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  • Catherine Riccio


Happiest Racing Memories

Before I started my career in the Thoroughbred industry, I was a fan. I knew nothing about horses, with the exception of what we learn from the publications. I would read entries and handicapping magazines. I didn’t know how to put a shank on a horse, but I knew what speed figures and track variants were. I couldn’t take apart a bridle and put it back together, but knew which train and bus combo got me to Ozone Park’s Aqueduct Racetrack.

My mother, Peggy, and I would meet up on the weekends at the track and pick the ponies and put our $2 to win on our favorite horses. We would watch the horses in the paddock and the one that caught our eye would often times be the one we’d bet on. Mom, she would study the Daily Racing Form the night before. We would drive into the Talk of the Town Deli just across from Belmont Park and wait for the Form delivery at about 8:30 at night.

There were so many classic horses back then in the late 1970s-early 1980s who we’d love to watch race. Some of my favorites were, Dr. Patches, a John Nerud trainee who defeated the great Seattle Slew at The Meadowlands and became the sprint champ of 1978. And there was Dainty Dotsie, a filly who shipped in from Keystone (Now Parx) with her regular rider Anthony Black accompanying her. Pure speed, she would carry weights of 127 or better. In 24 starts, she won 20 of those races and placed in two others.

And then there was Rise Jim.

Rise Jim, a big chestnut bred in Massachusetts, was a middle-distance runner who would truck down to the Big A for a stakes now and then. In 52 starts he won 27, with eight seconds and two thirds and made $528,789. I can remember his pedigree to this day off the top of my head. By Jim J.–Stellen, by Hill Rise. During that time Raise A Native and Exclusive Native were the hot sires. Jim J., not so much. My Next Chapter

After a career in horse racing in some capacity for the past 30-plus years, living from coast to coast, I recently took a job in a state I was unfamiliar with, Oklahoma. I felt like one of those old-time claimers that just needed softer company to score a victory. I was lucky enough to land a job with a horse owner/breeder who recently acquired WestWin Farms. The farm was formerly known as Windward stud and had some history to it with both Thoroughbreds but mostly Quarter Horses.

As I toured the property, I discovered the graveyard of some of their stallions. As my eyes glanced upon one tomb stone, it was like seeing an old friend. It was Jim J.’s grave. Yes, in front of my eyes in this crazy horse racing world, the sire of one of my favorite horses of all time was forever resting at my new place of employment. Small world.

Seeing that gravesite triggered so many great memories I had on the weekends with my mother watching our favorite horses run.

I was curious about Jim J. and sat down at my computer to research more about him. I discovered he was quite a sprinter in the eastern New York/New Jersey and Florida circuit in the 1960s. Bred in Maryland, he was a son of First Landing out of Sunelia, by More Sun. He raced 34 times with 14 of them earning a trip to the winner’s circle. Jim J. was a multiple stakes winner, scoring victories in the Gravesend Handicap and the Toboggan Handicap, both run at Aqueduct. He placed in the Vosburgh Handicap, a prestigious sprint race at Aqueduct.

After Jim J, was retired to stud he proved to be a decent stallion and his offspring were consistent runners. My favorite Rise Jim was his top money earner with $528,789. But as I looked at the list of his runners there was one horse — Johnny and Joey — who ran 100 times with 15 wins, 14 seconds and 13 thirds. Social media would have a field day today a horse that raced 100 times!

Back to Jim J’s best son, Rise Jim. His trainer was Joseph O’Shea, a local Suffolk/Rockingham Park trainer, who would always give Rise Jim the winter off. Rise Jim broke his maiden in his second start at Rockingham Park and after winning seven straight races, the connections decided to try Rise Jim at Belmont Park. Though they brought their local rider in for the race, he was soundly defeated by the P.G. Johnson-trained Told in the grade 2 Saranac Stakes. Rise Jim went back to Suffolk and just 14 days later won a handicap race. After a couple of other local races he then tried The Meadowlands and won the Palisades Handicap with Angel Cordero, Jr. aboard. That was in October of 1979. Rise Jim had the winter off and made his first start back in May at his home track of Suffolk, winning an allowance race easily.

Over his whole career, Rise Jim won stakes races at age two through six years old. He won the grade 2 Tom Fool Stakes two years in a row. His races were mainly handicap or weighted on accomplishments, thus meaning he would carry some heavy loads. His highest weight he carried in the afternoon to victory was 133 pounds when winning the Pilgrim Handicap on October 10, 1981. And seven days later vanned down to Aqueduct and was second in the grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes on October 17. On November 1, Rise Jim received the services of Cordero again and the two teamed up in a condition allowance race where Rise Jim ran the mile in 1:34 flat.

Wondering What’s Changed

RIse Jim’s race record. Pedigree Query

While looking back on Rise Jim’s career I have been found myself in awe of his past performances and how horses seemed to be able to rebound quicker in that era. One thing I notice with Rise Jim is that his connections raced him from May to either November or December and then give him the winter off.

Back when Rise Jim was running, we had less technology when it comes to veterinary tools to diagnose horses’ ailments, but we had horsemen who could look, feel and massage a leg to ease the wear and tear. We had leg paints, bandages and buckets of ice. We had Asthmador, not Clembuterol, to get rid of the mucus that might need to be drained.

It is somewhat of a puzzle when you pull up these race records and see consistency and the ability to bounce back in ten days to two weeks with a key performance. In our game that we love, in this era you have to wonder, “what are we doing wrong?”

Why aren’t there more Rise Jim’s in this world. Are we missing the old-school horsemen? Is the modern-day trainer only about the condition book and power by numbers? All in all, I am hoping that this February when the mares at WestWin Farm start foaling, I will be blessed to see a future Rise Jim in the making.

Time will tell.

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