Industry Profile: Jockey David Cohen

David Cohen — enjoying a banner season after resuming his promising riding career following an injury-induced hiatus spanning almost four years — is the recipient of JockeyTalk360.com’s fourth annual Comeback Jockey of the Year Award, presented by Red Brand Fence.

Cohen will receive the award during the Jockeys’ Guild Assembly luncheon Tuesday at Top Golf located adjacent to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Irad Ortiz will be honored as JockeyTalk360 Turf Jockey of the Year, with Drayden Van Dyke recognized as JockeyTalk360 Breakthrough Jockey of the Year. The JockeyTalk360 awards are in addition to the honors handed out at the luncheon by the Jockeys’ Guild at their annual assembly.

The 34-year-old Cohen has won 109 races and almost $6.5 million in 2018 purse earnings through Friday, according to Equibase statistics. That’s the jockey’s most wins since 2012 and most purse earnings since 2010. In taking the Grade 2 Hill Prince on Have At It and the Grade 3 Matron on Lonely Road, Cohen won his first graded stakes since Golden Ticket’s historic dead-heat for victory in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Travers Stakes six years earlier.

Cohen was among the sport’s rising stars when he was kicked in his lower right leg by his mount in the paddock at Aqueduct on Feb. 1, 2014. His badly fractured fibula and tibia required surgery involving a plate and six screws to repair.

“It was never a matter of ‘if’ but a matter of ‘when’ I was going to return,” Cohen said. “If you’re not right mentally, it’s going to show. I wouldn’t do that to people trusting me with the horses and giving me an opportunity if I wasn’t 100 percent ready, not just physically but the mental state as well. It was just wanting to do it the right way.”

Cohen spent much of his childhood in Las Vegas and says the return for the Jockeys’ Guild Assembly provides a memorable homecoming. “The year has developed over time to becoming a very good year,” he said. “You’re always honored if you’re recognized for something. I’m just very fortunate for the support I have from the owners and trainers I rode for and am blessed to be back in the sport I love so much.”

The cancer-related death of his father, California horse owner Morry Cohen, several months after the paddock mishap had the jockey struggling to heal not only physically but emotionally. He rode six races in late 2014 but was determined to have a torn meniscus in his right knee. Cohen suffered another personal loss a year later with the death of his sister, Dana.

He did not ride again Nov. 30, 2017, at the Fair Grounds. That proved the first step toward a big winter meet at Oaklawn Park, where he finished third in the standings with 37 wins, before rejoining the New York circuit last spring.

“David had to deal not only with his initial injuries and subsequent complications, but then the devastating double toll of losing his dad, who was his best friend and got him into horse racing, and his sister,” said C.J. Johnsen, publisher of JockeyTalk360.com. “Being a race-rider requires far more than physical ability. The mind strength of jockeys is really under-appreciated. Riding races is extremely challenging, not just physically but mentally. David knew he had more to mend than just his leg. But his perseverance to come back, and to come back the right way, just shows his strength, passion and respect for the game.”

Career Started in 2004

Cohen has won 1,347 races and almost $50 million in purses in a career that started in 2004.

“My leg now, I can’t even tell,” the jockey said his injuries. “It came back better than I ever could have hoped for. My agent, Bill Castle, is very tactical and we really wanted to come back and do well and win right away, not just pop up and say, ‘Here I am’ at Saratoga. I was very fortunate with the support I had in my return at Oaklawn Park. That return was very well thought-out. I could have returned maybe six months earlier. But I just took a long time in the gym getting my body strong and getting my weight down over the time, the healthy and right way.

“My father was an owner and breeder, so I respect that people are giving me their business, their money on the line, their opportunity that they could give to someone else. I’m coming back with the best riders in the world and saying, ‘Give me an opportunity.’ It’s not a sport that people can just put up money and say, ‘Let’s hope it works.’ The trainers, the exercise riders, grooms, everyone working their tail off day in and day out, I wouldn’t do that to them. I wanted to make sure I was in the right place, and I believe it showed. I had a lot of good feedback from horsemen. If it was the opposite way, I don’t think I’d have had the year I’ve had.

“I’m riding for a lot of high-end trainers and getting opportunities I didn’t get prior. Probably for the first six, seven months of my return, I didn’t take one day off from going to the track working horses in the morning. I just went out there, rode hard, rode to the wire on every horse and just showed that I was here for my love of the horses and what I was doing. It was more of a blessing to get back to doing what I love than worrying about how well I was going to do.”

press release

Trainer Gerald Bennett Still Going Strong

Tampa paddock inspectionLess than two weeks into the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Downs meeting, trainer Gerald Bennett has thrown down the challenge. If any of his rivals have designs on unseating him from the top spot in the standings, they had better get busy.

The 74-year-old Bennett, who often hauls his own horses from track to track, has a reputation for vigor and high energy rarely found at any age. Beneath his kindly exterior lies an unquenchable desire to pile up victories and add another title to his collection.

