maybe it should have sent the lacrosse team.