LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen December  16, 2017

JOCKEY AGENTS: HARD WORKING UNSUNG HEROES

John Hamilton, Gilbert Ortiz, Alfonso Lujan, David Alvarez, Damian Martinez, Donald Watson, Roland Cabrera, Santiago Mendez and Everardo Rodriguez. They are talented jockeys on the Louisiana Quarter Horse circuit. But what do you know about Rhonda Cox, Freddie Carrier, Dedria Watson, Cynthia Menard, Manny Belville, Sandy Miller and Gerald Thomas? These women and men are the jockey agents for the aforementioned riders, and worthy of their own feature this month in the "Insider"!

In a nutshell, agents book mounts for their riders. They can handle the affairs of two riders each meet. Their income is based on a percentage of their jockeyís earnings, so in deference to the Donna Summers hit pop hit in the Ď80ís, they "work hard for their money"!

With their cell phones ringing and condition book hanging out of their back pocket, they make the rounds of the barns early six days each week. Their goal is to make sure that trainers know about their riders and commit to naming them on their horses. You will see them in the racing office jockeying for position at the draw four mornings every week, sometimes making calls to fill races.

Truth be told, itís a job that extends far beyond the nutshell explanation! Agents have to be knowledgeable handicappers and good diplomats as they try to find the best mounts for their riders without offending trainers and owners. Most of them will be pretty honest and tell you that it canít always be done, but they give it 100%, and despite the competition, get along well with each other in the process!

Mornings are Make or Break

There is no sleeping in when you are a jockey agent. Rhonda Cox has been an agent for five years, and currently handles business for David Alvarez and Randy Edison. She was an assistant trainer for several horsemen, including the late Matt Baker, so arriving at the barn at the crack of dawn is old hat for her. "I work with my riders to make sure they are out there in the morning to gallop and work their horses from the gates," said Cox. "Exercise riders are used a lot in Thoroughbred racing, but for the most part, Quarter Horse jockeys take on that role."

She deftly handles synching her riders with the many horsemen who have scheduled works for their horses. Cox will also help by entering horses for them at the draw if they are busy or away at another track or horse sale.

"My guys are really good about working hard in the mornings," she added. "If it gets really busy, I will work to find a back-up. No question that you have to hustle to do our job."

Handling The Big Guns

Freddie Carrier represents two of the leading riders in Louisiana, John Hamilton and Alfonso Lujan. "Hambone" recently won his fifth leading rider title at Delta Downs and continues to defy his age with his prowess in the saddle. Lujan is also a respected veteran, who is well-liked by top horsemen in both Louisiana and Texas.

"Both John and Alfonso are good people and respected riders," said Carrier. "I am fortunate to have their books, but as with any agent, there are still challenges. The toughest part is trying to please everyone, which is not always possible! Theirs is a lot of juggling and give and take. Some trainers will get mad if your rider takes off one of their horses; it happens and you just try to do your best."

Cynthia Menard is the agent for Gilbert Ortiz, one of the most experience Quarter Horse riders in the country. In 2015, he won his 3,000th career race and became just the seventh rider in Quarter Horse history to reach that milestone. Her biggest challenge is coordinating his schedule, as Ortiz travels back and forth between Louisiana and Texas. She also is the agent for Noe Casteneda.

"My only problem with Gilbert is that heís too nice, and does not like to say no," said Menard. "Some time that becomes a problem, but I just take a deep breath and do what I have to do."

Breaking Through Against Top Riders

Gerald Thomas, known as "Lil G" around the racetrack, lives in Lafayette, and traded in a job in the racing office to handle business for jockeys Antonio Alberto and Everardo Rodriguez. Both young men are talented, but donít have the decades of experience of a John Hamilton or Gilbert Ortiz. Getting horsemen to ride the up and coming jockeys can be challenging.

"Itís tough," said Thomas. "But I have two guys that get out there in the morning and do everything they can. Itís all in the work ethic, and when trainers see that, it helps your business."

Thomas learned the ropes from Carrier, who worked at Delta Downs for 25 years. He did pretty much every job in the racing office, and is enjoying this new venture.

"There is pressure," he admitted. "But despite the competition, itís not cut throat. We are like one big family and all respect each other."

Sandy Miller has the book for Ricardo Hernandez, Jr. and Floriberto Maldonado.

