Trainers, riders are always jockeying for position

January 22, 2008 8:15 PM
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Golden Edge by Ed Golden | More than a century ago, African-Americans were the dominant riders in the world of thoroughbred racing.

Six of them won the Kentucky Derby in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Isaac Murphy and James Winkfield being the most prominent. Thirteen of the 15 riders in the first Derby, run on May 1, 1875, and won by Aristides, were African-American, and African-American jockeys won 15 of the Derby’s first 28 runnings.

In the mid-19th century, the New Wave in racing was contract riders, jockeys who rode exclusively for certain stables. Eddie Arcaro and Steve Brooks were mainstays with the legendary Calumet Farm, which won the Derby eight times, from 1941 with Triple Crown winner Whirlaway, to 1968, with Forward Pass, who was moved up over the horse that crossed the wire first, Dancer’s Image, through a medication disqualification that remains controversial 40 years later.

It’s a different ball game these days. With countless intricate intangibles interspersed in obtaining a rider’s services, you can’t tell which jockey is riding a horse without a program. Trainers–and owners–select a rider by all manner of considerations: skill, availability, personality and representation being foremost. It’s rare these days when a jockey rides consistently for one trainer.

An exception is trainer Brian Koriner and jockey Aaron Gryder. They are as inseparable as Itchy & Scratchy, although their relationship is far less violent.

Gryder has ridden for Koriner at almost every opportunity at Santa Anita this meet, more than 81 percent of the time. The 41-year-old Koriner has sent out 21 horses, and the 37-year-old Gryder has ridden 17, winning once, with seven seconds and one third.

It began as a business association and has developed into a comradeship.

"We’re friends off the race track, but it was fast horses that got us close enough to be friends," Gryder explained. "I rode the first horse for him at Del Mar in 2006 and I think I won on five of the first eight he put me on. Until that time I had never spoken with him. In fact, I had never worked a horse for him before, but that was a good introduction to a friendship. It’s a lot easier to get close to somebody when you’re winning together. Since then, he’s been my biggest supporter."

That doesn’t hurt, especially when you’re competing at the deepest colony in years, one that has already seen the departure of respected veteran Clinton Potts and world-class newcomer Julien Leparoux.

"No matter how my business has been, I know I can always rely on Brian to have some business for me," Gryder said. "We just have a good working rapport. We understand what each other wants. If I ride a bad race or he thinks I didn’t ride a perfect race, we talk about it and we’re fine with it. We learn from it. He’s been great for my business and he’s become a great friend."

That’s an anomaly. Most contemporary trainers find it beneficial to play the field.

"The advantage of using different riders depends on what type of style you think might fit a certain horse, one that has a quirk or two about him," said trainer Mike Machowsky. "But a lot depends on what jockey or agent you have a rapport with, and who the owners are happy with.

"Generally, if you run a horse, you like for the same rider to get back on him next time out, especially if the horse runs well. You’d hate for a rider to take off, but a lot of times, jocks will get on a horse in the mornings, so they have an idea as to whether they want to ride it in the afternoon.

"If you run a horse with a low-profile rider, often owners will push for a high-profile rider. They bring their friends to the track and they’d love to have their picture taken with a guy like Garrett Gomez. They think their chances of winning are better because a name rider is on their horse. But that’s not always the case. There are lots of young riders who haven’t made a name for themselves yet who are pretty good at this stage."

The homestretch

Corey Nakatani is expected to miss several weeks after breaking his right collarbone in a training mishap aboard an unraced filly trained by Kristin Mulhall at Hollywood Park Saturday. The filly, nicknamed "Dolly," broke her right front cannon bone and was euthanized.

• One of the West Coast’s leading Kentucky Derby contenders after his smashing win in the San Rafael Stakes, undefeated El Gato Malo (the bad cat) was one bad son of El Corredor before he was gelded. "That’s why we did it," said trainer Craig Dollase. "Before that, you didn’t want to mess with him."

• If you think the Cowboys fell when they were upset by the New York Giants, it was nothing compared to the plummet Super Bowl ratings took by losing a prospective match between the Patriots and America’s Team.