The critics in Oklahoma who watched G.R. Carter develop from a high school senior into a top quarter horse jockey in two years told him he couldn't make it in California.
They said it would be too difficult to crack the well-established California jockey colony, one of the nation's finest. A young man from Oklahoma, they said, could get lost in the California crowd.
Between 1988 and '90, Carter had established himself at Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Okla. He won the richest 1988 quarter horse race in Oklahoma, the Heritage Place Futurity, when he was 20, and that was just one of the more than 100 races he won that first year. He continued to win and by 1990 was considering moving to California.
After the '90 Blue Ribbon Downs meeting concluded, Carter decided to move out.
"(California) has the reputation of being the big time," he said. "I questioned a few people and they said, 'You'll starve.' "
Hardly. Last year, in Carter's first full one in California, he finished second in the jockey standings at Bay Meadows over the summer and third at the Los Alamitos meeting last fall and winter behind Eddie Garcia and Kip Didericksen. It was far better than he had anticipated.
"I've been pretty happy with the way I've done," he said. "Hard work is what makes a rider, getting out there in the morning and doing a little politicking. That's where you find the mounts. People in my country were dead wrong."
Carter's mounts earned more than $772,000 last year, a personal best for him, even though his 150 victories included only four in stakes races. He scored his biggest victory at the end of the year with Shawnes Diamond in the $75,660 Dash for Cash Derby. He appears well positioned to be a major factor among quarter horse riders, not only in California, but across the nation.
At 24, he has moved onto the roster of jockeys called upon by New Mexico super-trainer Jack Brooks when he needs a rider for a major race. Carter rode First Down And Ten to a fifth-place finish for Brooks in the Sun Country Futurity in April near El Paso and hopes to hear from Brooks in a few weeks when the Kansas Futurity is run at Ruidoso Downs in Ruidoso, N.M.
During the three-month California off-season--on what was supposed to have been a vacation--Carter rode in four states, winning futurities in Utah and Oklahoma.
"I was planning on taking it easy," he said. "But I ended up riding a few races."
He also married the former Shaena Burgess, the daughter of Jerry Burgess, a state steward at Bandera Downs in Texas and a former jockey who rode Bugs Alive In 75 to a victory in the 1975 All-American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs.
The wedding was in Sallisaw, which Carter still calls home, even though he was born and grew up in Pawhuska, Okla., 50 miles northwest of Tulsa. Carter plans to visit Sallisaw, in the far east end of the state, to ride Blast From The Past in the Oklahoma Futurity on Saturday.
Carter began riding at 16 at the small tracks that dotted the Oklahoma and Kansas countryside in the '80s. He won his first recognized race in 1984 and his first stakes races shortly thereafter at Blue Ribbon and Eureka Downs in Eureka, Kan.
In high school at Pawhuska, he was a 4.0 student and during the winter was a champion wrestler, winning the state title for 2-A schools in the 108-pound division. He also participated in rodeo.
"I was never planning a career as a jockey," he said. "I was ready to go to Stillwater (Oklahoma State University) to vet school. (But) I was doing pretty good as a jockey, and I wanted to give it a few years. It turned out to be the right thing."
Corona Chick's 1992 debut may be delayed by a foot abscess that surfaced late last week and forced the 3-year-old filly to miss a few days of training.
Corona Chick, the national 2-year-old champion last year, was preparing for the Los Alamitos Derby trials on May 15, though trainer Frank Monteleone lists her as doubtful.
"I'd have to qualify her in the next three days, and I don't think she's ready," Monteleone said. "I'll probably wait and run her in the middle of June. Our next objective will obviously be the Dash for Cash Derby."
Corona Chick, owned by Bob Etchandy of Anaheim Hills, won four futurities at Los Alamitos last year while posting 10 victories in 12 starts. She had stakes-record times in three futurities. She was the top qualifier for the La Primera Del Ano Derby last January, but flipped over in the gate seconds before the start and was scratched.
Last Jan. 25, she underwent knee surgery and has since impressed Monteleone and Didericksen with the way she has trained.
Los Alamitos Notes
Los Alamitos will begin simulcasting harness races from Cal-Expo in Sacramento on Friday night, the first night of a 54-night meeting that lasts through Aug. 8. It will be the first time simulcast wagering will be offered on harness racing, but it will be similar to last summer, when the quarter horses were at Bay Meadows and Los Alamitos held live harness racing, and wagering was held at both tracks. An average of $192,842 was bet at Los Alamitos on quarter horse races from Bay Meadows then. Harness officials are hoping for an average handle of more than $100,000. The harness races can be viewed throughout the track. Harness racing will be conducted Wednesday through Saturday, and the quarter horses will run Thursday through Sunday. Los Alamitos will continue to carry the daytime signal from Hollywood Park in Inglewood.