Special race pits old pros vs. amateurs First Jockey Challenge is difficult to handicap


Want a hot tip in today's 11th race at Laurel Park?

Bet the amateur riders, even though they drew the worst mounts in the 10-horse field and go up against five old pros -- including Vince Bracciale Jr., Gregg McCarron, Phil Grove and Chuck Baltazar -- who have cumulatively won 14,957 races, compared to 105 for the amateurs.

At least that's the advice of Christy Clagett, the Upper Marlboro horsewoman who is the country's leading amateur jockey and rides 8-1 shot Boldly Up First in Laurel's first Pro/Am Jockey Challenge.

The race basically pits five amateur jockeys, who have at one time been champions in the Amateur Riders Club of America series, against five retired and active professionals. All have mounts on $8,500 maidens.

For this race, Baltazar, who once rode seven straight winners at Laurel; Bracciale, who piloted such equine stars as Ruffian and Broad Brush; and McCarron, rider of stakes winners Light Hearted and On The Sly, have been brought out of mothballs. All retired several years ago. Baltazar drew the mount on 2-1 favorite Stone Lake.

Phil Grove, who continues to race at Delaware Park, competes against his son, Chris, last year's amateur champion who is second in the standings this year. Chris Grove works at the Bowie Training Center as assistant trainer to Donald Barr.

Danny Wright, another retiree who is now a racing official, was scheduled to compete, but he fills in as a steward today. The Maryland Racing Commission thought that was too much of a conflict. Another retired jockey, Greg Smith, will replace him.

"We've had two of these Pro/Am jockey races before, and even though the professionals have much more experience, both times amateurs have won," Clagett said. "These races are a blast. You never know what is going to happen. Even though the favorites usually win, most of my winners have been on 8-1 or 12-1 shots."

And don't necessarily count out Boldly Up First, even though he has been beaten by a total of 34 lengths in his three career starts and seems to hate a wet track, which may occur today.

Clagett remembers winning an amateur race this summer at Beulah Park in Ohio on a 6-year-old gelding named Chester Moore. The horse had not been on the board in three years and had been pulled up in his last start.

"He had to work before the stewards to get the OK to race," Clagett recalled. "In the paddock, I asked the trainer the strategy. He said, 'Go to the front.' What I really wanted to know is if the horse had four legs."

Chester Moore went off at 25-1 odds and paid a $52 win mutuel.

"After the race, all the riders in the jocks' room rushed up and wanted to know how I got that horse to run," Clagett said. "We happened to break on top and all the favorites got in trouble."

The Amateur Riders Club was formed in 1987. About 70 riders compete in the series during the year in 63 races at tracks ranging from Arlington International Racecourse to Ruidoso Downs.

Concern 'iffy' today

Concern, the $3 million earner, will run in the Laurel Turf Cup today only if the race comes off the grass course.

Even then, it's questionable if he'll run on a sloppy track, if conditions are similar to what they were recently at Belmont Park when the horse finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"If we can't race [today], we could run him next Saturday in the RTC Hawthorne Gold Cup in Illinois," said trainer Dick Small.

Lenny Hale, Laurel-Pimlico's vice president of racing, said all efforts will be made to run on grass.

"But it depends how much rain we get and when it comes," he said. "Our forecast calls for rain to start about noon and about a quarter of an inch to fall by post time for the Turf Cup. But who knows for sure what will happen?"

Among the Turf Cup entries are Canadian invader Hasten To Add, who was third in the Grade I Rothmanns International, and local grass standout Warning Glance.

Post time for Laurel's weekend live cards is now 12:15 p.m.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad