by Eddie Arcaro

(Sports Illustrated   Part 2, "Pre-Race",  June 24, 1957)


     At most tracks a rider has just about 20 minutes from the time he leaves the jocks' room to the time the starter sends him out of the gate.  In those 20 minutes,  he may have to learn all about a horse he might never have seen before as well as analyze the field and plan some sort of strategy.  The trainer and I will both, of course, have some ideas on the race before we meet in the saddling shed. From past performance charts and our own observations, we'll both know who are the real speed horses in the race.   So we'd compare opinions on the speed horses.  If I'd never ridden this horse before, the trainer would give me the word as to whether my horse was a front runner or one that wanted to lay back the first part of it.   He'd also remind me of the horse's tendencies to bear out around turns or lug in.  When we'd agreed on the caliber and number of speed horses, we'd discuss ways of not getting in a trap among them and giving opportunities to horses coming up from behind. And even if we thought we could steal a quick lead and slow the pace, we'd still talk over the speed horses in the field.  Any trainer will have definite ideas on the type of warm-up  he wants his horse to get as well as the gate strategy to be used.  For example, with a horse who has a habit of stumbling, the trainer will tell me not to let him sort of roll  out of that gate without a hold on him. The trainer might also suggest that his horse needs help from an assistant starter in the gate and in some cases he will finish up by giving you a warning, such as "Eddie" if this horse tires, don't sit down and whip him up." This is advice I don't really need because I know from experience  that whipping a tired horse doesn't help.  He'll get loop-legged and limber and pull himself up, no mater what the jock does.  As you settle into the saddle you must feel that you fit that horse. This will sometimes mean a readjustment in the stirrup length to compensate for a saddle set on slightly off-center.  The result should be that you feel your legs  are carrying all the burden and you now have perfect balance.


After the reins are squared you throw the end over the standing part and wrap it around a few times.  The part you now hold in your left hand is called the half-cross and in race riding you control the horse by holding the reins in either hand with a half-cross.


A portrait of my hands under standard racing conditions show I control the horse with the half-cross in my left hand.  My right hand holds the right rein with three fingers and the whip with one.  To whip you can let go with the right hand and yet not lose control.



On of the most controversial questions in racing is that of the difference between live and dead weight.  Live weight, of course, is the actual weight of the jockey--in  my case it is about 111 pounds.  Dead weight is the weight resulting from slabs of lead being slipped into the pockets of the lead pad so that the total weight carried by the horse reaches the amount specifically prescribed by the conditions of the race.  Most people believe that a horse does his best with live weight on him.  Well, I think a successful jock like Shoemaker--who weighs about 95 and therefore carries a lot of dead weight with him--has done a lot to disprove that theory.  In view of the number of winners Shoe rides, dead weight can't be affecting his horses.  Remember, when you have weight tied securely on a horse, it's bound to be more stable than the weight of a jockey, who naturally has to shift his weight going into turns or when his horse bobbles.  I don't think any rider in the world can keep his body as centrally balanced and still as dead weight tied down on a horse.


I prefer the three-pound leather saddle to the plastic one because it feels better.  I usually ride the same saddle (although I have 20) all thorough the day's card.  Some jocks use heavy, broad, leather-wrapped irons, but I always use a sliver of bare iron.  The teeth in the crossbar grip the Neolite on the soles of my boots to prevent them from slipping around in the irons.


As I pointed out last week, I believe the only answer to a good seat is sufficient leg strength so that your hands don't force you to balance on a horse's mouth. In these drawings notice how I try to keep my body in the middle of the horse absolutely centrally located even though my right iron is about 6" shorter than the left. I definitely belong to the toes-in school; furthermore, I find that my right knee, already higher than the left, takes most of the pressure, although both knees are gripping very tightly.


Keeping your toes in as all top jocks know, prevents you from getting leg-locked while riding in close.  Some other jocks are also now imitating my style of placing the boot in the iron: my iron comes across at a slight diagonal so that the inner corner of the stirrup is just on the rear curve of the inside of the ball of the foot. I think riding this way gives me a better sense of balance than if I rode, like some jocks, with the iron far back in the instep.  Although in these similar drawings, taken from opposite sides, the iron length is different, my legs are still giving me perfect balance so that while galloping to the post, as I am doing here, I am able to ride somewhat higher than usual  (because it is more comfortable) and keep my hands low enough so that I'm not interfering with my horse's mouth.

