Ten years ago, Sharon Gunther was riding a horse on the backstretch at Calder Race Course in Miami when she was approached by a young woman on a bicycle.
“I was riding a horse back from a workout,” Gunther recalled, “and this short, fat thing rides up and says, ‘Are you Sharon Gunther? Do you want a roommate?’ And I said, ‘No, Who the hell are you.’
“And she said, ‘I’m Michal Torso and I’m going to be a jockey.’
Gunther, then 19 and a struggling rider, turned down Torso, but the two soon became friends. A decade later, they are two of the nation’s leading Arabian jockeys.
Last Friday, Torso and Gunther each won an Arabian stakes race at Los Alamitos. Gunther rode Tomanchie to victory in the $25,000 Arabian Cup Juvenile for colts and geldings and Torso won the $25,000 fillies division with Agirlnamedsam.
It was Gunther’s first stakes victory at Los Alamitos this year, the second for Torso and the first time they had ridden against each other in nearly a year. Torso, who led the Arabian standings at Hollywood Park last year, is one of Los Alamitos’ top riders this season. Gunther, who also rode at Hollywood Park last year, is currently based at Delaware Park and is one of the leading Arabian jockeys there.
After that morning in Miami, though, the two often found themselves in the same jockey’s room. For several years, both women rode at Delaware Park and surrounding thoroughbred tracks in the summer, and at Tampa Bay Downs in the winter.
“Sharon was the leading female rider when I met her and of course you admire the leading woman,” Torso said. “We got to become close friends. A year later, I got my bug (riding apprentice) at Tampa Bay Downs and won my first race. She was there.”
Gunther can take credit for introducing Torso to Arabians.
“It was probably four years later (that) I started riding Arabians. I’d been strictly thoroughbreds,” Torso said. “I was like everyone else, I stuck my nose up at riding Arabs, but they’re intelligent. They pick up racing quicker and their gate works quicker.”
Tomanchie and Agirlnamedsam are the leading 3-year-olds in their respective divisions. Tomanchie won two stakes races at Delaware Park this season and is a horse to watch in next month’s $165,000-estimated Drinkers Of The Wind Futurity, the richest Arabian race of the season. (Arabians do not race at 2, as most horses do, but instead start their careers at 3. Therefore Arabians have futurities for 3-year-olds and derbies for 4-year-olds.)
Tomanchie is a full-brother to TC Tomtyr, who has won six of seven starts this year, including the $30,000 California Arabian Cup at Los Alamitos last Saturday. Both were bred by Thomas Luckett of Louisville, Ky., but were sold early in their racing careers. Tomanchie was recently purchased for an undisclosed sum by Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley Stud Management.
Last Friday’s ARC Juvenile was Tomanchie’s first race around the tight turns at Los Alamitos after a summer spent at Delaware Park, a one-mile track. Tomanchie, trained by Howard Edwards, trailed the field until the last quarter-mile, but won easily. His next start will come in the Drinkers Of The Wind trials on Oct. 7.
Torso appeared beaten when Agirlnamedsam turned for home in third place in the ARC Juvenile for fillies. She was on the rail and trailed Bryans Time and CR Sun Princess. Midway through the stretch, Torso pulled the filly to the outside and got up in the final strides to win by half a length. It was her third stakes victory of the year after winning two stakes at Arapahoe Park, near Denver.
Agirlnamedsam is owned by Lea Brent, who nominated several horses for next month’s Daughters Of The Desert Futurity, but not Agirlnamedsam. Payments for the two futurities begin when horses are yearlings, but when Agirlnamedsam began serious training last fall, she immediately impressed her trainer, Russ Ragain.
“When we were breaking the fillies last fall, Russ said Agirlnamedsam was the strongest filly he’d ever been around and she’s proven him right,” Brent said. “When you have to start payments two years in advance, it’s tough to know which (horses) to have faith in.”
According to Brent, Agirlnamedsam will be pointed for the California Futurity in December.
TC Tomtyr’s victory in last Saturday’s California Arabian Cup was quickly followed by Victorias Secrett’s victory in the $75,000 Gladys Brown Edwards Arabian Cup, extending her unbeaten streak to 14.
TC Tomtyr, owned by Tahnoon Bin Zayed and trained by Yancey Carter, Jr., is the top older Arabian horse in California, while his stablemate, Calin De Louve, holds a respective honor on the East Coast. Last year, Calin De Louve won the Drinkers Of The Wind Futurity at Hollywood Park.
Victorias Secrett, owned by Darley Stud and trained by Bill Waldron, may soon be leaving the United States, according to Waldron. He said she may be shipped to the United Arab Emirates where many top-class Arabian racehorses have been exported in recent years.
Victorias Secrett has earned $180,777 in her 14-race career, but has had the advantage of lucrative races, such as the 1992 Daughters Of The Desert Futurity, to boost her income.