Cup of Coffee: No Rider

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Jock’s agent Mike Monroe slid on his barn shoes, grabbed his phone and went to the track, likes he’s been doing every morning for the last 15 years.

It was the third day of the meet. Monroe didn’t need his condition book, he was out of work. Eyes reddened around the edges, Monroe looked like he had just climbed out of a three-car pileup. Monroe stood at the Oklahoma track, shook his head and swallowed the pain, as friends and rivals sought him out.

“He’s doing OK,” Monroe said. “It was tough. But he’s going to be OK.”

A day earlier, Monroe’s jockey Rosario Montanez somersaulted over the ears of Piquant nearing the far turn in the fifth race. The third choice in the field of eight, Piquant was vying for second when he stumbled sending Montanez into spin cycle.

Monroe knew it was bad when he ran to the winner’s circle and met Cornelio Velasquez and the rest of the jockeys in the race.

“I knew we were in trouble when one of the jocks said he couldn’t avoid it,” Monroe said. “Cornelio said he almost dropped himself trying to avoid him. The way they looked at me…”

Monroe met Montanez at Albany Medical Center. Doctors were taking inventory – ribs, pelvis, eye socket, concussion…

“It was real bad, real tough, to see a rider like that, a kid, just hoping he’s OK,” Monroe said. “He had a severe concussion, he kept repeating himself about the accident, about what happened, he didn’t remember anything. He just kept asking, ‘Did I clip heels? Did I get stepped on? Was it my fault? He just kept asking as he was coming out of his concussion.”

Montanez wound up with three broken ribs, a broken orbital socket and a non-displaced fractured iliac bone in his pelvis. Eighteen days later, Montanez is living with former jockey Josiah Hampshire, near Parx, and recovering. He’s walking a half-mile a day, has 20/20 vision in both eyes and has begun to rebound.

“He has good days and bad, but he’s coming around.” Monroe said.

As for Monroe, his days are neither good nor bad. They’re simply passing as he passes the time.

“You come up here with intentions of riding a couple of winners and competing with the best jockey colony around, the second day out, to have something like this happen…” Monroe said. “I’m doing whatever I have to do to get things done and keep the relationships going. You know, ‘Hey, don’t forget about me.’ “

All jockeys get hurt and all agents are out of work when they get hurt. Professionally and personally, it’s part of the game. It doesn’t make it easy.

“You build up that relationship, you speak every night, you meet in the morning, you ride around in the golf cart, you’re seeing people, you establish more than just a business relationship, your jock is your friend. Sometimes, your closest confidant,” Monroe said. “He’s a great human being, a great kid. I feel worse for him than anything. He was so excited to come up here and ride against the best riders in the world, being part of this colony.”

Montanez grew up in San Diego and learned the game the hard way, riding races across the border in Tijuana when he was 11. Toiling at Golden Gate and the Northern California fair circuit, he got in his car and drove to Parx Racing in 2010. He won 47 races in 2010 and flourished in 2011, winning 165 races and over $4.8 million in purses. He followed his apprentice year with a 90-win season in 2012 and another 93 in 2013. This year, he’s won 28 races. And that’s where it will stay.

“If I had to take a guess, I’d say four to six months, I don’t want him back until he’s ready, you see so many times a rider come back that’s not physically ready or mentally ready,” Monroe said. “It’s a rebuilding process, but he’s young enough and we’ll get there.”

As Saratoga rolls into its third week, Monroe goes to the track in the morning, goes to the track in the afternoon. Business as usual, without the business. His son Joseph, 16, started his first summer job at Saratoga this year, walking hots for Gary Contessa.

“We’re here, what are we going to do? He loves it, I didn’t want to take him back to Long Island, what would we be doing in Long Island?” Monroe said. “This is the place to be, there is nothing like winning a race at Saratoga, I just wish I was here with a healthy jockey.”