There is a dual purpose to the warm-up  gallop which is the way most horses go to the post unless they are so fractious that they have to be ponied all the way. First, the gallop gives the horse a chance to get loosened up.  Second, it gives the jock his first real chance to learn the horse's mannerisms firsthand even though the trainer may have already warned him of everything  in the book about him.  During these few minutes, I try to get the true feel of his mouth.  By going with him a ways I can tell such things as whether or not he has a light mouth; if he has a tendency to throw his head, if he runs heavy-headed and lays on the bit, or whether he likes to lug one way or other. You might also discover that he's come up with a cut mouth. Another thing I take note of is to see that his girth isn't pinching him.


It's surprising how little time it takes on a horse--even on a completely strange horse--before you have a pretty good idea about him and the way he likes to run, and therefore, will probably run best.  Now if you gallop a horse a slow 16th of a mile, the first thing you're going to be conscious of is what we call his action or in other words, his rhythmical stride in motion and general way of going.  I may have already changed my stirrups a hole or two in the paddock, but after galloping him, I may alter them again just because my position doesn't feel exactly right.  Obviously, not all horses are built just the same with the result that some jocks have trouble fitting certain types.   I find, for example, that I don't seem able to ride real short-necked horses. I tried it with Stymie, one of the best, but Stymie was so short-necked and ran with his head held so high that I found I must be too big (I'm 5' 2.5", 111) and didn't have any place to get set on him and I never felt I had anything going for  me when I tried to get down and ride him.  However, in most cases the jock can adapt himself to his horse and as he wheels him around after a backstretch gallop, he's  going to know pretty well if the horse he's on is flighty or likes to duck at the sight of shadows and stray objects.  But, most important of all, you have learned something about his mouth--which will be of great help in riding the race.


I have no idea where the term ace-deuce came from--it was around way before I was--but what it is, basically, is riding with the right stirrup shorter than the left. The difference can be anywhere from 2-12" (Jackie Westrope and Charlie Burr ride more ace-deuce than anybody I know.)  The difference in my case from 6-8" and the only reason I do it is simply that for me--whether it actually helps at all--it just feels better.  I know this probably doesn't make sense, because, let's face it, here's an animal, and you should have your weight in the middle of him.  Well, I think I do and the proof for me is that if I close my eyes and don't look at the stirrups I feel like I'm riding even.  If I dropped the left iron down and didn't feel comfortable, it would mean that I wasn't properly balanced and as we've said before, a jock's balance depends primarily on the position of his irons, since all weight is on his legs and feet.  Now, far be it from me to say that riding ace-deuce is right.  It may well not be and if I wasn't a jock, I'd have to argue against it, because it makes more logical sense if you rode with both stirrups even.  In fact, if I were taking a young rider and breaking him in to be a jock, I wouldn't allow him to ride ace-deuce.  No chance--not until he was experienced enough to find his own "seat".  But the important thing is that even though my irons are uneven, I actually do ride even.  I am perfectly balanced.  I have to be and I'd hinder a horse if I weren't.  You couldn't, for example, make a horse run with all that weight on one side of him.  The true test that I ride even is that I've won more races on the straight (down the Widener Chute) in New York  than any other rider. If I were riding on the straightaway on the side of a horse--meaning not properly balanced--I'd always have a lug-in trouble and I'd be all over the track.  So, I repeat, right or wrong (and the man I first rode for, Clarence Davison would have knocked me off the horse, if he'd seen me tying to ride ace-deuce), I find the short right iron gives me the great pushing action.  I have the feeling I can get right down and shove on the horse with my right foot behind me and the left foot forward to shove against.  Thus, my right foot is actually my balancing pole.  Funny thing about it, if you lose a stirrup, it's always your left foot.  You don't seem to ever lose the right stirrup because that's where your strength is, I thought riding ace-deuce was crazy once.  And if I wasn't a jock now--and know how it works--I'm sure I'd still be knocking it.


Where as at most American tracks you gallop a horse to the starting gate, you'll occasionally find it necessary to use either a stable pony or one of the track's outriders.  The reasons are fairly obvious: either a horse is too rough for the jockey to gallop him or else he's so nervous and flighty that the pony is there to try to keep him calmed down.  There are so few real maniacs that even with a stable pony beside you, you are generally able to gallop sufficiently to get the feel of even the most fractious horse.  Usually a horse that has to be ponied is one who is going to get special attention anyway from the assistant starters,  the  moment that they take over at the gate.
Part 3 . . . . . . .     The Start  

(There are so many things to watch for at the start that even the most experienced riders get nervous. And, as they tighten up, so do their horses.  Before the start, however, I try to relax my horse, get his feet in perfect position and then wait for the quietness which comes just before the man says "go".
To ride correctly you've got to be in perfect motion with the horse during each of his complete strides.  The ideal which none of us, of course, can do, is to keep your body frozen while the horse moves.  Unlike the ideal which the six sequences above show, I usually have too much daylight between me and my saddle.  Instead of leaving the saddle as  much as I do, you shouldn't bounce at all.