It takes a lot to keep Cowboy Jack Kaenel out of the saddle.
The 23-year-old rider once was suspended for lying about his age on a jockey license application. He raises horses, buys horses, and when he's not plying his trade, he rides mules, Arabians--anything with four legs and a tail.
But it took a special 7-year-old thoroughbred mare named Brown Bess to inspire Kaenel's rapid recovery from a badly broken right leg suffered two months ago at his Northern California ranch.
And it was worth the effort.
Brown Bess ran perhaps the best race of her career Saturday in winning the $270,750 Ramona Handicap at Del Mar by a neck over Daring Doone.
"If she hadn't been going in this race, I wouldn't have come back this quick," Kaenel said. "But when (trainer) Chuck (Jenda) told me he was aiming for this race, I told him I'd be there."
Kaenel was in a hospital bed at the time, recovering from surgery to implant a steel rod from hip to knee and another pin angled inward across the top of the right femur. He suffered the injury when a horse he was training flipped backward and rolled over on the leg.
Kaenel, who was best known for his upset aboard Aloma's Ruler in the 1982 Preakness, had been making a nice living with Brown Bess in the San Francisco Bay Area. They had teamed to win five stakes in the last 12 months, virtually running out of local competition.
Brown Bess finished third in the Golden Gate Handicap last June 17. She was beaten two lengths by Frankly Perfect, who will be among the favorites for the Arlington Million in two weeks.
Jenda believed that Brown Bess could take on the top Southern California turf mares. His only real concern was Kaenel's condition.
"I did have some doubt about riding Jack, but he assured me he was ready to go. And he was," Jenda said.
Kaenel had been galloping horses in the morning for more than three weeks, but the Grade I, 1 1/8-mile Ramona was only his second mount back. Considering the circumstances, Kaenel ranked it with his greatest career thrills.
"The leg didn't really bother me while I was riding," Kaenel said. "It was tougher walking back to the jocks' room from the winner's circle. I'm sure I'll feel it tomorrow, but for right now the adrenaline is still flowing."
Brown Bess, a California-bred daughter of Petrone, hooked top-weighted Fitzwilliam Place for the lead immediately.
"I was afraid she was going a little too fast the first part of it," Kaenel said. "But I didn't want to take a big hold and really throw her down. I felt better about things when she relaxed going down the backstretch."
Brown Bess needed the breather. Entering the stretch, any one of the seven fillies and mares had a shot to win. Fitzwilliam Place was first to crack, bearing out into Brown Bess as she began to tire. Laffit Pincay, directly behind the leaders on Daring Doone, wanted to split the two up front, but had to check.
"I didn't know which way the horse in front of me (Fitzwilliam Place) was going to go," said Pincay. "When I finally got through, it was too late."
Galunpe, always reliable for a late run, threaded her way between horses and closed fastest of all to finish a close third. Then it was another 1 1/4 lengths back to the favored entry of Down Again and Fitzwilliam Place in fourth and fifth.
No Review and Maria Jesse completed the finish, with slightly more than three lengths covering them all.
In winning her third race of the year and 13th in 28 starts, Brown Bess earned $157,750, increasing her earnings to $707,670. Brown Bess has won all but $61,495 of her total in the last two seasons.
Brown Bess is owned by Suzanne Pashayan of Fresno, who also won the race Ramone with Greta in 1969.
Horse Racing Notes
A Del Mar handle record was set when $9,929,272 was bet at the track and 11 off-site locations. . . . Leonard Lavin's Ten K won for the second time in the third race, again without needing encouragement from jockey Gary Stevens. The gray daughter of Private Account might turn up next in the Sept. 3 Del Mar Debutante.