The still-fresh images of American Pharoah’s victorious jockey Victor Espinoza standing in his irons, fist in the air, cruising past the stands of cheering spectators, legs bobbling to absorb the shock of each footfall, provide a perfect segue into this article by Betsy Parker.
Overheard railside at the Foxfield Races near Charlottesville: One pastel-clad college kid to the next as they rummage for beer in their cooler before noon on Saturday: “Jockeys aren't really athletes. They just sit in the saddle for a few minutes. I could do that!”
I almost fainted. Here the most provocative lede of the decade just dropped in my lap, and I couldn't get to the jock's room fast enough to dangle the mother of all conversation-starters like a tenderloin in front of a pack of hungry dogs. Hustling up the hill, I tried the assertion on jockeys Gerard Galligan and Brendan Brooks. They laughed.
“Anyone who'd say that has never ridden a race,” Galligan sniffed.
“Anyone who'd say that has never ridden a horse!” Brooks countered. “There's so much more to racing than 'riding.'”
As the Irishmen trailed off to walk the Barracks Road course, I jotted some interview questions. There was more to the story than laughing at a schoolboy's boast. It's not only athletic endeavor that drives competitiveness, as I'd soon find out. It's part will to win, part boldness. Part athletic concentration, part love of sport. It's a certain level of excitement tempered by highly-honed mental agility.
A 1980s University of North Carolina study measured that pound-for-pound, jockeys are the strongest, quickest, most agile and most hardcore athletes on the planet. Had the researchers studied jump jockeys, they'd've doubled it.