by Eddie Arcaro
I suppose I may surprise most of the people who go racing when I say that the act of riding a horse--even a race horse--is basically very easy. You see, riding is primarily a matter of balance, and any man, woman or child with any feel or sense of athletic coordination can learn to ride well in an amazingly short time. But exercising a race horse on a training track, for example, and riding the same horse in a race are as different as night and day, so you can understand how discouraging it is for most riders to hear a lot of racing fans talk about horses as if they were automobiles and about the jocks as though all we had to do was step on the accelerator and the jock with the fastest horse automatically wins.
(Sports Illustrated Part 1, June 17, 1957)
The fastest horse, perfectly true, should win. But his speed alone won't get him the money. His speed--together with his jock's judgment--can. Let me put it another way. I believe that 80% of the time the outcome of a race depends on the individual thinking on the part of the jockey on the best horse.
I assume straightaway that you've got to be on the best horse--or on one of the best horses--in order to win anyway. You don't win on bums. So, for the jocks on the top contenders in any race, unless there's one real standout like a Citation in the race, it'll be good judgment or what I call generalship, plus the usual amount of racing luck, that will win for them. And most jocks and other racetrackers can go back over and over again to races that have meant something to them and see plain as day where one little thing done wrong or done right decided the final result. Turning this around another way, it's plain to me that the jock with the best judgement--and this includes the ability to notice your oppositions's errors and take advantage of them--can often win even though he may not be on the best horse.
For a long time some people have been flattering me by saying I'm the greatest jockey in the world and sticking such tags on me as "The Master" and "Heady Eddie". Well, naturally, I'm pleased to have a reputation as a champion. Anyone would be. But when you come right down to it, who is to say who is the greatest? My reputation comes largely from the fact that I've had more stakes winners than anyone else and have been lucky enough to get on the best horses. Race riding cannot be an art that everyone can pick up.. There has to be something to being a good rider, because for the past 5 years, anyway, you see Hartack and Shoemaker at the top of the list and you know perfectly well that they must have something that is lacking in other boys who came along at the same time they did. Anybody who's been at the top of a profession for 10 or 15 years without losing that edge must have something. There must be an edge somewhere. Where that edge is for sure I wouldn't swear to, but I've always thought it must be in judgement rather than in riding ability. Shucks, if you have a horse that figures to be a length the best, no jock on earth--I don't care who he is--can shuffle that horse around and give him three or four lengths the worst of it and still win, because that horse, sure as anything is going to get beat.
Recently a fellow asked me if I thought there was any jockey smarter than I when it comes to riding in the big races. This is tough to answer without appearing conceited. I hope I'm talking with confidence rather than conceit when I say I honestly believe there isn't anybody who can get the job done any better than I can, and I really believe I have my best judgement when the money is hanging up there.
It comes down to money, let's face it, something happens to the majority of riders. Their nervous systems may take hold of them and they don't ride like they do every day. Take for example a kid who rides a hell of a good race to win a big stake on a real long shot. How will the same kid operate when he's on a 3-to-5 shot in his next $100,000 race and has about a week or two to think about it? There might be a difference. I'm not saying that there wail be--but there could be. I've seen it happen to many of the top riders--even to men who operate day in and day out just like I do. When the pressure is on, many of them use such completely different judgement that you think they're completely different riders.
Now, much as I like to be where the money is, I just can't over-emphasize the point that when you're riding in the big races against the best riders you can never afford to underestimate your competitors' intelligence. I just won't allow myself to make silly moves against them. I think there may be 10 top jocks in the United States. You put all ten of us in a race and everyone of the 10 will know where each of the other nine should be at every stage of the race. They're all smart race riders and they're all watching for traps. When they make a move at you, you have to be prepared for it. It may sound strange, but I really don't think it's too confusing to ride against other top riders--fellows like Guerin, Woodhouse, Atkinson, Boland, and McCreary, who ride a lot with me on the New York tracks. You get to know what kind of riders to expect from your steady opposition. I'll know every move they'll make and they'll know every move I make. We all think about the same and we know we're not going to trap each other with any silly moves. None of us has a to be told, for instance, that if a hose has you beat in front there's no point in driving at him right away. You're better off resting your horse a bit and then making another move at the leader later on. We know these things from experience.
Where you can sometimes really get confused, though, is by riding against a bunch of apprentice boys and mixed-up riders. Then you may have no idea what they might do. A kid might be on the inside behind four horses and suddenly decide in the middle of a turn to circle all four of them. If you happen to be lapped on him that makes you the sixth horse out with the result--in this typical example--that this kid's inexperience actually forces you to ride a bad race. Winning against some of these sort of riders is often more a matter of plain racing luck than a question of sounder generalship. Nevertheless, on the average, top generalship pays off against the run-of-the-mill jocks.
