Kendrick Carmouche and his agent, Kid Breeden, set a goal before the meet. Win 10 races. After 14 racing days in their first foray of riding full time at Saratoga, the Mid-Atlantic duo are over halfway there. Six wins, including the Lucky Coin with Shore Runner, the Grade 3 Fasig-Tipton Waya with Goldy Espony and a double Friday.
"So far, so good at Saratoga," Carmouche said Saturday morning from his golf cart outside Graham Motion's barn. "Yesterday was the most exciting, to win two over here in one day is crazy. I couldn't believe it. I love it, I love the atmosphere, I love meeting more people, I love the place."
Carmouche had shipped to Saratoga, finishing second aboard Joint Return in last year's Alabama and second aboard True To Tradition in the Quick Call in 2009. Tough beats, Carmouche remembers them as photo-finish losses. Well, Joint Return fell three-quarters of a length behind Stopchargingmaria and True To Tradition lost by a length. That's what losing at Saratoga will do to you, each one feels like a photo, a bitter sting. Ask Carmouche how long it took to get over the losses, he'll tell you he'll let you know when it happens. Five wins in 13 days this summer will certainly help.
Carmouche instantly recognized the difference between Saratoga and Parx.
"Oh, man, I think it's more of just being with these guys and riding with them, seeing what they do, then you do it and you win races," Carmouche said. "You know, in your mind, you're all the way there, you have to just keep competing and stay in the hunt. These guys all have class, they ride good horses and they all make quick decisions. That's part of being a good jockey up here. I've got it, I just don't have the horses they have, but I'm working on it."
Breeden and Carmouche hooked up four years ago, dominated the Mid-Atlantic, spent a winter at Gulfstream Park and made the permanent, or at least hopefully permanent, move when basing themselves in New York this winter.
"We went into Aqueduct just to see how the meet would go, then we figured we should try Belmont and if Belmont worked, then we'd come to Saratoga and stick it out," Carmouche said. "Go right back to Belmont in the fall and freeze and ride hard in the winter."
Breeden chimed in when hearing the schedule.
"We'll ride seven days a week in the winter, Aqueduct five days and Parx on the other two," Breeden said. "We're preparing ourselves for the winter, see how it goes."
There aren't many jockeys who use Saratoga to prepare for Aqueduct, but whatever works.
With 80 wins and $3.8 million in earnings, Carmouche has climbed the ladder to 25th in national earnings this year. In his career, he's won 2,655 races for $72 million. Most of those wins came at Parx. New York? It had been a goal for years, but one Carmouche didn't want to target until he was ready.
"I think I accomplished everything I could in Philadelphia, I'm a lot more mature with riding and in my own mind," Carmouche said. "It had to be the right time, no time is the right time but it had to be the right time for both of us to move on and try to achieve better goals for ourselves and our family. That's pretty much how we thought about it. So far, it's been unbelievable."
With support from his wife, Whitney, grounding from his kids, Kendrick and Olivia and strength from Breeden, Carmouche is here to stay.
"In this game, it's all about teamwork. I couldn't come up here when I wasn't mature as a man, to deal with this situation. That's why I stayed in Parx for so long, just to mature, learn how to ride, you have to have family, it means a lot, in any business, family goes a long way," Carmouche said. "When I got to the point when I was mature, I figured I could make the move, I was ready. My wife sticks behind me, through everything, you have to have someone that will stick with you, someone who will tell you that you're doing good, even when you're losing."
Carmouche learned the game from his dad, former jockey Sylvester Carmouche Jr., while growing up in Louisiana. His dad had two claims to fame, he was known as the "fog jockey" after being caught pulling up a horse on a foggy night at Delta Downs before rejoining the field, two dozen lengths in front, when they came around the second time. He also rode Hallowed Dreams through her 16-race win streak. Kendrick Carmouche began galloping horses and breaking babies when he was 10. When he applied for his jockey's license, stewards gave him his license without needing to see him break from the gate or do anything else, "You know how to ride," they said. His brother, Sylvester Carmouche III rides at Charles Town.
"When I was a kid, Philadelphia Park and Laurel would come on the TV in the morning, we would wake up at 6 just to watch the replays, watch Edgar Prado, Mark Johnston, Stu Elliott..." Carmouche said. "Years later, me and my brother were like, 'Could you imagine we'd be riding races here all these years later?' "
Just think if they watched Saratoga replays.