The event featured a speech by two-time Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert who received Jockeys and Jeans first Person of the Year Award. Baffert took the stage and spoke of the need to support severely injured former jockeys and entertained the crowd with stories about his short and and far from lucrative career as a jockey.
“I got kicked out of the Jockeys’ Guild because I didn’t ride enough races in a year,” he said. Baffert told about riding a Quarter Horse in a 660 yard race with a purse of $600.00. “It got tight and I pulled my horse out of a tiny hole. The trainer asked me about it and I told him, ‘I didn’t need the $30 that badly.’ Even today when some jockeys’ agents ask me to use their riders, I tell them I can’t because they look too much like me on a horse when I rode.”
Fifteen Hall of Fame riders signed autographs during a morning session open to all track patrons and a dozen later mingled with the crowd and met personally with the seven honored guests, catastrophically injured former riders to listen and offer encouragement. Leah Whitesell, a former trainer now a principle in a New Jersey veterinary clinic, received the group’s first Uphill Push Award for working tirelessly to purchase and drive a wheelchair assessable van 1,100 miles to long-time paraplegic former jockey Vincent Amico. Hall of Fame Jockey Chris McCarron also spoke about the need to support injured riders.
Stronach Group’s Chief Strategy Officer, Aidan Butler and its COO, Tim Ritvo attended the event, with Ritvo taking the podium to speak about the his own career as a jockey and the need to support PDJF. Both purchased several auction items. This was the second event hosted by a Stronach Group track and both executives said the event would be welcome at their other tracks.
“The bottom line is this, Jockeys and Jeans will be doing another event at one of the Stronach Groups tracks in the future,” said the group’s president, Barry Pearl. “So many there worked hard to make the event a success and it’s obvious they genuinely care about catastrophically injured jockeys.”
Jack Fires, 63, and a paraplegic since a racing accident at the defunct River Downs at 21, was attending his third fundraiser. “I know all of us (injured riders) feel good about being recognized,” said the PDJF Board Member. “A lot of us can’t make it to the track anymore and this is a way to be involved in something that at one time was a big part of our lives. And I think it’s a way for the Hall of Fame jockeys and everyone else to get familiar with the folks they are helping. All of us enjoyed being there.”
Jockeys and Jeans, founded in late 2014 by a group of former jockeys, has raised over $1.2 million for the PDJF.