So, if it comes down to where you start calling a jockey great--or the greatest--I honestly don't think I have any edge riding day in and day out over any of the other top jocks. Hooking five or six of them six days a week is a real hassle. I'll beat them and they'll beat me. It's a dead-even thing. But you take anyone of the five of us and put him up against any of the other 90% of the riders for any length of time and we'll beat them. That's where you build up your percentages. I certainly didn't build up mine by riding daily against Longden, Shoemaker, Hartack and Atkinson. None of us could.
I have a favorite example to illustrate my point about generalship. Let's go back to 1941. I had won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness on Whiraway, and by the time the Belmont came up everyone knew this was a pretty good horse. And another thing everyone knew about him was that he was a real come-from-behind horse. I knew as well as the other jocks in the Belmont that they weren't simply going to set up a race for me. They knew their only chance to win would be to cross me up by switching strategy and hope I fell for it. So instead of setting their usual fast pace and allowing Whirlaway to lay back--as he always did during the first part of his races--the opposition all rated back too so that the first half was run in something like :49 and change. I sensed this and let Whirlaway go to the front. He won, of course, but it was still a gamble because nobody knew how Whirlaway would run his last mile in front--because he'd never had to do it before. Now, here's where generalship is so important; possibly some kid in the same circumstances might have just sat there and strangled Whirlaway because he knew he should be last for the first mile anyway. If he'd fallen for this strategy switch by the opposition, chances are that he'd have choked Whirlaway back so much that the horse would have quit cold on him when it came time to do some real running.
I mention this old example for another reason. A jock's experience teaches him to know and understand his horse and opposition as well, and in this business you've got to know everything there is to know about every horse in the race. One edge I believe I may have is that I think I can understand a horse quicker than the average rider. My thinking is that I'm trying to analyze the animal from the moment I get on him. We'll go into this in more specific detail in next week's prerace discussion, but in the meantime, remember that you've got to learn an awful lot about your horse in 10-15 minutes, from the time you first see him in the paddock until they load you into the starting gate. The jock with what we call good hands is the jock who--to get properly technical for a moment--can understand the feel of a horse's mouth and relate that sensitive touch both to the knowledge of the horse's capabilities and to the tactics decided between the trainer and jockey before each race. In other words, if you get a proper feel of a horse's mouth on the way to the gate, you should have a pretty good line on the way he likes to run. The inexperienced rider--or the experienced rider who doesn't take the trouble to learn everything he can about his horse--is going to have trouble time and time again by relying too much on the trainer's orders and not enough on his own sense and feel of the situation. Understand, I'm not knocking trainers' orders, for they are absolutely necessary. But after all, remember that even the best trainers in the world don't ride those horses out of the paddock. I see riders day after day, because their trainer has told them to lay 5th or 6th place regardless of how the horse is running. A jock with better hands--and by that I mean a more sensitive touch--would often realize in those circumstances that he's riding too heavy on the mouth of a horse and that really wants to run. So a jock who isn't thinking about his horse all the time can completely kill off his chances. All of us are occasionally guilty of these human errors of judgement and in my own case I only have to go back--with some embarrassment--to this year's Kentucky Derby, in which my mismanagement of Bold Ruler actually cost him his big chance for the money. But, generally speaking, the difference between good and bad riders is that the good riders gets into less trouble than the bad rider because the good rider has become a student of his profession.
Difference in Style
If generalship is 80% of race riding, however, just plain riding ability must account for the remaining 20%. So it seems right that something should be said here and now about riding style--my style in particular. In the first place, no two jocks can have exactly the same style. The greatest fault with American jocks in general is that too many of them are style-conscious and want to look pretty at all times. This is 100% wrong. The guy who can drive at the finish is the important guy, I always want to be in a driving position and I'll sacrifice some of my best form to make sure I get there. For instance, I get more power getting down in a flat position during the last 16th of a race--more power than if I was sitting up. Being down you can see you have something going for you, something to push against. No, the English don't ride that way. In fact, their style isn't close to ours. I've watched Gordon Richards, who won more races than I have, and by comparison he rode upright. They don't push against the horse's neck like we do. Instead, they sort of throw the reins at a horse. Richards always used to do that and I suppose it might be the "go" sign in the way those horses are taught. But who's to say either of our styles is right--or wrong? You can argue that in this country we're riding on sand or dirt tracks and when we get down we're not getting beaten to death by flying clods of dirt. In England, where they ride on turf courses, you can sit up. It doesn't mean too much because that turf holds together better than sand or dirt. But if you rode sitting up in America, you'd get beaten to death.
