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Just before the running of The Travers at Saratoga last Saturday, Brookmeade's Elliott Burch crouched low and said to Manuel Ycaza, who was riding Sword Dancer, "Let him break slowly and then sit under wraps with him. Let the early pace run but don't get fooled by it. Keep an eye on Middle Brother because he has a front-running jockey."
A few yards away, Middle Brother's rider, Bobby Ussery, was getting his orders from Owner-Trainer E. Barry Ryan: "One of these horses, probably Bagdad or Nimmer, will set the pace. But if everyone is throwing his horse down, you put Middle Brother on the lead. Otherwise lay off the pace but close to it."
The race worked out perfectly for Burch and Ycaza. Nimmer went to the front and Middle Brother lay just off the pace, while Sword Dancer ran well in hand in fourth place and then third. Up the backside Ycaza's instinct told him the pace was false, and indeed it was. Manuel started to roll. He avoided one trap on the rail, swung to the outside and came up on Nimmer and Middle Brother, who turned for home like a close-coupled team. The three of them swept down the stretch together. Manuel took over for good inside the sixteenth pole, and Sword Dancer, his ears confidently cocked, pumped on to win going away by half a length.
Sword Dancer's victory represented an outstanding example of coordination between horse, rider and trainer. This sort of successful harmony is unfortunately becoming more and more the exception rather than the rule. Only a handful of riders have the appreciation of pace and the discipline to blend their own instincts and ability with the specific instructions given them by the trainer.
The basic difference between a fine jockey and a journeyman rider is that the former supplements his riding ability with calculated thought while the latter trusts entirely too much to luck. One trainer insists, "Thinking is the thing. While the average boy is wondering what to do, the good boy is already doing it."
Of course, this is not entirely the jockey's fault. Some trainers thoroughly confuse inexperienced boys with long-winded series of orders, while others fail to give adequate instructions. I don't suppose anybody likes to see the best horse in a race beaten because of a poor ride, and yet when this happens, seemingly valid excuses pop up on all sides. The trainer claims the boy failed to rate his horse properly. The boy says the horse was so full of run that he couldn't rate him.
"This sort of thing happens all the time," said Eddie Arcaro recently. "For every time that a trainer complains of a poor ride by a top jock, that jock usually has a pretty good excuse for what went wrong. Few races are ever run exactly the way a trainer wants them to be run, and a jockey has simply got to be given free rein to use his own judgment."
"There are," says Harry F. Guggenheim, owner of Cain Hoy Stable, "only three basic things a trainer can tell a jockey. One, take the lead; two, lay just off the pace; or three, come from behind."
"But the start," adds Arcaro, "is usually the key to the whole thing. Sure, it may be easy enough to follow orders when you get the kind of start you want, but if you don't, that's when orders go out the window and you have to start riding your own race."