Jockey Angel Cordero Jr. has been hounded by controversy most of his long career, and today's $500,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct is no exception.
Inadvertently, Cordero finds himself in a situation where it may be more lucrative if a horse that he isn't riding wins the 1 1/8-mile Wood.
Cordero, 47, who has ridden in the Wood 21 times and won four, is on Country Day, a colt with only two victories in 13 starts.
The 6-5 favorite in the Wood is undefeated Champagneforashley, and this is the rub: Cordero owns a lifetime breeding share in Track Barron, who is Champagneforashley's sire.
With 10 starters, first place in the Wood is worth $362,400. Cordero would earn the standard 10%, or $36,240, if Country Day scores an upset. It would mean much more for Cordero, however, if Champagneforashley won this major Kentucky Derby prep, because Track Barron's value as a stallion would take a quantum leap.
Cordero is aware of the implications. In the Aqueduct jockeys' room, the first question he was asked was about his interest in Track Barron. Cordero immediately said: "You're not going to get me in trouble, are you?"
Racing has no rules to cover the situation. In fact, regulations pertaining to jockeys have been liberalized in most states. Stewards can't tell a husband that it's forbidden to ride in the same race with his wife anymore, and in California, even though a jockey is suspended, he still is permitted to ride in certain important stakes races.
Jockeys are not allowed to own horses for racing purposes.
"Breeding horses and riding them are separate businesses," said Manny Gilman, the steward for the Jockey Club at Aqueduct. "Nobody has ever said that a jockey can't breed horses. Johnny Rotz (a retired jockey who later became a steward) owned a breeding right in Native Charger (who raced in the mid-1960s), so it's been going on for a long time.
"Everybody knows about Cordero's interest in Track Barron, so there's nothing hidden. All things being equal, I guess we'd rather not have this situation. But there's no rule to prevent it."
Cordero also owns a lifetime breeding right to Groovy, the champion sprinter in 1987, and if he were prohibited from riding against offspring of both that stallion and Track Barron, he would miss numerous races.
"If I don't win the Wood, I'd like to see Champagneforashley win," Cordero said. "Jacinto (Vasquez, who rides Champagneforashley,) and Howie (Tesher, the colt's trainer,) have put in a lot of time with that horse since day one."
When Track Barron, the winner of major stakes up to 1 1/8 miles, was syndicated for breeding in 1986, he had a book value of $16 million. Peter Brant, the sportsman and publisher who raced him, retained many of the 40 shares. Track Barron's offspring were selling for $50,000 at the start of his stud career, and by last year that price had dropped to $15,000. The price will go back up dramatically if Champagneforashley keeps winning.
"Peter's a good guy," Cordero said. "He's one of the few people in racing who ever gave me anything. Before Track Barron, I had been given breeding rights to only one horse."
Cordero's share in Track Barron didn't come without some financial sacrifice. In 1985, Cordero was the regular jockey for both Track Barron and Spend a Buck, who won two stakes at Garden State Park before winning the Kentucky Derby. Those three victories made Spend a Buck eligible for a $2-million bonus offered by Garden State.
On Memorial Day, Cordero had a giant dilemma. Spend a Buck was running in the Jersey Derby, and $2.6 million was at stake--the $2-million bonus and a first-place purse of $600,000. Track Barron was running the same afternoon in the $150,000 Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park.
Cordero was unsuccessful in getting Dennis Diaz, the owner of Spend a Buck, to persuade Garden State to delay the Jersey Derby. Cordero had hoped to ride Track Barron at Belmont, then take a helicopter the 100 miles to Garden State to ride Spend a Buck.
Instead, Laffit Pincay rode Spend a Buck to victory in the Jersey Derby, and Diaz gave him $260,000, the full 10% of the bonus and the purse. At Belmont, Cordero earned about $4,000, his share for finishing third with Track Barron in the Metropolitan.
Cordero hasn't bred any mares to Track Barron, who stands at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. The jockey has sold his breeding right every year so far, but he said, "I haven't sold my 1991 breeding right to him yet."
He won't do that until he sees how far Champagneforashley might drive up the price.
Horse Racing Notes
Jockey Angel Cordero Jr. thinks that Country Day "has a very good shot" in the Wood Memorial today. "Champagneforashley, Thirty Six Red and Burnt Hills are three horses with natural speed," the jockey said. "My horse comes from off the pace. I'm at least hoping that the fastest of those three horses will kill off the other two." . . . Cordero's mount in the Kentucky Derby will be Land Rush. . . . Cordero would have been riding Real Cash in today's Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, but he asked Wayne Lukas, the trainer of that colt and Land Rush, for permission to stay in New York because his daughter is getting married. Cordero has two young daughters by his second wife, trainer and ex-jockey Marjorie Clayton, and they are expecting a son in late June.
Others expected to run in the Wood are Yonder, Duke's Cup, Nasty Charger, Pendleton Ridge and the entry of Senor Pete and Adversarial. Pendleton Ridge, a maiden whose only two starts have resulted in second-place finishes at Santa Anita and Aqueduct, is coupled with Burnt Hills as part of a Bobby Frankel-trained entry. Pendleton Ridge has been doing well while running in company with Burnt Hills in morning workouts. . . . Duke's Cup is in the Wood because his owner, Jack Kent Cooke, has instructed trainer David Whiteley to run the horse. Cooke said the same thing to trainer Jay Robbins before last year's Kentucky Derby, and his Flying Continental finished 12th.
Rain is in the forecast, and there could be an off track for the Wood. Aqueduct can play faster wet than it does when dry. . . . Go for Wand, last year's champion 2-year-old filly, will run today at Keeneland in the Ashland Stakes. Charon and Trumpet's Blare are also in the race. . . . Kent Desormeaux will ride Pleasant Tap Tuesday in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.