Into the Cold

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Jockeys smeared Vaseline over their hands, then baby powder, then Latex gloves, then insulated gloves and headed to the paddock at Laurel Park Thursday. The temperature hovered at 15 degrees, at least that’s what was registered. Wind chill, ‘feels-like’ temperature, forget it, that was Shackleton.

Sheldon Russell, the Maryland-based representative for the Jockey’s Guild, had met with Maryland Jockey Club’s Sal Sinatra and Georganne Hale at 10 o’clock. With tracks canceling all around them, they asked if the jockeys would give it a try. He agreed.

“They wanted to run but they were understanding, they said they were going to shorten up the post parades and asked if we could work with them,” Russell said. “I said, ‘Yeah, the guys are willing to give it a go, I think it’ll be OK.’ The credit goes to the outriders, the pony girls, the gate crew…us jockeys get to come in and warm up, they’re out there all day. It was good, we worked together.”

Russell watched the first two races from his bench inside the warm confines of the jocks’ room and waited for the reaction from his comrades. If they wanted to cancel after two, he would take their word for it and go home. Carol Cedeno won the first, Victor Carrasco won the second, Russell readied for his immersion, in the third.

 “I saw all sorts of things, doctor gloves, Vaseline, baby powder on their hands, I saw scarfs, neck warmers, ski goggles, I saw it all,” Russell said. “I only started in the third, but after the first two, the jocks were coming back saying it was cold, viciously cold. Victor won the second, he doesn’t complain and he said it was cold. Throughout the day, it got warmer. When you ride back-to-back races, you’re a little bit warmer, but it was very, very cold.”

Management expedited post parades limiting the exposure to the cold, that helped, and as Russell said, everybody worked together to produce a nine-race card. Carrasco won two, Matt Rispoli doubled, Russell scored on first-time starter Streamsong.

“Your hands are the worst, and your feet,” Russell said. “The boots are measured to your foot, so you have real thin socks, but your hands are the worst.”

At least to everybody but Michael Ritvo. The 5-pound apprentice went commando, no gloves, no complaints.

“It was unbelievable. Our hands were frozen with the gloves, he’s never used gloves, he says he just can’t get used to them. I said just try them in the mornings and he said he can’t,” Russell said. “I’ve never seen him complain but I sat next to him in the gate and one was messing around and he was blowing on his hands pretty good. I said, ‘It’s a bit late for that jock.’ “

Ritvo survived that one, came back in and did it again. He rode four races on the day, managing a second on favorite Purely Dunn in the first, and never winced.

“He had us all laughing, aye yai yai, the things we do when we are young,” Russell said. “How can any other jocks complain, this kid was all smiles all day, he never complained once.”

As for winter racing, Russell figures the worst is over.

“If we made it through Thursday,” Russell said. “It can only get warmer.”

Ritvo’s counting on it.