“Once you get on top, you want to stay there,” Bennett said after saddling seven winners from 18 starters to earn the Rumba Island Bar & Grill Trainer of the Month Award. “When I trained at Detroit, I had a quote from (legendary football coach) Vince Lombardi on my office wall – ‘There is only one place in my game and that is first place.’

“Mary (his wife) keeps harping at me to cut down, cut down. But I’d like to have 90 horses. I’d like to have one in every race,” he said, grinning. “This sport is about competition, and you have to have that desire to win.”

Bennett has captured the last three Tampa Bay Downs titles and four overall, and his 40-horse stable, combined with his intuitive sense of where his horses can win, makes him a heavy favorite to add to that ledger. But it’s his seemingly tireless work ethic that fuels the Bennett barn.

On most mornings, Bennett is out the door by 4:30 a.m., eager to greet his charges on the backside. He arrives by 5, walking through his barn and checking each horse to determine its condition and temperament.

By the time the track opens at 6 a.m. for training, Bennett has a good handle on how all of his horses are feeling. “Sometimes one hasn’t eaten up or they’ve developed a temperature, and you have to change their training schedule around,” he said. “You try to get them all lined up to peak on race day.”

Bennett knows when his horses need time off from the racetrack. He took many of them to Classic Mile Park in Ocala after the Delaware Park meeting ended in October, and he believes that freshening helped his stable get off to a quick start here.

“Classic Mile has a real good track surface, and it’s a quiet environment that helps horses relax,” he said.

Bennett, who has been training Thoroughbreds since 1974, has cultivated a reputation for rehabilitating injured horses and those that have gone off form. He achieved his greatest success with Beau Genius, a minor stakes winner he picked up after his 3-year-old season.

Beau Genius won 13 stakes under Bennett’s guidance, including the Grade I Philip H. Iselin and the Grade II Michigan Mile and One-Eighth Handicap in 1990.

Some of his other top horses include Secret Romeo, Black Belt, R Angel Katelyn, Bucky’s Prayer and Fast Flying Rumor, who established a Tampa Bay Downs Beyer Speed Figure record of 108 in winning the Turf Dash Stakes in 2016.

Bennett, the father of trainer Dale Bennett, has climbed to 15th all-time (and 11th among active conditioners) with 3,757 victories. The Springhill, Nova Scotia native trails the late Frank H. Merrill, Jr., by 217 victories for the top spot all-time among Canadian trainers. “We used to claim off each other quite a bit. There was a lot of camaraderie among trainers then,” Bennett said.

“I thank the Lord every morning that I have my health, and I ask Him to protect everyone on the track and protect the horses,” said Bennett, who spreads his stable wealth among a number of Tampa Bay Downs jockeys. “I feel blessed to be able to do what I’m doing.”

Source: Press Release

Trainer Michael Reavis Hits 2,000 Wins Milestone

Fans at Hawthorne racecourse. Fans at Hawthorne racecourseMichael Reavis scored his 2000th training victory with favored Mckinli’sbabyblues on Saturday afternoon at Hawthorne Racecourse, though the victory was in doubt until the final stride.

Rider Carlos Marquez Jr. had Mckinli’sbabyblues in perfect stalking position, saving ground along the rail, swung out midstretch but ArticVortex got the jump on her while Reminisce, who led most of the way, still appeared to have something left.

With a sixteenth left, the outcome was still up in the air but with a final late surge Mckinli’sbabyblues got up to win by a half length. Artic Vortex edged Reminisce by a nose for second.

Mr. Reavis had scored victory 1998 in Friday’s ninth race with R Fast Life. He won Saturday’s first race with Saint Alexius. Carlos Marquez was also aboard for those two winners.

Source: Press Release

How I Got into Horse Racing

by Pete Monaco

I’m often asked how I became involved in horse racing and thought answering that question would make for a decent column.

My grandfather was born in 1906 in Queens, N.Y. and 12-years later found himself laying in the hay, listening to several drunk jockeys playing cards in a back barn at Jamaica Racetrack. There was no T.V. back then and kids had to do something to stay out of trouble and earn a few pennies. He found his new source of income and entertainment entirely by accident when a friend told him that the jockeys often left small treasures around the barns after these late night games. My grandfather and his friends would scour the hay in the late mornings and some of the bounties consisted of one cent deposit bottles, packs of cigarettes and small change. But once in a while, a dollar bill, gold chain or a watch could be found. But my grandfather was always more intrigued by what joyous event had transpired in the previous evening that would cause you to leave your watch or money behind…

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Winx Wins Again. Garners 2018 Secretariat Vox Populi Award

Winx winHorse racing’s fans have spoken, and Winx, Australia’s queen of racing, has been voted the winner of the 2018 Secretariat Vox Populi Award in the year-end online poll. Created by Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery, the award annually recognizes the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the general public and gained recognition for Thoroughbred racing.

