Cup of Coffee

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Running a marathon is easy. Training for a marathon is hell.
Winning the Alabama is easy. Preparing, securing and keeping the ride is tough.
Robert Landry bangs out a decent living at Woodbine; the 46-year-old veteran has guided 21 winners at the Canadian track this year, good enough for 13th in the standings. He was leading rider there in 1994, earned the Sovereign Award for outstanding jockey in 1993 and 1994, won his 2,000th career race this summer. When the weather takes over at Woodbine and the horses go south or go to the farm, Landry follows the coast to Florida.

 

He calls it a working vacation. He goes to the track every morning, gets on horses for his contact list of trainers, not necessarily looking for rides at Gulfstream Park but more to keep fit and to keep his name on people’s minds. He rides a few races, breezes horses, golfs a few rounds with his buddy Roger Horgan. When Todd Pletcher ships to Woodbine, maybe he’ll call Landry. If Josie Carroll needs a rider when she gets back to Woodbine, hopefully she’ll name Landry.

If you’re not in the room, you’re out of the deal.

“I’m 46 years old, my weight is still good, but it’s real hard to take off once you put it on, so I need to work,” Landry said. “Florida is a working vacation, just trying to stay fit and stay out there, be visible, maybe when these guys ship to Woodbine, they’ll think of me. I have a real good strike rate with Todd Pletcher. Jim Bond, George Weaver, when they come to Woodbine, I ride for them a lot of times. It’s just good for business.”

If you get out of bed every morning, there’s no telling what might happen. You might climb aboard a flighty grey filly who spends most of her morning with the pony and lunges like a dolphin when you turn around the right way to gallop. She might be a freak.

Landry worked with Careless Jewel in Florida when she was 2. Worked with, meaning worked the horse next to her. A year later, after surgery to repair a chip in her knee, Landry really worked with her. He climbed aboard Careless Jewel at Palm Meadows this winter. The gray filly wasn’t easy, still isn’t, and Landry learned to cajole and massage the dynamic filly. He’s a horseman first. Jockey second.

The first time he breezed her, he knew she was different.

“Where have you been?” is how he described the reaction.

Carroll shipped Careless Jewel to Keeneland for her debut. Landry didn’t go with her. John Velazquez rode the robust daughter of Tapit, she went off favorite and finished third. In her next start, at Woodbine, with Landry, she won. She hasn’t lost since. Landry guided her to an allowance win and then traveled to Delaware Park to win the Delaware Oaks. She won her stakes debut – and dirt debut – easily. The Alabama, Landry’s first Grade I victory in the U.S. – made four in a row.
Careless Jewel dropped Landry twice before the Alabama.

“She was a little fractious to say the least, maybe the crowd. She was a little bit funny at Delaware, rearing up a bit and a little hot but not to this extent. She’s got some idiosyncrasies, knowing her is a big plus.”

Landry knows Careless Jewel. He also knows the game and knows any jockey is one wrong move (like turning her loose either time when he fell off her Saturday) from losing any ride, much less, a ride like Careless Jewel.

“I’m confident I will (keep the ride) and if I don’t, I don’t. She owes me nothing. Naturally, I’d love to ride her but I’d understand, it’s the game,” Landry said, after the Alabama. “I’ve been in it a long time, I’ve been taken off a lot good horses before, you just roll with the punches, the trainers always come back and they respect you more, they pay the bills, I’m going to live with it. But, it’s nice to go along for the ride.”

Articulate and professional, Landry appreciates the ride. He won his first race in 1981, his first stakes in 1982. He’s broken his cheekbone and his back. He’s breezed Slip Away, won a stakes on Buck’s Boy and rode five straight champion 2-year-old fillies in Canada. Now he’s won the Alabama, to go along with the Delaware Oaks, the Woodbine Mile, the Molly Pitcher.

“This is my biggest win in the U.S. I’ve won a lot of Grade II stakes here, well, my horses won, I just steered them,” Landry said. “I’ve been very, very lucky and ridden some nice horses.”

The Alabama was more than a jockey winning on a horse. Landry had guided Careless Jewel in the morning; tried to ration her ability, tried to nurture her mind, tried to teach her to go a mile and a quarter in a Grade I at Saratoga.

“I’ve been very, very lucky to come around some really good horsemen,” Landry said. “There’s a lot of riders with a lot of talent gate to wire, but not as much horsemen. Guys that have been around, come around and did it the hard way. You’re more hands-on, I think you can learn a lot that way.”

As the Alabama celebration wound to a close (Landry nursed a Diet Pepsi), owner Vern Dubinsky tried to convince Landry to come to Prime Restaurant at Saratoga National for dinner, spend the night in Saratoga.

“I’ve got to get back home tonight,” Landry said. “I’ve got horses to work in the morning, one of my good horses. I’ll get fired.”