The following is a chapter from the memoir of “Dickie” Jenkins. Jenkins served as the primary exercise rider for the legendary racehorse Kelso and was a longtime assistant for trainer Carl Hanford. Click here to read more from his memoir…
Let me return to the race track so I can tell you more about myself, and how I got started in this business. I had left the Keenes, and still didn’t know as much as I would have liked about the business. I had been away from home since the age of fifteen, and was now making $30 a week with a $10 meal ticket. I felt I was riding high. It was a good thing I remembered how a rider should look when on a race horse. I had some old books about English jockeys like Sir Gordon Richards, and he was the only one I wanted to look like when I rode, until I met some exercise riders who said I had my feet too far in the irons. I took their advice, and did the right thing, taking them out about a foot.
I can remember this girl whose name was Margaret Drew, who boarded her horse with my dad. One day, I saw her wearing a scarf on her head which had a picture of the Triple Crown winner, Citation, with Eddie Arcaro aboard. I didn’t know anything then about race horses, but that day, I asked her who Citation was, and believe it or not, I made a wish that one day I would be able to ride or just take care of a horse like Citation. I didn’t care if rode him in races, but I wanted to be around him. I had already seen a picture of Man o’ War, but I really didn’t know who he was. I knew he was a great horse, but then again, so was Roy Rogers’s Trigger.
Now I had to learn how to gallop horses, and to do it right. I had Joe and John Drum, two of the toughest exercise riders on the racetrack to teach me to gallop a horse. I had all it took to ride a horse, but I had to do it right. These exercise riders were the best. They came from Canada, and worked for the Brown Hotel Stables.
Joe Pucket was the trainer, a real nice man. He liked me, and had a lot of confidence in me, for he knew if the Drums had taught me, I would be either a good jockey or exercise rider. Joe and John were sure mean to me, for they would tell me that I looked like a sack of shit on a horse, to keep my hands down, my toes cocked, and my back straight. When they got through with me, I could gallop any horse on the track and do it right, although I did have a little trouble working a horse in the time a trainer wanted you to go, like do a half mile in 49.5 [seconds], not 49, 50 or 51.
Well, glory behold, I learned how to be the best (just ask any trainer from those days). Mr. Pucket thought so as well, for he would put me on Gulet Nurse, the top mare then, who had just won the Black Helen Stakes. The Brown Hotel Stables had some of the best horses then. A lot of them were by a stallion named Seven of Hearts by First Fiddle.
I stayed with them for two and a half years, and Mr. Pucket sent me home with a contract for my dad to sign, but I kept moving, and wound up working for F.W. Hooper. There, I met my real teachers: Ivan Park, Willie Lee Johnson, Cotton Tinsley, Charles Stevenson, Chuck Park, and Willie Gardel. I rode my first race on a horse named Purple Reward, and finished third which wasn’t bad.
Then one day, Ivan Park said that we had horses that couldn’t win at Gulfstream Park, so we were going to take them to Sunshine Park, now Tampa Bay Downs. It was there that I wound up fighting in the jockeys’ room with other riders. I had a hot temper in those days, and would gladly knock the hell out of you, if you got in my way.
I was just plain, bad news then, and had to change, if I was going to ride for Mr. Park. He liked me the way I was, but Mr. Hooper didn’t, and fired me. lt took me a little while to make up my mind to do what I was going to do. I started hanging around with some of my old friends, and they all drank too much, although they could go back to work the next day. As for me, I didn’t drink, and didn’t like being with people that did, until one day, a horse threw me on the track and broke my ankle.
Well, it was one bad break, and the pain was so bad that the medicine the doctor gave me didn’t work. One of my buddies said to have a drink. Well, that was the ticket. I didn’t have just one drink, I drank the whole bottle, and didn’t feel a thing. This sure did mess me up later on, but that’s another story. Soon after that, I went to South Carolina to work for Jim Ryan, a real good, old Irishman, and a good trainer as well.
Here is where I started to be with some of the best horsemen around, and who had some of the best horses on the east coast: Country Delight, The Mast (the top jumper at that time), Royal Governor, Royal Vale, Cherwell, and Magic Lamp. We had a stake horse in every stall in Belmont Park. We had a top jumping rider, Pat Smithwick, Dick Gardner, Warren Lane, and my good buddies, Jack McGee, Les Flerck, and Eddy Gunning. Jack liked me a lot, and put me on all the horses until one day, I was on Royal Vale, walking him around, and saw a two year old across the street which everyone was trying to ride.
Nobody could stay on him, so I yelled over, “Do you need someone to ride that horse?”
Mr. Frank Barnett, who was the trainer for Hal Price Headley’s big outfit, said, “Do you think you are good enough to ride him?”
I said, “Yes,” and tied Royal Vale to the fence, and went over there. I rode the hair off the colt, but Mr. Ryan saw what I did with Royal Vale, and fired me.
Well, Mr. Barnett hired me, and he sent me to Lexington, Kentucky. I broke in all of Mr. Headley’s yearlings, and that is where I first met Orval Mahoney, the man whom Carl Hanford would say was the best exercise boy in the country. (Now, Carl didn’t know I knew Orval way back at this time. Carl would hire him at Delaware Park to walk the shed row. Orval thought he could gallop Kelso. I think he got on him twice, and one of those times, Kelso dropped him right in front of the barn. I don’t think Carl remembers that, but I do.)
Read the next chapter: Mrs. Allaire du Pont and meeting (and nearly losing) Kelso