Winx was the top choice among U.S. voters as well as international fans representing a record 60 countries. The 7-year-old bay mare has garnered the devotion of turf enthusiasts Down Under as well as the attention of a worldwide legion of fans with her impressive 29 consecutive wins. In 2018, her historic fourth straight victory in Australia’s prestigious Cox Plate, along with a perfect 7-for-7 record, extended her ongoing streak and added to her current career earnings of more than $16 million USD.

The custom-made Vox Populi trophy will be presented to the Winx connections on Jan. 12, 2019, at Santa Anita Park. In conjunction with the presentation, a variety of festivities will be offered to the public, including a special Vox Populi poster giveaway, autograph signing and silent auction.

Winx Wins Again

Winx’s rise to stardom is reminiscent of that of Zenyatta, the 2010 Vox Populi winner whose own magical winning streak also inspired a large fan base. Additionally, the two regal race mares were sired by the revered stallion Street Cry and share the distinction of being the only females to be honored as award recipients.

“Racing certainly offered many historical and heartwarming stories in 2018,” said Kate Chenery Tweedy. “And once again, the ‘Voice of the People’ spoke very clearly. The fact that both the American public and voters abroad were not limited by international borders is a wonderful testament to the growth of the award and the winner’s global appeal. Winx represents everything Mom envisioned when she created this award and reaffirms her notion that a beloved horse will captivate fans and draw interest to the sport no matter where they race.”

Trained by Chris Waller and ridden by jockey Hugh Bowman, Winx is owned by Magic Bloodstock, Debbie Kepitis and Richard Treweeke.

Winx was one of a select group of nominees submitted by the Vox Populi Committee and presented to thousands of voters worldwide who spoke as the “Voice of the People.” Other nominees were 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Accelerate, European distaff sensation Enable, 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, and champion filly Monomoy Girl. Voters also had the option to write in their own favorite.

Throughout the process, Winx prevailed and now joins a list of cherished racing stars who have also received the Vox Populi Award: Ben’s Cat (2017), California Chrome (2016 and 2014), American Pharoah (2015), Mucho Macho Man (2013), Paynter (2012), Rapid Redux (2011), and Zenyatta (inaugural 2010).

Source: PR

Jockey Luis Saez Seeks Another Gulfstream Title

Somali Lemonade Wins The Diana Stakes with Saez up

From the time he first set foot in South Florida as a teenage apprentice nearly a decade ago, Luis Saez’s humble, easy-going nature has contrasted with a competitiveness and talent that has seen him develop into one of the best jockeys in the country.

Shy and soft-spoken off the track, the now 26-year-old Saez prefers to let his performance speak for him. Last winter at Gulfstream Park, Saez had plenty to say.

Already one of only four riders to reach 100 wins during the elite Championship Meet, Saez established a single-season record of 137 victories – including a pair of seven-win days – while coasting to his second consecutive title.

Starting with Saturday’s Opening Day program featuring the 20th edition of the $1.11 million Claiming Crown, being hosted by Gulfstream for the sixth straight year, the Panama native can join another exclusive club.

Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, who won a record five in a row before being unseated by Saez in 2016-17, Jorge Chavez (1999-2001) and Jeff Fell (1977-79) are the only jockeys to lead Gulfstream’s jockey standings three consecutive years.

“It’s not easy over there. It’s pretty tough,” Saez said. “I just want to work hard and see what happens and try to do my best, like always.”

Saez rode three winners his first day at the 2017-18 Championship Meet, setting a tone that would continue throughout the winter. He would register 39 days of two or more wins including seven on both Jan. 24 and March 29 to equal the standard set by Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey in 1996 and matched by Tyler Gaffalione in 2017. He also had a six-win day Dec. 20.

“That was amazing. It was unbelievable,” Saez said. “I just kept riding and winning. I can’t believe I did that great.”

Saez won nine stakes during the Championship Meet, three of them coming on Florida Derby (G1) Day – the Pan American (G2) with Hi Happy, the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) with Coach Rocks and the Sanibel Island with Figarella’s Queen.

Among Saez’s other winter stakes wins were the Swale (G2) aboard Strike Power, the Sugar Swirl (G3) with Rich Mommy, the Fred Hooper (G3) atop Tommy Macho and the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3) on Classic Rock.

Saez’s 137 wins were five more than Castellano’s previous mark set in 2013-14, and 36 better than runner-up Irad Ortiz Jr. His $5,776,741 in purse earnings ranked second behind Florent Geroux, whose victory on Horse of the Year Gun Runner in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) was worth $7 million.

Huge 2018 Season

His success at Gulfstream served as a springboard to a 2018 season that has seen Saez surpass $16 million in purse earnings for the first time while winning at least 200 races for the fourth straight time and sixth in 10 full years riding in the U.S. He won his 2,000th career race Nov. 9 aboard Y’allcomenow at Aqueduct.

