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Legends go for a ride down memory lane

October 18, 2008|Bill Dwyre

A group of very small people sat at a long table at Santa Anita on Friday morning and did something they probably had never done there before.

They ate a lot.

Before, during and after that, they told enough stories about themselves and each other -- especially about one of them -- to resurrect some of the grand days of the sport of horse racing.

Many of the stories were even true.

Today, eight of the group, all retired and all Hall of Fame jockeys, will get back in the saddle again. They will ride in a race that will count, both on their records and at the betting windows.

This has not happened before in racing. If the Friday prelude to the Saturday afternoon race is any indication, it ought to happen more.

They will ride in a special seven-furlong test, the fourth race of today's card, an allowance optional claiming race scheduled to go off about 2 p.m. The eight are Pat Day, Gary Stevens, Chris McCarron, Jerry Bailey, Angel Cordero, Sandy Hawley, Jacinto Vasquez and Julie Krone.

It has been dubbed many things: The Rocking Chair Derby. The Grade I Geritol. Beauty and the Seven Beasts.

Mostly, despite the real betting and the still-burning fire in these aging guts to win, it will be fun.

To that end, the stories flowed and the legends grew.

Krone talked about how Bailey would get in a comfortable position in a race and tell jokes.

"You'd be riding along," she said, "and you'd hear: 'Hey, did you hear the one about the guy who . . . ' "

Everybody remembered how Hawley would go on a winning streak across town and people would start referring to the track as Hawley Park. Others recalled the bettors' nickname for Pat Day, when he got on a roll: Pay Day.

Hawley chatted with trainer Bobby Frankel about a horse he once rode for him.

"I was four lengths in front at the eighth pole," he said, "and I just cocked the whip. She immediately turned left, jumped the rail cleanly and kept on going. I won the race by four, but they said it didn't count because I finished on the inside of the rail. Pretty picky."

Mostly though, with little prompting, the morning was dedicated to furthering the legend of Cordero, who is beloved now by his fellow Hall of Famers, but who left them each with a scar or two and who will never be mistaken for his given name.

Eddie Delahoussaye, serving as a non-riding ambassador, said, "I'm betting on Angel tomorrow. He's got an outside post position. He'll ride a couple of them into the rail."

The floodgates were open.

"It's 1984, my first Breeders' Cup," Stevens said. "It was the Juvenile Fillies, on national TV. I watch Angel. Before I know it, he's got half the field piled up and out. As I'm falling, I'm thinking, 'My God, I'm going down on national TV and my mother is watching.' "

McCarron recalled a Grade II race at Belmont when Cordero was angry about not getting the ride on the favorite, Gulch. He told McCarron that Gulch didn't like to run on the rail, and so McCarron, riding on Precisionist and thinking Cordero's strategy against Gulch would work for him too, helped keep Gulch pinned in. While he was doing that, Cordero went around him and won on a longshot, King's Snow.

"Angel rode to beat, not to win," McCarron said.

The subject of Codex mugging the 1980 Kentucky Derby-winning filly, Genuine Risk, in the Preakness that year and going on to win was brought up to the jockey of Genuine Risk, Vasquez.

"He got away with it," Vasquez said, smiling. Codex's jockey was, of course, Cordero.

Krone recalled her first win in New York.

"It was a double DQ," she said. "Richard Migliore and Angel got me sandwiched. They rode me in and rode me out. They took both their numbers down. When I got done, I had to make sure I was still dressed."

Laffit Pincay Jr., among those who came up with the idea for the Legends race, and who will be one of the non-racing ambassadors, chimed in.

"Angel would do something on the track," Pincay said, "and he'd know I'd be looking for him. I'd go into the jockey room and he'd be in the bathroom."

Cordero took it all with the wide-eyed innocence of, well, an angel.

Cordero was asked about the story of how he allegedly convinced Seattle Slew's regular jockey Jean Cruguet that the injured horse hadn't come back far enough to run against Affirmed, and then got the ride on Slew when Cruguet said those things to the media after a race and was pulled off by the owners. Cordero flashed a little wry smile and said, "You don't make your horse look bad in front of his people."

In post position order, Bailey is 45, Hawley 59, Day 55, Vasquez 64, Stevens 45, McCarron 53 and Krone 45. On the outside, still working horses in the morning in New York and working as a jockey agent during the day, the oldest of the group, the about-to-turn 66 Cordero.

These, of course, are mature adults who have acquired, with age, both common sense and maturity. This, then, should be a gentle and courteous outing.

(If you believe that, we've got a bridge to sell you . . . ).

--

Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. For previous columns, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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