Derby Day preparation

May, 7, 2011
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Here we go again! Kentucky Derby 137 goes off at 6:30 p.m. ET and I'll be in the saddle on Master of Hounds. Someone asked me how much importance I put on being able to ride a horse in a workout before a race, since I haven't been able to do that with him. It's nice, but I don't put a mandatory importance on it at all.

I've won thousands of races without seeing a horse before the race, and I've won lots of Grade 1 races without having ever seen the horse before I got on it in the paddock. I don't work five or six a morning anyway; it's not like I work all these horses every day. Don't get me wrong -- I enjoy coming out and getting on horses, and if a trainer asks me to do him a favor and get on one, or if he thinks it'll equal a better result on race day, I'm happy to do it. But if there isn't an opportunity to do so, I don't lose any sleep over it. To say that it would bother me would be ridiculous. It isn't any different, it's pretty much the norm for me.

That's one of the things that I pride myself upon anyway. As your top riders, that's our job, to understand and get to know our horses within the first five or six minutes we're on them. A lot of times, your top 25 or 30 guys in the nation can tell you more about a horse in the first five minutes that we're sitting on them than a lot of people know about the horse period, people that have been around them for however long. That's why we're in the top 20. That's what we're supposed to do.

Another common misconception about riding -- especially riding in the Derby -- is that we all spend a lot of time looking ahead at the race. Sure, when it comes down to the hours before the race, we're all definitely aware of who's in there and what we'd like to do -- but three or four days out, I don't get caught up in all that talk of who works how fast. I go into this race just like any other race. When I looked at the race on Wednesday night after the post position draw, I had an idea of where the horses might start, but I didn't sit down then and try to draw out a game plan.

A lot of times I ride by feel and by what a horse is telling me -- by what he's being able to do. You have to take what your horse is giving to you and go from there. You can't make your horse do something, especially going a mile and a quarter, that he's not wanting to do. If they're not happy, you have to find a way to make them happy, and give them confidence, that way they'll move forward. Once you get them moving forward, then you go from there. I wait as long as possible to really dissect the race and come up with a game plan because in one second, you might have to throw it all out.

It gets quieter around the jockeys' room before the last couple of races. The lounge will be full of families and press who are tired of sitting out in the rain or whatever, and most of us stay out of there. Even though the pressure is on and anticipation is mounting, there's a lot of camaraderie leading up to the last couple minutes when we're sitting out there waiting for the TV crews to tell us we can walk down to the paddock. There are only a couple races in the United States where everybody wishes each other luck, because we all know how difficult it is to win. There's kind of a special bond on the way out the doors; everybody's wishing each other good luck even while you're hoping you end up winning it.



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