“It was amazing. I’m very proud of that. It was not easy but we did it. It was great,” Saez said. “It’s been a good year. Hopefully we can do the same and keep doing good.”

Jockey Luis Saez came to the U.S. in 2009 and was a finalist for that year’s Eclipse Award as leading apprentice. He has won 75 career graded-stakes and purses approaching $95 million, rising to national prominence as the regular rider of Will Take Charge, the champion 3-year-old male of 2013.

Once again, Gulfstream’s Championship Meet jockey colony will include the best collection of racing’s top riders including Castellano, fellow Hall of Famer John Velazquez, Ortiz and his younger brother Jose Ortiz, Gaffalione, Julien Leparoux, Paco Lopez and Edgard Zayas.

Saez is looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m just going to try and work hard again,” he said. “[Last year] was magnificent. I had a very good meet and won a lot of races. The first thing was I was safe. We’ll be back to see what happens.”

Source: GP

Oaklawn Racing and Gaming Announce Big Expansion

OAKLAWN ANNOUNCES $100 MILLION-PLUS EXPANSION WITH CONSTRUCTION OF HIGH-RISE HOTEL, EVENT CENTER AND EXPANDED GAMING AREA

Oaklawn Racing and Gaming today announced plans to build an expansion project in excess of $100 million that includes the construction of a high-rise hotel, multi-purpose event center, a larger gaming area, and additional on-site parking.

The project is one of the largest hospitality investments in the history of Arkansas.

“This historic announcement represents a new chapter in the rich 114-year history of Oaklawn,” said Louis Cella, president of Oaklawn Jockey Club. “As we enhance the entertainment experience for our customers, we will also further elevate thoroughbred racing and help make Arkansas and Hot Springs even stronger regional tourism destinations.”

The yet-to-be-named hotel will be seven stories with 200 rooms, including two presidential suites. Amenities will include an outdoor swimming pool, a luxury spa, fitness center and restaurant.

“The hotel will offer a unique vantage point for our patrons in that it will overlook the track. Imagine the spectacular view as the horses are heading down the stretch,” said Cella. “Our goal is to achieve 4-star status.”

Adjacent to the hotel will be a 14,000 square-foot multi-purpose events center that will accommodate up to 1,500 people for various events such as concerts, meetings, banquets and weddings.

The project also includes the addition of approximately 28,000 square feet of gaming space and significantly expanded parking.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said the Oaklawn expansion will be monumental.

“The state of Arkansas is grateful to Louis and his family for their commitment to growing their business right here at home,” said Gov. Hutchinson. “This project, which will be financed exclusively with private funds, not only represents one of, if not the largest, tourism related expansion projects in our history, it will also rank among the state’s largest economic development projects in 2019.”

Kane Webb, director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, says the Oaklawn expansion will create more success stories for Arkansas’ thriving tourism industry.

“Hot Springs is already one of the top tourism destinations in the South,” said Webb. “This expansion will thrust Hot Springs into the category of the nation’s elite vacation and recreation locations.”

Oaklawn Park new designCella says the development will create new partnership opportunities with the city of Hot Springs in that marketing efforts will be designed to complement those of the city’s. He says while various on-site amenities will be offered, Oaklawn will want guests to enjoy all that Hot Springs has to offer including Hot Springs National Park, lakes, hiking and biking trails, museums, restaurants, shopping and more.

Steve Arrison, CEO of the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission, says the events center and hotel rooms will be beneficial to Hot Springs and Arkansas.

“Oaklawn’s project will allow Hot Springs to attract more and larger meetings and conventions,” said Arrison. “This creates exciting opportunities for Hot Springs tourism.”

An expansion project of this magnitude, Cella says, requires years of planning and the development of infrastructure.

“While one may assume that today’s announcement comes in response to the passage of Issue 4 on November 6, we actually began planning for this during our last expansion in 2014,” said Cella. “Our goal then, as it is now, is to use a quality gaming experience to enhance racing and help attract even more great champions to Arkansas such as Smarty Jones, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah.”

Construction on the project will begin in May immediately following completion of the 2019 racing season. The target completion date for the gaming expansion is January 2020 with the hotel and event center to be completed in late 2020.

As it has for two previous Oaklawn projects, HBG Design of Memphis is the architectural firm for this new expansion.

Flintco Construction, with an Arkansas headquarters located in Springdale, is the contractor on the project. The company estimates that as many as 2,300 jobs will be created during the construction phase.

“The Cellas helped found Oaklawn in the early 1900’s,” said Wayne Smith, general manager of Oaklawn. “As they have for more than a century, the family continues to make significant investments in Arkansas. This will be the third major project at Oaklawn since 2008.”

