Families jockey for position in riders' lounge


The baby slept on the pool table. Slept in her portable car seat while the post-Preakness clamor grew ever louder in this theater of the bizarre known as the jockeys' lounge.

The baby belonged to jockey Gary Stevens. Her name is Carlie. She is eight weeks old. Frankly, she didn't much care if her daddy had just finished third aboard Casual Lies.

The reporters cared -- they kept asking questions. The jockeys cared -- they kept watching replays. But the lounge also is open to families. It makes for a scene unlike any other in professional sports.

Shane Sellers' 20-month-old daughter, Shali, stood on top of the pool table and gave him a kiss. Rene Douglas' 2-year-old son Michael held an ABC microphone and scampered about in his brown suit.

The Preakness is the racing equivalent of a World Series game, but you'd never have known it glancing into the jockey's lounge, not in the hours before the race, and certainly not in the moments after.

Jockeys came and went all day, eating, chatting, relaxing. For privacy, they retreated to their dressing room, where they received service from personal valets and studied The Daily Racing Form.

"It gets a little bit more intense just before the feature," jockey Chris McCarron said two hours before winning the Preakness aboard Pine Bluff. "But this is one of the friendliest jockeys' room in the country."

That's saying something, for this is one sport where the opposing players all dress in the same place. The big-name jocks are in this together, from the Triple Crown to the Breeders' Cup.

Preakness Day began with the first jocks arriving two hours before the 11 a.m. post time. Dash for Dotty's Tommy Turner was there, relaxing in his undershirt, racing pants and boots. And longing to unfold the pingpong table that was removed to clear space for the media.

Just inside the lounge door, Darlene Ewalt and her brother-in-law, Nelson Smith, sold jockeys' equipment. They live in Granville, Pa., a two-hour drive from Pimlico. Smith makes whips. Ewalt's husband Todd makes saddles.

Ever see a saddle with hand-sewn spider webs? Chris Antley has one. Todd completed it in 30 hours. Darlene carries snapshots of his other work. She sold several items, including boots to McCarron, before leaving at 11 a.m.

Otherwise, the lounge looked just as it does any other day, its big window overlooking the Pimlico parking lot. Radio and TV crews set up on the deck overlooking the track, but that was the only other disruption for the jockeys.

The ones racing left 15 minutes before each post. The ones waiting gathered in the lounge. At 3 p.m., three Diet Pepsi "Uh huh" models appeared on the deck. They wanted to pose with the jockeys. Needless to say, they towered over them.


What tension?

Rene Douglas, the jock for Fortune's Gone, took an hour-long nap at midday on an L-shaped couch littered with newspapers. Turner eventually unfolded the pingpong table for a quick game.

All the Preakness jockeys raced horses earlier on the card, and though their schedules were lighter than usual, all welcomed the distraction. Some used the spare time to get a rubdown from Pimlico massage therapist Craig Franzoni.

"We don't get nervous," said Craig Perret, who races six days a week, 10 months of year and finished second on Alydeed. "At the end of the day, one of us will feel better than the rest of us.

That's the way it is. We go on tomorrow."


What tension?

Early in the day, Stevens greeted his wife, Toni, and baby Carlie. Who says the track isn't a place for children. Pimlico rider Joe Rocco's 9-year-old son Joe Jr. spent the entire day, practicing his pool when bored.

Just after the fifth race, the wives of Perret, Pat Day and Mike Smith made a joint appearance. Day's wife Sheila gazed quizzically at the television, unaware a race had just ended.

"Did he win?" she asked.

Informed that yes, Pat had indeed ridden Potentiality to victory, Sheila rushed down the 28 steps from the lounge to the paddock and raced to join her husband in the winner's circle.

"Did you make it?" Smith's wife Patrice asked when she returned.

"Yeah!" Sheila Day replied, breathlessly.

The jockeys ride 1,000-pound horses at 30 mph for great sums of money, yet many are friends. Smith, Day and Perret dined with their wives at the Polo Grille the eve of the race. "We all left with our tummies full," Perret said, smiling.

Yes, the jocks eat. Joe Lishia, their Pimlico cook for 20 years, expands his menu for the Preakness. Among other things yesterday, he offered crab cakes ($3.50 each), spaghetti ($1.75) and chicken noodle soup ($0.60).

L "A few of 'em eat heavy," Lishia said. "And then they flip."

For the uninitiated, flipping is racetrack vernacular for forced vomiting that enables jockeys to keep their weight down. Obviously, that's an extreme approach. Some jocks last the entire day on a small soda and saltine.

In any case, the kitchen activity slowed as the race approached. Chris Antley grabbed a celery stick at 5 p.m., then put on his silks. Turner, Jerry Bailey and Shane Sellers gathered on chairs to watch the coverage on ABC.

By post time, the only ones watching were the clerk of scales, two jockeys, two security guards and two jockeys' guild officials. Chris McCarron's brother Gregg and Pimlico's Charles Fenwick III were the jockeys. They rooted wildly for Pine Bluff.

Afterward the jockeys filed up the steps, their faces and silks caked with mud. Most showered quickly and conducted interviews in towels and robes. Smith, who finished 11th aboard Big Sur, met his wife and headed for the airport 25 minutes after the race.

The reporters kept coming.

The noise kept growing.

-! And Gary Stevens' baby slept.

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