We call a jock's riding form on the horse his seat. Basically what it is is his balance and to be a rider at all--much less a good race rider--you have to have a perfect balance at all times. The majority of successful race riders have a good seat. Now, mind you, I don't mean to say they all look pretty. But you can be sure that even the jocks who don't look pretty must have their bodies real secure on that horse in order to be able to bobble, weave and duck around and finally get the job done. I know riders who will criticize another jock for how badly he shifts his weight and flops around. But you can never argue with success, and any boy must have something if he can keep on winning and keep on looking bad while doing it. In this same connection, when you say somebody has a bad seat, it usually means he has imperfect balance. And imperfect balance which results in a jock shifting his weight all over the place must--by every law--hinder the horse. No jock can get away with it and be successful.
I've always thought that your seat comes from your legs. Strength enough in the legs so that you could turn the horse's head completely loose without the reins and still be able to maintain perfect balance. My own particular seat is the result of having legs strong enough so that they take care of my hands. In other words, my legs give me the purchase which makes it unnecessary for me to ride a horse's mouth. Of course, from time to time, everyone finds that they'll be laying too heavy on the mouth and when you find yourself doing it you know you're doing the wrong thing. (Here I can draw quite a parallel between race riding and golf. A fellow might be doing a dozen things wrong with his golf swing, but if he knows what he's doing wrong he can correct it. When a jockey gets into a riding slump it's usually not just a run of bad mounts that causes it. The jock will generally find some basic thing he's doing wrong--like riding too hard on a horse's mouth or trying to ride faster than the horse can run and thereby getting out of rhythm with him. The smart jock quickly figures out what it is that he's doing wrong--often he can get a good idea from watching himself in the film patrol movies--and corrects it.)
In the next four weeks, I am going to take up with the great help from Bob Riger's drawings, specific problems which face every jockey in the world sooner or later. Under the headings: "Pre-race", "The Start", "The Whip", and finally, "The Finish". I hope to clear up points which I believe are often quite misunderstood or at least misinterpreted by many racing fans. I can't overemphasize to those fans who still think that racing is just getting tied onto a horse and winging off to see who's fastest that this sport has many aspects to it. The spectator who appreciates some of these factors will get more enjoyment out of racing, regardless of which horse he bets on.
Put yourself, for a minute, in the position of a jockey ready to walk to the paddock to accept his mount. You have read the past-performance charts on each horse in the race and have an idea of what is expected of each of them. You are familiar with the track and its particular condition at the moment. You know there are another dozen or so jocks all thinking of the race in the same serious way that you are. They are, like yourself, good professional horsemen and each one of them is intent on winning. A dozen owners and their trainers are standing in the saddling shed. They have checked and rechecked their own horses and looked up and down the shed to see what the opposition looks like. If you could overhear what the trainer is telling his owner, it's probable that he'd be saying something like, "Boss, I've done all I can for this horse. He's fit and ready to go. From now on it's up to him--and our jock"
It's quite true, too. From now on it is up to the jock. One of the dozen horses is going to win that race and it'll be because one of the dozen jocks does exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. Your paid job as a professional jock is to make sure that you give your horse the most intelligent ride possible.
You think about racing luck, sure, but with a fellow riding every day like myself, I don't believe too much in luck. I think to a certain extent, you make your own luck. There'll be one race in which you'll get a break and there'll be five others in which you yourself make the break. My philosophy about it is: make the break come your way. It takes skill and judgement, but it's the only way to success.
END of Part 1
Part 2 . . . . . . . . . Pre-Race
(An appreciation of the trainer's advice, knowledge of all your racing equipment and a serious effort to get the feel of your horse require the jock's fullest attention during the post parade.)
Part 3 . . . . . . . . . The Start
(The first 10 seconds of a race can often be as decisive as the last 10 seconds. But to win this first battle for position you have got to know just how to get your horse away from the gate.)
Part 4 . . . . . . . . . The Whip
(You should hit a race horse only when you need to. But when that time comes you get the best results if you can change the whip flawlessly and effortlessly from hand to hand in full flight.)
Part 5 . . . . . . . . . The Finish
(Hand riding--that all-out and exhausting concentration of pushing in complete rhythm with your horse as hard as your power will permit you--is the hardest thing I know of in race riding.)