This major expansion represents the second significant announcement at Oaklawn since Louis Cella succeeded his late father, Charles, as president of Oaklawn Jockey Club last December.

In April of this year, Oaklawn announced it will shift its racing season later in the calendar and for the first time will continue racing into May. It’s the biggest change in the traditional Oaklawn racing schedule since World War II.

Oaklawn Park Expansion Project Fact Sheet

About the project:
Oaklawn is investing in excess of $100 million to further elevate thoroughbred racing and make Oaklawn and Hot Springs an even stronger regional tourism destination.
The Oaklawn expansion will be one of the largest hospitality investments in the history of Arkansas.
This is a private investment. No public dollars are being used.
The project will focus on five main areas:
Enhanced racing experience
4-star hotel and spa
Multi-purpose event center
Expanded gaming area
Additional on-site parking
This expansion project has been in the planning stages since 2014.
This will be Oaklawn’s third major construction project since 2008.
About the hotel/multi-purpose event center:
The hotel will be 7 stories tall with 200 luxury rooms, including two presidential suites.
The goal is for the hotel to achieve 4-star status.
The hotel will offer patrons a unique vantage point in that it will overlook the racetrack on one side with a beautiful view of the lakes and mountains on the other.
Room rates will be competitive with other properties of this quality.

The Oaklawn Park hotel will include:
outdoor swimming pool
luxury spa
fitness center
restaurant
multi-purpose event center
individual meeting rooms
The 14,000 square-foot multi-purpose event center will accommodate up to 1,500 people for events ranging from concerts, to meetings, to banquets, to weddings.
Oaklawn is working with the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission to ensure that the multi-purpose event center compliments efforts of the Hot Springs convention center and arena. The partnership will help attract more and larger meetings and conventions to the city.
The project includes expanded on-site parking to accommodate more vehicles.
A shuttle service will be available to transport patrons from their vehicles to the facility. Shuttle stops will be strategically located throughout the parking areas.

About the Oaklawn Park gaming expansion:
The new expansion will add approximately 28,000 square-feet of gaming space.
The enhanced gaming experience will allow Oaklawn to provide larger purses to help attract the top thoroughbreds joining a long line of champions such as Smarty Jones, Zenyatta and American Pharoah.

About the construction:
HBG Design of Memphis is the architectural firm on the project. This will represent the firm’s third expansion design for Oaklawn.
Flintco Construction, with Arkansas headquarters located in Springdale, is the contractor on the project. Flintco has managed major construction projects all over Arkansas.
Construction will begin in May, immediately following the completion of the 2019 racing season.

Target completion dates:
Gaming expansion – January 2020
Hotel and multi-purpose event center – Late 2020

About economic impact:
Oaklawn’s reputation as a year-round tourism destination will be enhanced. Hotel guests will have easy access to Hot Springs National Park, area lakes, hiking and biking trails, museums, amusement parks, and restaurants representing a significant economic impact to the city of Hot Springs and the state of Arkansas.
Flintco estimates that as many as 2,300 construction jobs will be created during the construction phase.
Though a specific number is still under consideration, Oaklawn anticipates several hundred additional jobs will be created in expanded areas.

About the Oaklawn principals:
Louis Cella, president of Oaklawn Jockey Club, succeeded his late father, Charles, in December 2017. The Cella family were among the founding partners in Oaklawn in the early 1900s. Louis is a graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Law, past Chairman of the Arkansas Cancer Research Center Foundation, Director of the UAMS Foundation Fund Board and Director of the Myeloma Institute. Louis’ wife, Rochelle Dean, is from England, Arkansas.
Wayne Smith, general manager of Oaklawn, joined the racetrack in 2016 with extensive experience in working with resort properties around the world for ITT-Sheraton, MGM Grand and Caesar’s Entertainment. He also worked for Empire City Racing and Gaming in New York and Penn Gaming in Illinois.

Source: Oaklawn Park

Bob Levy, horse racing innovator, was the ultimate people person | Dick Jerardi

Bob Levy, horse racing innovator, was the ultimate people person | Dick Jerardi

Philly.com Full coverage: Bob Levy, horse racing innovator, was the ultimate people person | Dick Jerardi

Off-track horse race gambling coming to Horsetown USA next month

“If it opens, the Norco enterprise would be California’s 12th satellite horse-race betting venue, Marten said. State law allows up to 45, including 15 in each of three regions — north, central and south, he said

It is no accident The Derby Room is going into the building of a former restaurant, which is being remodeled at a cost of $500,000.

