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For the first time the most successful jockey of his generation—and one of the greatest in all Thoroughbred racing history—is going to pass along to racing fans, for their enjoyment and education, a distillation of 25 years of skills and experiences as the unsurpassed master of a dangerous profession. Author-Rider Eddie Arcaro, who has collaborated closely on this five-part series with Sports Illustrated Turf Editor Whitney Tower and Artist Robert Riger, believes—as we do—that their mutual efforts may be the first completely authoritative piece of illustrated writing on the extremely popular but little understood sport of horse racing. But before he undertook this demanding assignment, Arcaro insisted on making clear to us his personal feelings on the project. "I don't need personal publicity and I don't want anyone thinking that I set myself up as the last word on what jocks should do. I'll tell you what I think, what I do—and why I do it—only because I want to do something for racing. Whether or not this series does anything for another jock, if it'll help people understand something about this sport, then I'm all for it. I'll get with it all I can."
week's Part 1, in which Arcaro draws his class together to explain something of
his philosophy on "The Art of Race Riding," he will take up in the four
succeeding weeks (see page 38) the specific details of a theoretical race—one
of about 1,000 in which he rides every year
I suppose I may surprise most of the people who go racing when I say that the act of riding a horse—even a race horse—is basically very easy. You see, riding is primarily a matter of balance, and any man, woman or child with any feel or sense of athletic coordination can learn to ride well in an amazingly short time. But exercising a race horse on a training track, for example, and riding the same horse in a race are as different as night and day, so you can understand how discouraging it is for most riders to hear a lot of racing fans talk about horses as if they were automobiles and about the jocks as though all we had to do was step on the accelerator and the jock with the fastest horse automatically wins.
The fastest horse, perfectly true, should win. But his speed alone won't get him the money. His speed—together with his jock's judgment—can. Let me put it another way. I believe that 80 % of the time the outcome of a race depends on the individual thinking on the part of the jockey on the best horse.
I assume straightaway that you've got to be on the best horse—or on one of the best horses—in order to win anyway. You don't win on bums. So, for the jocks on the top contenders in any race, unless there's one real standout like a Citation in the race, it'll be good judgment or what I call generalship, plus the usual amount of racing luck, that will win for them. And most jocks and other race-trackers can go back over and over again to races that have meant something to them and see plain as day where one little thing done wrong or done right decided the final result. Turning this around another way, it's plain to me that the jock with the best judgment—and this includes the ability to notice your opposition's errors and take advantage of them—can often win even though he may not be on the best horse.
For a long time some people have been flattering me by saying I'm the greatest jockey in the world and sticking such tags on me as The Master and Heady Eddie. Well, naturally, I'm pleased to have a reputation as a champion. Anyone would be. But when you come right down to it, who is to say who is the greatest? My reputation comes largely from the fact that I've had more stakes winners than anyone else and have been lucky enough to get on the best horses. Race riding cannot be an art that everyone can pick up. There has to be something to being a good rider, because for the past five years, anyway, you see Hartack and Shoemaker at the top of the list and you know perfectly well that they must have something that is lacking in other boys who came along at the same time they did. Anybody who's been at the top of a profession for 10 or 15 years without losing that edge must have something. There must be an edge somewhere. Where that edge is for sure I wouldn't swear to, but I've always thought it must be in judgment rather than in riding ability. Shucks, if you have a horse that figures to be a length the best, no jock on earth—I don't care who he is—can shuffle that horse around and give him three or four lengths the worst of it and still win, because that horse, sure as anything, is going to get beat.
Recently a fellow asked me if I thought there was any jockey smarter than I when it comes to riding in the big races. This is tough to answer without appearing conceited. I hope I'm talking with confidence rather than conceit when I say I honestly believe there isn't anybody who can get the job done any better than I can, and I really believe I have my best judgment when the money is hanging up there.
If it comes down to money, let's face it, something happens to the majority of riders. Their nervous systems may take hold of them and they don't ride like they do every day. Take for example a kid who rides a hell of a good race to win a big stake on a real long shot. How will the same kid operate when he's on a 3-to-5 shot in his next $100,000 race and has about a week or two to think about it? There might be a difference. I'm not saying that there will be—but there could be. I've seen it happen to many of the top riders—even to men who operate day in and day out just like I do. When the pressure is on, many of them use such completely different judgment that you think they're completely different riders.
Now, much as I like to be where the money is, I just can't overemphasize the point that when you're riding in the big races against the best riders you can never afford to underestimate your competitors' intelligence. I just won't allow myself to make silly moves against them. I think there may be 10 top jocks in the United States. You put all 10 of us in a race and every one of the 10 will know where each of the other nine should be at every stage of the race. They're all smart race riders and they're all watching for traps. When they make a move at you, you have to be prepared for it. It may sound strange, but I really don't think it's too confusing to ride against other top riders-fellows like Guerin, Woodhouse, Atkinson, Boland and McCreary, who ride a lot with me on the New York tracks. You get to know what kind of rides to expect from your steady opposition. I'll know every move they'll make and they'll know every move I make. We all think about the same and we know we're not going to trap each other with any silly moves. None of us has to be told, for instance, that if a horse has you beat in front there's no point in driving at him right away. You're better off resting your horse a bit and then making another move at the leader later on. We know these things from experience.
Where you can sometimes really get confused, though, is by riding against a bunch of apprentice boys and mixed-up riders. Then you may have no idea what they might do. A kid might be on the inside behind four horses and suddenly decide in the middle of a turn to circle all four of them. If you happen to be lapped on him that makes you the sixth horse out, with the result—in this typical example—that this kid's inexperience actually forces you to ride a bad race. Winning against some of these sort of riders is often more a matter of plain racing luck than a question of sounder generalship. Nevertheless, on the average, top generalship pays off against the run-of-the-mill jocks.