In what has become something of a Saratoga tradition, the jockeys played basketball last night for charity.
Three years ago, they took on a fifth grade A.A.U. team from Texas, beating the youngsters by a score of 44-39; two years ago, the kids came back for a rematch and trounced the riders, 49-32.
Last night, the jockeys took on the horsemen, and the eligibility rules for each team were, shall we say, loose. The jockeys’ team comprised coach Angel Cordero, Jr.; Kent Desormeaux (and his son Josh), Eibar Coa (and his son), John Velazquez, Robby Albarado, Rajiv Maragh, Channing Hill, Jaime Rodriguez, Victor Santiago, Jose Amy, Umberto Leon, Will Walden (son of WinStar Farm’s Elliott), Jermaine Bridgmohan, and Joey Migliore. And oh, yes, two players who were at least 6’2”; Kevin Hopkins is reportedly a Saratoga native now playing professional basketball in Germany, and Kyle Forester reportedly plays for Memphis. Yes, jockeys indeed. (All photos courtesy of NYRA photos; click to enlarge)
On the horsemen’s side were coach Kiaran McLaughlin; Neema Ghazi and Matt Silvano from NYRA’s marketing department; racing secretary P.J. Campo; trainers Rick Schosberg, Billy Badgett, Todd Pletcher, Carlos Martin, Mike Tannuzzo, and Pletcher assistant Witt, whose last name was not available at press time. Paul Veitch, a Saratoga police officer who is the son of turf writer Michael Veitch, Elliott Walden, Mark Bardack of the PR firm Ed Lewi Associates joined the trainers, as did NYRA chairman Steve Duncker; Patty Rich, Dennis Brida, and West Point Thoroughbreds president Terry Finley, introduced by announcer Mitch Levites (NYRA’s producer and videographer) as “the man who put the ‘sin’ in syndicate.”
Levites interviewed Duncker before the tip, asking which Duncker thought more likely: the horsemen beating the jockeys, or NYRA getting slots. “Slots,” said Duncker without hesitation.
The racing community turned out in full force to support the Racetrack Chaplaincy and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, the recipients of the proceeds of the event; in the crowd were jockeys Alan Garcia, Julian Leparoux, Edgar Prado, Jose Lezcano, and Ramon Dominguez; Jim Gallagher, executive director of New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association; and trainers Dallas Stewart, Linda Rice, and Lisa Lewis. Rice and Lewis were rather unfortunately referred to in print as “cheerleaders” and at the event as “watergirls.”
What the jockeys lacked in size, they made up for in speed (and those six-foot ringers didn’t hurt, either); nonetheless, the trainers played them close for most of the game. The jockeys pulled away in the third quarter, but the trainers came back to within four with just a few minutes left, which would have made for quite an exciting finish had not the game done its best imitation of the NBA: the last three minutes took about an hour and a half to play.
The usual genteel Todd Pletcher channeled a little Rasheed Wallace as he bullied his way around the court, taking down both the younger, bigger, stronger Hopkins and the younger, smaller, stronger Maragh. He also showed some game, starting a pretty pass play to Finley and Duncker, who unfortunately was unable to finish—the story of the horsemen, who also might benefit from a little free-throw practice.
Showing not only game but gamesmanship, Pletcher was not too proud to cherry-pick, hanging under the basket and taking a full-court pass to put in the easy lay-up.
As he did in the other games, Coa established himself as a player to be reckoned with, going white-hot and shooting lights out in the third quarter to put the jockeys firmly in the lead. While the two Desormeaux and Victor Santiago displayed impressive hoop skills, the play of the night had to be Coa’s block of a Billy Badgett shot late in the game. Dismissed!
The final score was jockeys 45, horsemen 41, but the real winners are the backstretch workers and the disabled jockeys who will benefit from the generosity of both the players and the audience.
After working hard all day and anticipating early alarms, jocks and trainers gave up their time (and in some cases, their bodies) to support these charities. A few trainers reported a little body soreness this morning, and I heard some vows to “start getting in shape earlier next year,” but good humor reigned on both sides—especially the jockeys’, who get bragging rights for another year.