They are not just blowing smoke, either. Many trainers prefer them to exercise their flat horses because, despite the added weight, their savvy makes them assistant trainers on the hoof. Beyond that, an absolutely extraordinary number of jump riders have on retirement become fine trainers at the flats. They include in the East: Sidney Watters Jr., J. Bowes Bond, Scotty Schulhofer, Evan Jackson, Downey Bonsal, Allen Jerkens, Mike Smithwick and Jim Maloney. Of special notice abroad are Vincent O'Brien, who handled Nijinsky, and Ian Balding, who saddles the current Horse of the World, Mill Reef. Younger hurdles riders, such as Fishback, are already planning ahead to careers as trainers.
Nonetheless, although the jumpers have given much more to thoroughbred racing than they are paid in return, their game, is inexorably being phased out. Next year there will almost surely be only three races a week in New York. The Colonial Cup, which will be an off-track betting special and, hopefully, televised back to New York, is just one small cut against the sad grain of recent history.
Perhaps only a full demise of the sport can remove Aitcheson from the saddle. He grew up with horses on his father's farm in Laurel, riding the Maryland point-to-points as a teen-age amateur and breaking into the pros after a Navy tour. Joe Sr., in his 70s, still operates a farm, complete with a half-mile galloping track, and Joe's sister, Mrs. Jane Curley, trains jumpers herself. Aitcheson's daughter Jody, who is 12, rides in children's shows, but he seems prouder of the fact that she cooks dinner for him when he comes home to Laurel. He is an infinitely private man, and reveals himself behind his becoming shy smile only when he talks of the child. His peers hold him in that deep respect that is given to men who are as personally compassionate as they are professionally tough.
"I just love riding," Aitcheson says. "I don't ever want to stop. Oh, if ever there aren't enough races, that would be so boring, but I guess I'd have to stop. It would just be so boring."
There have been times, late in the year when Aitcheson was battling for the riders' title, when he has gotten other jockeys to give him their mounts—but not their fees. "That's right," says Doug Small. "He'd actually ride for free. It means that much to him."
"I just want to ride," says Jockey Joe, crossing his bluebirds with the protective pads for his collarbones.