"It is very easy for an agent when you have a leading rider," she explained. "To book mounts for up and coming jockeys, you have to be very diligent. When a trainer who rides John Hamilton or another of the top riders has two entered in a race, Iíll work hard to pick up the other horse."

Miller also explains that she has to offer moral support to her riders to keep their spirits up when they donít get as many calls as they would like.

"The road to progress is not easy; it takes hard work," she added.

Which Mount to Choose?

Most agents will defer to their riders when they have multiple qualifiers for a Derby or Futurity.

"Itís their call and I stay out of it," said Carrier. "But, I will watch the replays and offer my feedback if asked. Sometimes they want to work a horse or stand them in the gate to make their final decision, but they know what they have under them."

Cynthia Menard remembers the 2016 Lee Berwick Futurity final, when Gilbert Ortiz opted to ride Watergirl B, the ninth fastest qualifier.

"Gilbert told me she would run first, second or third," recalled Menard. "He had confidence in the filly, and sure enough, she ran a huge race."

Sent off at 42-1, Watergirl B paid $86.20 for the win.

"I was in shock as I walked to the winnerís circle," added Menard.

Hustling New Riders

Manny Belville is one of the newer jockey agents in Louisiana, but brings a wealth of racing experience with him. A former Thoroughbred jockey and agent at Hialeah Park in Florida and Oklahoma, Belville handles the business of Santiago Mendez, Rolando Cabrera and Raul Hernandez. Cabrera was an exercise rider for trainer Bobby Touchet, but Belville saw his talent and feels that he has come a long way. Belville set his sights on California-based jockey, Santiago Mendez, the brother of top Los Alamitos rider, Cruz Mendez.

"It took me almost a year to get him to come to Louisiana," he said. "Santiago had prior engagements he had to fulfill, but he is here now and really likes it."

Belville acknowledges what it takes to get horsemen to ride lesser known jockeys, with proven commodities like Hamilton, Ortiz and Lujan. He is bilingual, which is a plus with some trainers.

"You have to plant the seed and let it grow," stated Belville. "Eventually horsemen will give you the chance, but itís not easy."

Charity and Fundraising

Jockeys, unlike NFL or NBA players, cannot rely on contracts or endorsements to get them through recovery efforts after an injury. Dedria Watson has served as an agent for her husband, Donald since 2000. She acknowledges that injuries are part of the game, and tough on riders and their agents.

"When a rider goes down in a race, we all run to see how we can help," said Watson. "You pray they are okay, but when surgery is involved, itís very hard. When they canít ride, the paycheck stops."

Watson and Cox never say no to helping with a myriad of fundraisers, bake sales, Barbeque dinners, silent auctions and other events to help injured riders. They work with the racetrack Chaplains to plan events on the backside or encourage fans to donate to assist jockeys in need.

And when asked, the jockey colony will pitch in as well. At Louisiana Downs, Watson and Cox convinced the riders to dress as women in a fundraiser called "A Womanless Pageant." Each year, a group of jockeys will make a visit to the Shrinerís Childrenís Hospital in Shreveport to bring cheer to young patients.

"We travel the circuit together and you become family," said Watson. "There are plenty of highs and lows, so I always try to save money and stay prayed up!"

Thumbs Up for a Job Well Done

Trainers have a lot on their plate in preparing for races. Trey Ellis, who rides Alfonso Lujan as his first call rider, is quick to acknowledge the role agents play.

"Jockey agents are a big part of the team," stated Ellis. "They know pretty much every horse in your barn and keep up with the racing office on extras. On a busy morning if I canít make it to the draw, or am out of town, I can count on Freddie keeping me posted."

Tony Patterson, LQHBA executive director, concurs.

"These are†super folks†that donít get a lot of credit for their role in racing," said†Patterson.†"They work hard, and itís far from a nine to five job. Their dedication to their riders is very admirable. "I know most of them personally though my years of working in the racing office and I

genuinely respect the work they do." † Freddie Carrier worked at Delta Downs for 25 years, and did pretty much every job in the racing office. He enjoys his work and the close knit bond with his fellow agents in Louisiana.

"Itís not for everyone, but I love it," he said.

Jockey agents do not seek the spotlight or clamor for attention, but their commitment, diplomacy and hard work should not be ignored. They deserve credit for their contributions, behind the scenes, in their role in the success of Louisiana Quarter Horse racing!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The LQHBA Insider is a monthly feature written by Martha Claussen for www.lqhba.com. She served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity in Texas, Louisiana and other regions in North America.