On a hot summer night, jockey Moana Schwertsik stood in the paddock at Los Alamitos Race Course and watched the parade of horses for the first race.
Like all riders, Schwertsik had been up before sunrise, galloping horses. She had returned to the track that evening for the races. It’s not an easy life, jockeys say, but there’s something about the power and grace of a race horse that keeps Schwertsik and fellow riders coming back for more.
“I guess we like this job a lot,” she said. “Otherwise, we’d quit.”
Schwertsik, 32, a single mother of an 8-year-old son, has carved a niche for herself as a talented rider of the Arabian breed. She has 17 victories in 106 starts this season, best at the track among jockeys who ride Arabians, and has finished in the money 44% of the time.
Recently, she has begun to add quarter horses to her repertoire and likes to ride thoroughbreds too. But it is on the moody Arabian horse, bred for long-distance running, that Schwertsik excels.
“They’re smaller and a little slower than thoroughbreds,” she said. “They’re a little more sensitive and because of that, you have to take a little time to get to know them. They can have an attitude with you.”
Schwertsik was born in Fontana, where she began riding ponies bareback. In 1970, her mother moved the family to Sweden to live with Schwertsik’s stepfather, and later they moved to her mother’s native Austria. It was just outside of Vienna where Schwertsik, then 15, began working with horses at a show barn. When she returned to the United States in 1985, she took a job walking horses at Santa Anita and later galloping horses at San Luis Rey Downs near Bonsall.
She attended Palomar College from 1987-89 and gave birth to her son, Noe, a year later. Eventually she returned to galloping horses at Santa Anita, and four years ago decided to become a jockey.
She took her first mount at Los Alamitos four years ago and trainer Billy Lewis eventually put her aboard Saltiki. In 1995, with Schwertsik riding, Saltiki was a three-time stakes winner.
“A lot of [Arabian horses] like girl riders better,” Lewis said. “The less aggressive riders with more finesse usually do better with them. Some of them don’t like to be hit at all. Moana’s done a real good job for me.”
In 1996, Schwertsik moved to Phoenix to ride at Turf Paradise, but Lewis persuaded her to return to Los Alamitos for this meet and she has settled in Anaheim. Lewis believes Schwertsik has improved as a rider because she has participated in morning workouts, where she gets to know the horses better.
While his mother is at the track, Noe Meza has learned to get up each morning on his own, fix breakfast and get to school on time.
“He’s adjusted now. He knows my schedule,” Schwertsik said. “Children have to grow up and mature. Having a child that has been able to adjust so well is fortunate. Otherwise, I’d be in big trouble. But there are a lot of single moms out there who have to work, and I believe children are adjusting to that way of life. They have to.”
Now that Noe has started school, Schwertsik doesn’t figure to be moving any time soon.
“My main goal is to be able to ride race horses and make a living at it,” she said. “Right now, I’m having fun and enjoying my work.”
The tally sheet is in from last month’s annual Vessels/Schvaneveldt sale in Bonsall, which set several sales records. Foremost was the purchase of the yearling Royal Always by the husband-and-wife team of James and Donna McArthur, both trainers. They bought the First Down Dash colt for $650,000, the largest sum ever paid at auction, besting the $510,000 spent for the colt Mito Wise Dancer at the 1981 Super Select Sale at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico.
Among other top horses bought by the McArthurs and their Texas-based syndicate, Jaramar Ltd., were Corona Kool for $190,000 and Izaten for $140,000.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas and partners were the second-leading buyers, picking six yearlings at a total of $580,000. Their most expensive purchase was the colt Beduinos Free Agent for $270,000.
Bidding is likely to be more competitive at the 1999 sale.
“People have faith in the economy, but more than that, they’re breeding better horses, and good horses will always bring the money,” Oscar McArthur of Jaramar Ltd. told industry magazine, The Quarter Racing Journal.
More information on the Vessels sale can be found on the Internet at https://www.schvaneveldtranch.com.
The next auction in this area will be the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Yearling and Mixed Stock Sale, sponsored by the Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Assn. It will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Los Alamitos Race Course. For information, call (714) 236-1755 or on the Internet at https://www.netmktplc.com/pcqhra
The track has moved two graded stakes races next month from Friday to Saturday nights, when it hopes to attract more bets. But an attempt to move the Nov. 13 Los Alamitos Derby met with resistance from horsemen.
The Los Alamitos Invitational Championship now will be held Oct. 10. The Las Damas Handicap will be Oct. 17. But horse owners successfully argued that moving the Derby a day later would have conflicted with a major Challenge Championship race at Lone Star Park in Texas. Several top jockeys expect mounts in both races.
“We want to do what’s right for racing, and the horsemen raised a legitimate concern,” Los Alamitos General Manager H. Rick Henson said. “Though having a Saturday night with both events available for bettors might have created some incremental handle, we think the best choice is to heed the horsemen’s request.”
So far, the track handle at Los Alamitos is up 11% on bets placed out of state. On-track attendance is up 5%. . . . Paul Jones is the track’s leading trainer with 93 victories. He sends out the two fastest qualifiers, Lethal Artillery and Hitarun, to Saturday’s $125,000, PCQHRA Breeders Derby. . . . With 52 racing days remaining, Alex Bautista has the lead in the jockey standings with 139 wins. Eddie Garcia, out of action since being injured in a Labor Day spill, has 132. . . . The track ran its first 220-yard race, shortest on record, Sept. 11. Racing Secretary Ron Church said the experiment isn’t expected to become part of the regular program.