They were remarried six months after they were divorced, and that should have been the happily-ever-after fadeout for the story. Racing, however, is not nearly as sentimental as purported in the Lon McCallister-June Haver movies. Nothing fails like failure for a jockey, whose reputation is forever caught up in a deflationary spiral. If he is losing because he has been riding bad horses, he gets worse horses because he is losing. If he is on a comeback, as Sellers' agent tried to tell the people he was, the trainers say: "Good. I'd like to ride him after he wins a few—for somebody else."
So 1964 crept out its relatively petty pace and Sellers found himself going relatively nowhere. He finally did win a stakes race, with Hail to All, but his other Hialeah experiences this year were indifferent. This occasioned an awkward situation, inasmuch as Sellers" agent was Bill Lyons, who happened to be Janice's father. The awkwardness was compounded by the fact that Sellers had fired Lyons in May 1960, after what may be described as Reappraisal I. He and Janice had decided at that time that although Father-in-law meant well and tried hard, Sellers needed "a real, professional" agent. He hired Bud Aime, a real professional.
An agent must con, cajole and even tell a little fib now and then to get business for his rider, but above all he must hustle. With Aime's hustling, and a little bit of luck, Sellers arrived in 1960. When Willie Harmatz became lukewarm about riding T. V. Lark, Aime was there and Sellers rode T.V. Lark to victory in four consecutive $100,000 races. Then Bill Hartack became disenchanted with Carry Back after the 2-year-old lingered in the gate in the Champagne Stakes. Sellers got on him, won the Garden State, the world's richest race at that time, and the rest is history. John won the first two parts of the Triple Crown on Carry Back and Jack Price does not blame him for being beaten in the Belmont Stakes.
In the fall of 1962 Sellers parted with Aime, who wanted to go back to New Orleans, and in the next two and a half years used no fewer than four other agents. The last was his father-in-law once more. But when he moved from Hialeah to Gulfstream Park last March 4, he bid another "amicable" farewell ("sure, there was some hell to pay") to his father-in-law and hired Duane Murty.
Murty is young, having preceded Sellers by only one year at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, and he hustles. At Gulfstream he hustled Sellers onto the promising 2-year-old Our Michael, and they won four straight stakes. Then he got him on Pia Star just in time to equal the world record for the mile in the Equipoise Handicap at Chicago. Pia Star's subsequent victories in the Suburban and Brooklyn handicaps, contrasted with his merely "useful" status of 1964, seem to support Sellers' appraisal of Murty as "a good judge of horseflesh."
Nothing fails like failure or succeeds like success. The trainers now listened when Murty made his rounds in the morning. In one space of four days (July 21 to 24), Sellers was called upon to win the Great American on Our Michael at Aqueduct, the Hollywood Oaks on Straight Deal at Hollywood Park and the Brooklyn on Pia Star at Aqueduct. The package added up to $122,472.50, 10% of which is right in line with Sellers' big thinking. But there were a couple of things he liked even better than the big money.
"Retire at 30?" he said the other day. "No, I want all I can get. I love this game. I still get a kick out of things like trips to California. You're in New York today, Hollywood Park tomorrow and back east in New York the next day. I couldn't ever go back to a farm. I might have one and visit it, but I don't want to be far from the cities.
"And I like their coming to me and asking me to ride their horses. I don't want to take just what I can get, the way I did the past couple of years. No, I got enough recognition in those years when I rode Carry Back and Yorky and T.V. Lark. That's not the thing. I don't think I got their respect. I think some people believe it was a flash in the pan."
Sometimes, in this game of whim, superstition and suspicion, nothing fails like success. There are jockeys whose reputations are deprecated by some trainers in almost direct proportion to the number and value of races they win. The argument goes like this: the horse won all those races and all that money; he must be a very good horse; if he is such a good horse, what did the jockey have to do with it?
They say Mongo pulled Wayne Chambers out of the saddle. When Milo Valenzuela is given any contributory credit for Kelso's success, it is given grudgingly. And there are doubts about Sellers. Like the Senator asking what Pearl Harbor was doing in the Pacific Ocean, people question why Carry Back always seemed to make his move on the outside of the pack. Why wasn't he crashing along the rail?—"saving ground," an expression that always looks good in the official chart, even if the horse loses.