Zolnier said it will be more than a place to bet on Santa Anita and Los Alamitos races, or the Kentucky Derby. It will be a sports bar and restaurant, he said, with 80 percent to 90 percent of sales coming from food and drinks. Zolnier said he views the gambling element as a way to pull people into the eatery…”

THE DERBY ROOM

Location: 3230 Hamner Ave., Norco

Operator: California Horse Racing and Sports, LLC

Open date: Aiming for mid-December

Employees: 30 to 40. Job seekers may apply at thederbyroom.com

Is horse racing dead?  Not in California

Press-Enterprise Full coverage: Off-track horse race gambling coming to Norco after false start

Industry Profile: Drayden Van Dyke

23-year-old jockey Drayden Van Dyke recently met with Santa Anita’s Zoe Cadman and Alexis Garske for observations from one of So-Cal’s brightest young stars, well on his way to becoming one of racing’s signature riders.

Much has been made of the mentors who have guided you, but what have you learned on your own?

“I’ve definitely had to learn some things first-hand. You have to make some of your own mistakes that teach a lesson you couldn’t be told. That’s the kind of stuff you have to learn on your own.”

What’ one of the biggest mistakes you’ve ever made?

“Not showing up for workers when I was an apprentice. I was working with Tom Proctor and had rented a house with Mike Smith in Del Mar. It was my first summer and I was excited. I had spent a lot but unfortunately, I had to stay in the tack room for a week as punishment.

“At least I could see the moon from my bed (laughing).”

Favorite racehorse of all time?

“There are a lot of them but definitely Justify is up there for me. To be involved in the history that he made and to be able to break his maiden and work him is really cool to me.”

Have you ever wanted to play another sport?

“I would love to play basketball, if I had the size, definitely. Second behind that would be golf. I don’t have a handicap but I shoot in the mid-80’s.

“Even when I play for fun, I like to be competitive. I’ll play for fun but the fun goes away and I’m definitely trying to win. I enjoy it, but I’m definitely always trying.”

Beer or wine?

“Wine. Definitely.”

Cardi B or Nicki Minaj?

“(Laughs) Well, who won the fight the other day?”

Football or Baseball?

“Football.”

What did you eat last night?

“Scrambled eggs with avocado and broccoli. Yes, eggs for dinner. I love eggs.”

Are there other jobs in racing that look interesting or that you could see yourself doing one day?

“I think I’d enjoy TV. Maybe as an analyst. Similar to what Jerry Bailey is doing and what Gary did. I think I would enjoy doing something like that.”

What’s a dream day off for you?

“Not waking up to a phone call, sleeping in and waking up naturally. Just taking my time, having some coffee and not really making any plans.”

What’s a little-known, fun fact about yourself?

“I like rap music. I’ll memorize entire songs so when I go out and we’re dancing I can get into it and rap along (laughing).

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

“I’d like to have dinner with my dad one more time.”

What gets you out of bed that early every day?

“Love of the game definitely but also fear of missing out. I always feel like I’m missing something if I’m away for more than just one day. I don’t like to be away more than that. I don’t want to miss a new horse coming along.

“Also, the feeling of winning a race and breezing really nice horses is very addicting for me.”

Do you have any pets?

“I do, Gucci, is my mini German-Australian Shepard. He just turned two and he’s like a little human. He was just a little fur ball when I got him.”

Gucci? Why that particular name?

“I’m a Gucci guy. I mostly like their shoes and watches. The clothes are still a little out of my price range and size, but I like to mess around with the accessories.

“I wasn’t really into fashion when I was growing up in Kentucky and Arkansas. One, I didn’t have the money. And two, I didn’t know of the brand back then. I got into all of that when I came to California and was around Mike (Smith.)”

That’s a great segway into talking about ‘Money Clip’ – your first winner. Take us through that first ride. (Money Clip broke his maiden at Hollywood Park on Nov. 11, 2013, under Van Dyke).

“Gary Stevens was originally supposed to ride that horse for Tom Proctor. I was living in Tom’s tack room and just hanging around the barn. It had rained so they took it off the turf and moved it to the Polytrack.

“Tom called Gary and said, ‘Why don’t you stay home? I don’t want you comin’ out and having to get wet. I’ll put the bug boy on. The horse needs a race anyway, he’s not ready.’ So that’s how I got my chance to ride, and I won.

“Tom is more of an old school-type trainer, as his father Willard was, and they usually give a horse a few races to mature. He schools them the right way and always looks toward the future. My instructions were to take him back and make one run. I was told, ‘If he finishes well, so be it. If not, we’ll get ‘em next time.’

“He made a run but I didn’t do much. I was green and shocked at what was going on. I just got up in the knick of time.

“I watched the replay the other day and I thought, ‘Man, Drayden, do something! I didn’t do much of anything. I was just thinking come on wire, come on wire.’

“After winning, I definitely got ‘initiated.’ I was caked with eggs, ice water, powder, you name it. Everything you get when you win your first race. But it was a little different for me. I had to hurry up, take a shower and get back to cool the horse out.

“I think I gained other trainers respect by seeing me do that and watching how Proctor brought me along the right way.”

Talk about Proctor and his impact on you.

Trainer Tom Proctor gives Van Dyke a leg up in the Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita Park on September 29.

