Cup of Coffee: Young Again

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In the fading light, in the last race, on the final day of the 2013 steeplechase season, Paddy Young secured his fourth championship, becoming the first steeplechase jockey to win four titles since John Cushman in the 80s. Another long year had come to an end for Young, for all jump jockeys. Tack dangling between his left elbow and hip, blood-stained from an earlier fall and running his tongue across his teeth to make sure they were all there, the then 37-year-old veteran admitted he was near the end.

“No matter what happens, I’ll definitely be easing back because I’m fed up with racing around, the last four weeks have been exhausting,” Young said. “The riding is not the hard part, it’s the traveling to the races that kills you. Obviously, I have a young family at home and the business at home, it’s definitely near time to take a step back, I’m not saying I’m stopping because I’m not, but I don’t see me rushing to every meet, trying to ride every race. You can’t say you’re going to stop because then you shouldn’t be doing it. Over the winter, we’ll definitely take a think about it.”

Nine months later, Young walked back to the Saratoga jocks’ room after winning the first with Virsito, securing his first win of the Saratoga meet, his first win since May. Honed and hungry, eyes sunken like they were supposed to show up tomorrow, dried-out spittle in the corners of his mouth, Young smiled at the notion he served up as gospel back in November.

“I know I said I was slowing down,” Young said, after riding his 42nd race this year (third highest of any jump jockey). “But when I get up in the morning and ride one out and it gives me a good feeling, I think ‘I can’t wait for this lad to run.’ When I get up in the morning and don’t have that feeling, I’ll know it’s time to give up. As of now, it’s not race to race, it’s season to season.”

Midway through the season, Young sits in a tie for third in the standings, six wins behind Willie McCarthy and four wins behind Ross Geraghty. It’s been a battle. Young snapped a 0-for-10 slump Wednesday. In flat racing, a jockey can go 0-for-10 in a day. For jump jockeys, going 0-for-10 means you haven’t won in months. Young hadn’t won a race in 73 days. Losing makes anybody think. Winning makes it disappear.

“It never gets old,” Young said after crossing the scales Wednesday.

Last week, it was old. Young failed to threaten with Wantan for trainer Ricky Hendriks on Wednesday and pulled up Schoodic for Jack Fisher when the 4-year-old son of Tiznow clipped heels and nearly fell on Thursday. Both horses came here with live chances, they left as afterthoughts, continuing Young’s winless summer. Young isn’t an anomaly, this is life as a jump jockey. Two decades ago, Hall of Fame flat jockey Mike Smith tried to cheer up a disgruntled jump jockey who went winless on the first days of the meet.

“What’s the matter with you, we’re two days into the meet,” Smith said. “Relax, it’ll come around.”

The jump jockey explained, “Mike, I don’t ride again until next week, it’s like you going winless for the two weeks.”

Smith simply nodded. He never tried to cheer up a slumping jump jockey again.

Young was feeling the slump, after pulling up Schoodic, a top novice who went off third choice after winning three of his first four career races.

“Last week, on the way home, I was like what’s the point of even coming back here?” Young said. “But, at least, I know the hunger is still there when it annoys me, all week, it’s been eating me up, you’re analyzing yourself, you’re analyzing what Jack is thinking, you’re analyzing the race.”

Jump jockeys don’t have the luxury of numbers, especially in the summer when racing slows down with just two races a week at Saratoga. Two races to ride and five days to analyze and question.

Young will continue to analyze, question and try to win races. He rides long shot Spy In The Sky in todays’ A.P. Smithwick Memorial and will continue to ride for Fisher, who leads all trainers in the standings.

“This year’s been strange, I’m hustling rather than people ringing me. It is a bit tougher in that sense but I’m getting plenty of rides, I’m lucky I’m getting good rides, if I was just riding to ride I’d be second guessing it,” Young said. “I had a fall at Philly Park (July 1), it’s the first time I’ve ever had to take days off after a fall, barring a break. My neck was all out of whack, I couldn’t walk, the kids are messing with you…I’m not thinking you’re only a fall away but I hated feeling that sore.”

It didn’t last long.

“Fair enough, I went and schooled Martini Brother for Sheppard a few days later, he’s pretty nice, and I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t feel too bad.’ It goes like that from time to time. I’m still here. Look, it’s hard from season to season to keep coming back, but to win a race here, makes the season.”