Gomez ‘Touching The Sky’ With Justify
Longtime Exercise Rider Living His Dreams With Special Colt
By Margaret Ransom
The truth is, exercise riders are oftentimes among the unsung heroes of the racing game. While the owners pay the bills and stand proudly in the winner’s circle, the trainers receive the praise for expert conditioning and the jockeys book endorsements and bask in the glow of victory, the exercise riders are often the forgotten members of the team, sometimes awkwardly standing in win pictures and identified only by those with more intimate knowledge of the winner.
“That guy is the exercise rider, I think,” the comments go.
The truth is exercise riders are the thousands of men and women who rise before the sun from coast to coast — most often seven days a week — who, without which, racing would not exist. As a group, they spend countless hours working with and developing the horses we watch, bet on and fall in love with every day, never asking for much more than for their charges to return safely to their stalls.
It takes a special skill set to be an exercise rider and being small in stature is the easy part. The job description of exercise rider is actually extensive and particular and way more than turning left in circles all morning.
Without exception, the riders we recognize daily in photos and videos aboard our favorite horses were once the ones who were speeding by, mostly blurry, in the background. All have paid their dues on the lesser-known names in the game. It’s a good bet that for every rider who makes it to work in the morning, another is nursing an injury or will never ride again thanks to an injury sustained riding a racehorse. Like jockeys, exercise riders literally risk their lives for our entertainment.
So, while the dangerous job of an exercise rider is often a thankless task with little to no fanfare, every year one lucky member of the gallop corps gets the mount of a lifetime and makes it to the winner’s circle reserved for one horse a year on the first Saturday in May under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs.
Last year, Nick Bush was aboard Always Dreaming before his Kentucky Derby win and, the year before him, Jonny Garcia was recognized for his handling of champion Nyquist. And everyone knows who Georgie Alvarez is thanks to Triple Crown winner American Phaoroah. This year, the honor belongs to 42-year-old Mexico native… (more)