“He’s definitely kept me grounded and still keeps me grounded. I recently rode for him at Kentucky Downs and did something he told me not to do and he let me know. He told me I did it wrong. I’m very lucky to have him.”

Fast forward to getting on Justify in the mornings. What were your initial thoughts of him?

“Obviously, he’s talented but what really stood out to me was Bob’s reaction when I first worked him. Bob just said, ‘Wow, that’s a serious horse right there.’

“I kept working him and he was just doing things effortlessly. We were just crushing every horse we worked with and I wasn’t moving on him. He was barely even trying.

“I was really looking forward to riding him in the afternoon and breaking his maiden, which I did, and I was very lucky to be involved with him.”

How did it feel getting taken off Justify, even though it was for Mike? Bittersweet?

“It was. But, there’s nothing I can do and that’s just the business. You just have to keep smiling and keep working hard. That’s what I’ve done and I was rewarded with being leading rider at Del Mar this summer.

“I was happy to see Justify win the Triple Crown and I wouldn’t have wanted it for anyone more than Mike, so it was great to be there. I even helped his mom get to the Winner’s Circle. She was having trouble getting there, and security wouldn’t let her in, but we got her in. I didn’t, but I was there to see it, so that was really, really cool.”

Did it fuel your fire? Did you think, ‘I’ll get my shot’?

“Of course. A lot of people have horses continually coming in so Justify won’t be the last Triple Crown horse. He might be actually, I mean whoever really knows, but there are plenty of horses coming in, so hopefully, I can be there to ride them.”

What do you do for fun? Did you have any fun this summer?

“I have fun! I was really busy this summer, though. I think I had two mornings off the entire meet. I was keeping straight so no, I didn’t go out much. I was riding about seven or eight a day and working about six each morning. I’m working serious horses and very expensive horses, so I respect that.

“After the last day, I had a good time and went out with my friends.”

With so many good trainers putting you on good horses and you and your agent, Brad Pegram, known for picking your spots, did you have an inkling that Del Mar would be as successful as it was?

“It’s funny because my agent and Flavien Prat’s agent, Derek Lawson, have a bit of a rivalry and they’ll go back ‘n’ forth. There’s a bit of a rivalry between me and Flavien as well so we were both a little like, ‘We’re coming for you. We’re loaded so be ready!’

“We had a lot of good horses, a lot of 2-year-olds, so I was looking forward to having a good meet.

“Flavien doesn’t always say much but if he does it’s always after a race and he gets on you for a move or something. But, he’s a friend of mine, we play golf together. He’s a fierce competitor. He makes me ride better and I’m sure I help him ride a better race sometimes as well.

“I wish there were other riders who had that same level of competitiveness, it makes you ride better. I like it, I love it.”

How big of an accomplishment was earning the leading riding title by five at Del Mar?

“It was a big accomplishment for sure. I’ve been leading rider at Los Alamitos a couple of times but not all the big riders are there, trying their hardest. To get it at Del Mar, when everyone is trying to win everything they can, is huge for me and my agent. I’ll never forget it.

Has anything changed since winning the title, or the seven races in one day?

“I feel like I’m really starting to do more things now. The types of races I’m winning, the number of races I’m winning. Even Mike and Gary haven’t won seven in a day. Winning the title on top of that meant a lot.

“I’m getting a fan base now. Even at the coffee shop the other day I was recognized, it was cool.

“It makes me stay on track. The better I do, the more opportunities I get and the better I do. I get in a zone. That momentum helps me to do even better.”

Do you find yourself thinking even more about your late father with your recent success?

“The day I won seven races, yes. On the gallop out, I looked up and talked to him for a minute. I was hoping he saw it. I wish he was around to see it now because he was seeing how well I was doing when I started and I still had no clue what I was doing.

“Now that I’m riding at the top of my level I wish he was a part of it, for a lot of reasons. I know he’s still watching and still proud of me, though.”

Van Dyke points out a few of his accomplishments, including a 2014 Eclipse Award honoring him as the nation’s Outstanding Apprentice.

So many names come to mind that have helped you on your path, is it especially nice to consult with them all for more than just riding advice?

“That fact really helped me after my dad passed away. Without them, I would have been more of a wreck and maybe even now still. Who knows what direction I would have gone in or what could have happened to me?

“Mike and Gary especially were there for me, and they’re still always there for me. I can call them any time. They’re my best friends. I golf with them, hang out with them, work out together. I don’t only see them as my mentors but as my friends. I’m really, really lucky.

“I can go to them for anything. As I got older and grew some hair on my chin, I didn’t know how to shave. I asked Gary what to do and he just said, ‘Come here. I’ll show you.’ He got me a razor and some cream and showed me how. It stuck with me and I think those moments have meant a lot to him, too.”

Favorite racetrack?

