Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jockey Could Crack Top 10 Of All-Time


Jan 20th, 09
GARRETT Gomez, favored to win his second straight Eclipse Award next week as America's jockey of the year, now is poised to make a run at joining the exclusive club of all-time greats.

The first jockey to win three Breeders' Cup events in one afternoon, his mounts earned $23.5 million this year, just 10G short of Jerry Bailey's all-time record.

At 37, Gomez could have eight or more years of productive riding ahead of him, plenty of time to ride his way into the pantheon.

It will not be easy. Above him is a galaxy of established stars, and it will take some doing to displace any of them. Here's my top 10 jockeys of all time, the competition Garrett faces:

1. Eddie Arcaro: El Supremo! In 50 years around the track, I have never heard anyone contest the claim that Arcaro was the best jockey ever to ride in America.

The only jockey to win two Triple Crowns, Arcaro may be remembered as much for one incident in his life, when stewards charged him with trying to harm another jockey, as he is for his success.

"I wasn't trying to hurt him," Arcaro protested. "I was trying to kill the sunuva[gun]." The stewards promptly rubbed him out for a year.

Arcaro is racing's Babe Ruth. You didn't have to see him in action to know he was the bambino of all bambinos.

2. Bill Shoemaker: The Shoe rode more than 8,800 winners, broke too many records to list, had the same agent for nearly 40 years (unheard of) and a lifelong connection with master trainer Charlie Whittingham.

The tragic irony of his life was that he had a charmed existence on the racetrack, almost miraculously free of falls and serious injury, but he spent the last 12 years of his life in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down by a car accident after he retired.

3. Bill Hartack: Sat on a horse like a sack of potatoes, flailed them through the stretch like a cavalryman, but lordy, how he could ride. Hartack won five Kentucky Derbies from 12 mounts, an incredible 40 percent winning average that may never be duplicated.

Sadly, Hartack was a tortured soul. Invariably rude and abrupt, he spent his life alienating nearly everyone in the business, died alone in a cabin in the woods, and went to his grave asserting, "I never had a good day at the track."

4. Jerry Bailey: After a rocky start (too many parties, drugs, babes and booze), he settled down to become the preeminent jockey of the 21st century.

A serious student of the game, single-minded, hard-driving, articulate, Bailey won 16 straight races on the renowned Cigar, won an unprecedented seven Eclipse Awards and a record 15 Breeders' Cup races.

5. Laffit Pincay Jr.: Superb race rider, second-rate horseman. Trainer Wayne Lukas once said, "Laffit could win the Kentucky Derby, then go to the barn next day and not recognize the horse. But Angel Cordero Jr. could walk down your shedrow and identify every horse. That's the difference. Laffit's a race rider, Angel's a horseman."

All muscle and business, Pincay was the strongest finisher in the game, who seldom lost a photo finish.

6. Angel Cordero Jr: Modeled his riding style after his idol, Eddie Arcaro, then proceeded to become a rock 'em-sock 'em caballero, who brought high energy, excitement, controversy and big bettors to the game.

He probably is New York's most popular jockey. Fans loved him, booed him, cussed him - and bet him with both fists. If Cordero rode a mule, railbirds would make him 6-5.

7. Pat Day: Like Bailey, started out in the fast lane, scraped bottom, then after a religious conversion, rebounded with a career breathtaking in its scope, success and fan adulation.

He won four Eclipse Awards, 12 Breeders' Cup races, dominated Churchill Downs and Keeneland, then raced by Chris McCarron and Bailey to become the highest money winning jockey on the planet with $297 million.

8. Chris McCarron: One of the all-time great money riders. Never flamboyant or controversial, he did not get the publicity of other high-profile jockeys.

At that point he had won more money than any jockey in history, $264 million. He won five Breeders' Cup Classics, but will be remembered for his glamorous association with everyone's favorite horse, John Henry.

9. Johnny Longden: Owned the West Coast for nearly 20 years, eventually overhauling Britain's legendary Sir Gordon Richards as the world's winningest jockey.

Longden won the Triple Crown on Count Fleet and later became the only person to win the Kentucky Derby as a jockey and trainer.

10. Julie Krone: Does not rate on statistics, but no male jockey ever had to climb so high a wall just to get into the game. Once inside, because of trainers such as John Forbes, she competed with the best at the highest level.

She ended up with more than 3,700 winners, the only woman to win a Triple Crown race and a Breeders' Cup race. Ray Kerrison/New York Post