Music Man: Jockey karaoke makes a hit

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Joe Bravo rapped. Rajiv Maragh dressed like an Indian. Julien Leparoux was a cop and an outlaw. Joe Rocco Jr. wrote his own song. Rosie Napravnik put on weight. Robbie Davis sang a terrible song, but made a great speech. 

And the whole place laughed and smiled and sang along.

The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund held its annual jockey karaoke benefit Monday night at Vapor Night Club and made singers out of the men and women who ride races in the afternoons at Saratoga. The event did not make them good singers, though Mike Luzzi could have a future on the club scene in some New Jersey beach towns.

Maragh (Indian), Leparoux (cop), Rocco (biker) and Andre Worrie (construction worker) let loose on a version of YMCA to take down the coveted trophy for best overall performance. Judges Angel Cordero Jr., Marisa Jacques, Mitch Levites and Graham Motion singled out the quartet over a mixed field of competitors that ranged from ridiculous to raspy and energetic to endangering. John and Leona Velazquez sang a duet and looked great doing it. Napravnik and her husband Joe Sharp turned in a rousing rendition of “Baby Got Back” (she was the baby and, well, she had back). Leparoux became Johnny Cash for a few moments and sang Ring of Fire, with a French accent. Rocco rewrote the lyrics to Rude, with a racing theme and vowed to sing it to any trainer who will give him a ride in a Saratoga stakes. 

Live and silent auctions, paced by owners Martin Schwartz and Bill Lawrence, helped the night exceed last year’s total of $78,000 raised.

All for a great cause. 

The PDJF cares for jockeys around the country with catastrophic injuries including paralysis and brain injuries. The organization’s expenses are staggering, but the work is noble as evidenced by three video examples – of jockeys Jacky Martin, Michael Straight and Stacy Burton – introduced by retired jockey Ramon Dominguez. 

Nobody got that more than Davis, who came on stage wearing a mangled cowboy hat and carrying a check. He handed the check to master of ceremonies Tom Durkin, and then tried to sing in place of his son Dylan, a late scratch on the program. Robbie, who won 3,382 races and retired in 2002, made it through the song and then started talking. 

The speech rambled. He walked while he talked. He wasn’t easy to hear. He had no notes. He just spoke about why people become jockeys, why they do what they do in spite of the risk and the sacrifice. Sure, there’s a chance to make money but there’s also a chance they could die – at work. 

Unless the roof caves in on my office, or I get hit by an out-of-control water truck that careens into the winner’s circle one day, I’m not going to die at work. Jockeys walk around with that risk.

Davis knows this better than anyone. In 1988 at Belmont Park, jockey Mike Venezia died when struck in the head by the hoof of a horse ridden by Davis. It was an accident, a split-second in a life filled with random, potentially catastrophic moments. 

But it happened. 

The two men were close friends and Davis fought plenty of demons to get back in the saddle and continue his successful career. In 1997, he received the Mike Venezia Award which is given to jockeys who exemplify extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship. Davis retired to life on a farm near Saratoga with his wife Marguerite and their children. 

Three – Katie, Jackie and Dylan – became jockeys. Their father became a trainer. His first winner came in December 2011, with Jackie aboard. Robbie even returned to ride a race in 2011 and again last year to ride a handful.

When Davis came on stage Monday, he was another amateur singer on a night of laughs, mangled notes, good-natured insults, mistakes and silly costumes. When he stopped trying to sing and started trying to speak, Davis became far more than a guy doing karaoke. 

I listened, I felt the impact and I tapped out some notes. “Crazy good speech,” I wrote. “No plan or script. Beautiful thing.”

As Davis put it Monday night, you don’t become a jockey because you want to. You do so because you can’t help it. You find a bond with the horses, you live for that connection, you put other things aside. 

You do it, he said, “because you love it.”