“I love the history of Santa Anita. I used to watch Seabiscuit three times a week. Santa Anita was like a character since so much was filmed here. I couldn’t believe I was here when I arrived. The mountains…I was struck by it.”

What are you looking forward to most this meet?

“Hopefully keeping my streak going, my ‘hotness.’ Hopefully winning a lot of races and stakes races and I’m really looking forward to riding at Breeders’ Cup.”

Some of Drayden’s mentors and their thoughts on him:

Bob Baffert:

“I was watching him before he got hurt. I was looking for new talent and told his agent that he’s got a lot of potential. I watched him come up under Proctor and loved the fact that he really made Drayden appreciate everything. He learned to love the horse first and that’s so important when you become a horseman. That’s what really caught my eye.

“He’s little, he’s light and horses run for him. He was patient and I saw him getting stronger.

“When he started working horses for me I liked that he didn’t mind wearing a radio. Some guys don’t like that. I really think that Proctor created a great foundation.

“I’ve always told him that you’ll learn from the good horses because they’ll get there with or without you. He’s handled some high-pressure situations. That’s the hardest part. It’s easy to ride a horse that’s 10-1 but when they’re 2-5, everyone’s expecting a win. You become a target and he’s learned to cope with that.

“He listens, he’s learning. He’s a student of the game. I’ll give him pointers. He’ll get off a horse that’s not even mine and I’ll tell him, ‘You could have done this or that,’ and he listens. He’ll take it in. He wants to be the man, the go-to guy and he’s going to get there. He’s got a good head on his shoulders.

“I was really happy to see him be leading rider at Del Mar, I knew it meant a lot to him.

“Mike Smith has been a big help and Drayden really looks up to him. What I really like is that he’s competitive. He’s not going to do something crazy, or impede someone because he wants to win himself, I like that. He loves the horse, he really does, and I can tell. It makes a difference and it’s pretty cool.”

Gary Stevens:

“He’s a great athlete and he’s always been a great athlete. He’s always wanted to learn and he continues to want to learn.

“You’ll see some guys get to a point where they just stop improving but Drayden improves every day. He’s turned into a student of the game. He loves the game and he loves what he’s doing. That’s what you’ve got to be to be successful.

“I’m proud of him. He’s like another son to me. He’s got myself, Mike Smith, Tom Proctor, he’s got a big support group that always stands behind him. The thing I’m most proud of is that he hasn’t let it go to his head. He’s respectful of his elders and he’s kind of a throw back. He’s always confident but he’s not cocky and that’s cool.

“It’s nice to have someone young that listens and wants to learn. There’s so many who you’ll try and help and they don’t want it. They think they know it all and that’s understandable being young. But Drayden, his ears and eyes are always wide open.”

Brad Pegram:

“There are definitely similarities between my two jocks, in addition to differences. Their dedication to staying fit to ride, their work ethic, and their mental approach. Drayden has learned all Mike’s good habits.

“Mike has taught Drayden how to be the ultimate professional and how to be best prepared to ride. He’s learned a lot but he’s also open to learning and he listens. He’s a student of the game, just as Mike is still. Mike is still learning and will talk to riders that are retired about different races so, yeah, Drayden is taking all of that in.

“They make my job very easy. They’re both ultimate professionals so it makes it very easy on me.

“I’ve always noticed Drayden’s talent. I admire Tom for the way he brought him up and the way he taught him. It was awesome to watch.

“He’s a genuinely good kid. In a great way, he hasn’t changed. He’s a very mellow, humble guy.”

Mike Smith:

“I’ve seen him grow up, been through the growing pains with him. To watch him get over that hump and to see him really focus in on his career and watch him ride right now, it’s great. He’s riding with so much confidence. He’s not a teenager anymore and he knows what he wants. He’s just getting better and better and it’s a lot of fun for me to watch. It makes me proud.

“To be riding extremely well, at the top of the level, and the competition he’s riding against isn’t easy, makes me a very proud older brother.

“I think his work ethic comes from Mr. Tom Proctor. They instilled all of that in him and it’s so important. The work isn’t over until you get to my age and then maybe you can back off a little.

“He does a good job in the morning and teaches them well, gets along with them. And again, a lot of that comes from getting to work for Proctor back at the farm. The rest of it is just learning from riding. I truly believe that you don’t get really good at riding until you’re in your thirties. To see him come along now, just give him another 10 years. It’s incredible.

“I remember I was told that when I was his age and I thought I was riding on top of the world. But it is so true and you learn so much, about how to handle yourself as well. A lot of not only representing yourself but also the sport comes later in life.

“I’m extremely grateful I’m not coming up in this era of everyone seeing everything you do. I think he’s done a pretty good job with it.

“He still has a lot to learn of course but he knows it. He truly understands that. This game can humble you very fast and to just stay even keel.

“The great thing about this sport is that even when things aren’t doing that well, they’ll always come around.”

Source: Santa Anita