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|Arlington Park Barn Notes (5/13/04)
Contact: Graham Ross
In today's notes:
With a twinkle in his Irish eyes that telegraphs a dry wit, and 46 winners at the Fair Grounds this winter, apprentice jockey James Graham appears poised to underline his recent success during Arlington Park's 2004 season.
The personable, Dublin-born rider, with two mounts on Friday's opening day program, three more scheduled rides Saturday, and his 25th birthday Sunday, has a busy weekend ahead and an optimistic approach to his American career.
"I'm happiest when I'm on a horse's back," Graham said Thursday on the eve of Arlington's opening day. "It's like nature intended it to be. I was good when I went to school as a boy, but I didn't go to school too often. I played 'hooky' a lot, as you say, and when I was 15, my parents put me in touch with an apprentice jockey school in Ireland where I took a 10-month course. It was their polite way of asking me to leave and do something with my life.
"I remember watching the Grand National on television as a child, I always liked horses, and my father and grandfather both wanted to become jockeys but had never pursued it as a career. I guess it was just meant to be for me."
After working for trainer John Oxx in Ireland (who came to Arlington to win the 1996 Grade I Beverly D. with Timarida), and later serving as an assistant for Irish trainer Patrick Martin, Graham elected to come to the United States to continue his riding career.
"My fiancée (Lisa Caverly) and I needed a change of scenery," Graham says of his American dream that began about two years ago. "There wasn't a lot of opportunity for me back home, and I had a lean spring and summer in Kentucky last year, but my career took off this winter in Louisiana.
"Those Cajun riders adopted me this past winter," Graham said. "Calvin Borel took me aside and said: 'Look Bugsy, you have to start changing things. You're moving too soon. At the Fair Grounds, when you get to the stretch you still have a long way to go to get home.'
"Riders like Calvin, Corey Lanerie, Shane Sellers, Eddie Martin and Robby Albarado taught me a lot," Graham concluded. "They all ride tight and tough. They don't give you an inch, but if you give them one, they'll take a mile. I had to learn to ride 'Cajun,' but they made me a better rider."
Apprentice jockey Miguel Mena, a 17-year-old native of Lima, Peru, grew up idolizing Peruvian-born Edgar Prado, and came to the United States five months ago after riding 40 winners in South America.
"This is where the future is for a jockey," said Mena, whose father was a jockey in Peru before retiring from the saddle to become a trainer in his native land. "Edgar Prado rode with my father in Peru, and I've followed his career in both countries. I want to be like Edgar. He is my friend, and he really helped me a lot when I rode in Miami this winter."
"Miguel has a work ethic like Edgar, too," said Oscar Sanchez, who will be handling Mena's engagements at Arlington along with those of Chicago veteran reinsman Eddie Perez. "Right now Miguel is living with me until he gets settled here, and he's up and waiting for me with his boots on when I wake up to come to work in the mornings. He wants to work horses in the mornings, and then ride them in the afternoon."
Mena rode successfully at Calder late last year and has now won 67 races in his career, 23 of which were on the grass. The youngster appeared well on his way to a successful winter at Gulfstream Park, but suffered whiplash injuries to his neck in a spill at the Hallandale Beach oval Feb. 12, which kept him out of action until Calder reopened April 26.
After accepting seven mounts in North Miami, Mena came to Chicago, and is quick to credit Arlington's leading rider Rene Douglas for helping him personally and professionally.
"This country has the best jockeys and the best horses," said Mena, "and I want to learn to be a polished rider like Edgar and Rene, and ride in races like the Derby and the Preakness."
Arlington Park racing fans will get there first chance to watch Mena ride on opening day Friday, when the youngster rides Crittenden in the fifth race of the day.
Thoroughbred racing fans attending Arlington Park on opening day Friday will be able to make advance wagers on Saturday's Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, where Smarty Jones will attempt to continue his Triple Crown bid.
Friday's Preakness wagers at Arlington will go into the commingled pool at Pimlico, but on Saturday Arlington fans can wager into either Pimlico's or a separate Illinois Preakness pool.
Fans at Arlington can watch the Preakness Saturday as a special event in addition to the nine live races offered. The Preakness will be run between the eighth and ninth Arlington races.
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