Although a jockey strike in New York hasn’t spread to California, it has put two leading Santa Anita riders in awkward positions because they are scheduled to ride in a $500,000 race at Aqueduct Saturday.
John Russell, the trainer of Precisionist, one of the horses scheduled to run in the New York Racing Assn. Mile, talked by phone to Chris McCarron in the Santa Anita jockeys’ room Wednesday and was given the indication that McCarron may not be able to ride.
It is also unlikely that Laffit Pincay will travel from California to ride favored Forty Niner.
Both McCarron and Pincay are members of the Jockeys’ Guild, which is supporting a walkout by the New York riders. There are several issues, but the main disagreement is over fees for riders who finish second or third. In all states but New York and Louisiana, jockeys receive 5% of a horse’s purse money for second and third. Jockeys in all states receive a standard 10% of the purse for winning.
On Wednesday, opening day at Aqueduct, trainers scrambled to find jockeys, using out-of-town riders and exercise riders in many instances.
There was a report that Billy Fox, who rode 3 winners Wednesday, may ride Forty Niner Saturday if Pincay is unavailable.
Reached at home Wednesday night, Woody Stephens, Forty Niner’s trainer, said that Fox had been to his barn early in the morning looking for mounts.
“But I’ll leave the decision up to Seth (Hancock, Forty Niner’s owner),” Stephens said. “There are plenty of riders back in Kentucky, who don’t belong to the guild, who would be available. Jacinto Vasquez, for example.
“I haven’t talked to Pincay, but I would have to think that neither he nor McCarron would ride unless something’s settled. I would think that if he (Pincay) didn’t ride him Saturday, he’d never ride him, because he’s got just one race left (in the Breeders’ Cup) before we send him to stud.”
Russell said from his New York hotel room: “This is a first-class race Saturday. It would be a shame if it would be compromised by using third-class riders.”
Russell is hoping that a compromise will be reached between the New York jockeys, and owners and trainers so that McCarron will be able to ride Precisionist.
Russell, who is based in California, saw a couple of ironies in the New York situation.
“Whenever I take a horse back to New York, I pay the 5%, anyhow, and naturally that would apply Saturday,” Russell said. “And the New York owners and trainers are the same guys who send horses over to the Meadowlands (in New Jersey) and pay the 5%.”
For McCarron and Pincay, there could be more at stake than just the $500,000 purse Saturday.
“These are horses that are going to run in the Breeders’ Cup, and Precisionist will be in either a $1-million or a $3-million purse there,” Russell said. “There’s a possibility that I would use the same rider (at Churchill Downs Nov. 5) that rides him Saturday.”
If Precisionist runs in the $3-million Breeders’ Cup Classic, Russell will be shopping for another jockey, anyhow, because McCarron will ride Alysheba, the favorite.
Wayne Lukas’ barn is one of those most affected by the strike. The Lukas organization has started horses in more than 400 races in New York this year and it usually uses the top riders there.