Friday, December 5, 2008
Who Wants to be a Jockey?
In a wide-ranging conversation with Richard Migliore the other day (Breeders' Cup, kids growing up too fast, John Kimmel, the cost of college, weight, weather, and so on), one thing that was touched on was the tough job of attracting new fans to the sport of horse racing.
"I hear a lot about 'Let's promote the jockeys'," Mig said, "but the truth of the matter is, not many people can relate to what jockeys do."
"You're right," I said. "Most of the people I know have thrown a football or played baseball or softball or bounced a basketball. And everyone who's driven a car can relate to a NASCAR driver in some way, shape or form. But riding horse races? Most young people I know have never been on a horse."
"And even for those who have, wanting to go as fast as you can and finish first is different," he said. "When I was growing up, I rode races on ponies with my friends. I wanted wear the white pants and the black boots and the silks. I wanted to be a jockey."
I never did. Want to be a jockey, that is. As horse-crazy as I was growing up, I never made the connection between what I was doing during my weekly riding lessons and what was going on at Aqueduct via my parents' little black-and-white television set. I found the stories about Thoroughbreds in the anthologies of horse stories I devoured to be dull, because they were always fromt the point of view of a groom or a trainer or an owner, who were always standing on the ground, and to me, the whole point was being on the back of a horse. (Paying $5 for the privilege of going around and around a paddock on a old quarter-horse for an hour was as close to heaven as I got.)
Now, if someone had told me, as someone once told NYRA paddock host (and former exercise rider) Jan Rushton, that there were places where you could not only ride horses for free but get paid to do it, things might have been different. If there had been someone around like Maylan Studart or Jackie Davis when I was growing up, it might have been really different. It wasn't until I was older and actually began working with Thoroughbreds that I totally fell in love and began writing about them.
People make connections to horses in a lot of different ways. At Churchill Downs, John Asher once told racecaller Tom Durkin he believed that if you could just get someone to touch a racehorse, they'd be hooked.
I know it worked for me.
Posted by On the Lead at Friday, December 05, 2008