Old jockeys never die, they just ride one more time

Sep 30, 2008 6:57 PM

Golden Edge by Ed Golden |

It was Douglas MacArthur who said, "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away," in his riveting retirement speech before Congress on April 19, 1951, after President Harry Truman dismissed him from command of United Nations forces in Korea.

Fast forward to Oct. 18, 2008 and the vainglorious General's memorable quote could apply to old riders. That's the date eight retired Hall of Fame jockeys are scheduled to return to the saddle in an unprecedented final fling, riding against each other in a sprint race at Santa Anita during the Oak Tree Racing Association's prelude to the Breeders' Cup the following weekend.

Angel Cordero Jr., 65; Jacinto Vasquez, 64; Sandy Hawley, 59; Pat Day, 55; Chris McCarron, 53; Jerry Bailey, 51; Gary Stevens, 45; and Julie Krone, 45, will mount a California-bred selected by draw and go hell-bent to the finish line.

It's more than an exhibition, because betting will be permitted. The California Horse Racing Board has approved wagering on the race, in which each horse will be assigned 126 pounds.

Conspicuous by their absence in the event, billed as The Living Legends Race, because the eight combined to win 71,872 races with earnings of nearly $2 billion, are Laffit Pincay Jr. and Eddie Delahoussaye, arguably two of the most popular jockeys of all time, certainly in California.

Pincay, 61, and Delahoussaye, who turned 57 on Sept. 21, would give up a few of their combined 15,914 victories to be able to compete. Major injuries that forced their retirement prevent their participation. Still, they are looking forward to the race with great anticipation and wish their peers well.

"I think it's remarkable," said Delahoussaye, who now earns his keep as a bloodstock agent, buying and selling horses. "It's going to be a historical event, because I don't think we'll ever see it again. Eight Hall of Famers; that's unbelievable, and I know they're serious about it. They're competitors and they want to win. That's how they are.

"I talked to Sandy Hawley a few a weeks ago and he was doing cardiovascular exercises and getting on horses, and he's 59. When I saw him early last February he weighed 123 pounds, but he said he's down to 112, and he looks good.

"But if they're overweight, it doesn't make any difference. They should have made it 130 pounds anyway and let them do whatever they want."

Delahoussaye retired five years ago after suffering neck and head injuries in a spill at Del Mar on Aug. 30, 2002. He had ridden 6,384 winners in a career that began in 1967. Pincay retired with 9,530 victories on April 29, 2003, on the advice of his doctors, after fracturing his neck in a spill at Santa Anita on March 1 of that year. Neither can consider riding again, even in a promotional race. Risk of being paralyzed, or worse, is paramount.

"I can't do it because of my injuries, and Laffit, neither," Delahoussaye said. "It's not worth the chance, and since I had my (right) hip replacement, I couldn't bend down in the saddle anyway. But it's going to be fun to watch. It's going to be great. Do I have a rooting interest? No, just let the best horse and rider win and let them all have fun and come back safe, and they will."

As for the status of today's sales market, Delahoussaye says it's a victim of the times.

"I think the economy has a lot to do with the sales, but the prices also are coming down more realistically," Delahoussaye said. "I was talking to someone the second day of the sale at Keeneland, and they said, ‘A couple years ago, we used to get three or four horses sell for four or five million. This year, we're seeing just million dollar horses, which reflects the economy and maybe the reality of the market.

"That's what it looks like to me, but you know, the money is made on sales the first two days, when the top horses are available. The third day, prices go lower, and the fourth day, they really drop, and so on."

In 12 days of selling at the recent Keeneland September sales, 3,016 yearlings went for more than $322.7 million, down 14.4 percent and $54 million from last year.

As for upcoming sires as proficient and lucrative as Storm Cat or the late Seattle Slew being on the horizon, Delahoussaye couldn't go out on a limb.

"There are a lot of new sires, so it's still all up in the air, and it's kind of hard to judge who will be hot," he said.


The homestretch

  • As I forecast before anyone else here on GamingToday.com more than a week ago, Curlin will come to Santa Anita for a showdown with Big Brown in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25. "We're at the airport right now," trainer Steve Asmussen told me early Sunday morning. One caveat: Curlin would have to train well over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface before a final commitment is made.
  • Eoin Harty isn't ready to concede the Classic to Curlin or Big Brown. The trainer of Travers winner Colonel John and Goodwood winner Well Armed feels the two favorites could be vulnerable. "Curlin broke Cigar's money record, but he's not drawing off and winning by 10 or 15 (lengths)," Harty said. "Big Brown didn't struggle in his last race (winning the Monmouth Stakes on turf by a neck), but certainly in the Haskell he struggled. They're the two main contenders, but my horses fit right there with them."
  • Patrick Valenzuela's riding days in California are over. The California Horse Racing Board last week revoked the often-suspended 45-year-old jockey's conditional license and he will not be able to reapply. He has been riding in Louisiana, where he has an active license and has not violated any of the state's racing rules.
  • Corey Nakatani probably will miss the rest of the Oak Tree meet after breaking his right clavicle when Easy on the Eyes clipped heels leaving the starting gate in the Morvich Handicap. The 37-year-old rider had a break in the same bone in a training accident at Hollywood Park on Jan. 20 of this year.
  • And I see where People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants Ben & Jerry's to use nursing moms instead of cows for the milk in its ice cream. I've got two words for that idea: it sucks.