By Sue Finley
Earlier this year, the son of a longtime family friend called me and said that he had claimed an eight-year-old gelding the previous summer, and he had raced a dozen or so times for him, but now he was nine, and he was worried about him. He wanted to make sure that he retired him sound, so that he could have a second career. After six or seven years on the track, he had earned it, he said.
He asked my advice, and I had him contact Anna Ford at New Vocations, who said she would make room for him. It meant that he would lose money on the horse, and that he would be the one to fund a retirement from a career for which he was only briefly responsible, but he insisted upon doing the right thing, even though his trainer felt he could still run successfully. Blue Pigeon has now been adopted out as a hunter-jumper prospect, and he owes his future to his former owner, 23-year-old Philip Miller.
But when Miller went to Aqueduct last week to apply for a jockey's agent's license, he was told that not only was he unqualified, but that he was unqualified to even sit for the test to determine if he was qualified.
“Has he ever been in prison?” asked a friend of mine when she heard of the decision.
He has not.
In fact, Miller graduated from the Stevens Institute of Technology at the top of his class with a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance. Now an MBA candidate who earned his real estate license in his spare time this summer, he is the son of a prominent cancer specialist and racehorse owner, and has owned horses on his own or in partnership for two years. He grew up going to the racetrack, spends most days handicapping, and has won a bit of money on the ponies.
He has been known to bring home a stray dog or two, did seven years of weekly volunteer service at the Special Olympics as an assistant swim coach, is polite, intelligent, and well-spoken. He designed an app to provide free college tutoring to under-privileged students. Any industry would be happy to have him.
Except for horse racing.
Miller was offered the job as jockey agent for Ferrin Peterson, but has been deemed by the New York State Gaming Commission as unqualified because he has no hands-on horse experience on the backstretch. Let's put aside for a moment that being a jockey's agent requires no hands-on horse experience.
After her agent, Julie Krone, moved back to California, I suggested Miller as an option to Peterson, who had ridden a winner for Miller at Monmouth. I have known Miller for his entire life, knew he was looking to get into racing in a bigger way, and his father has helped out more racetrack families with care for their cancer-stricken loved ones than I can count. I should know. My family was the first.
She met with him, thought he was the perfect fit, and offered him the job.
But a rule on the New York Gaming Commission books reads that “a license to be a jockey's agent may be initially issued only to an applicant who…has been licensed and has acted as an exercise person, apprentice jockey, jockey, assistant trainer or trainer in this or another jurisdiction for at least one year.”
So, without so much as looking at his resume and what he has accomplished at the age of 23, without discussing his two years of racehorse ownership, New York State Steward Braulio Baeza told him he wouldn't even be allowed to sit for the test because he was unqualified.
He studied Multivariable Calculus and Business Law, made the Dean's List every semester, and received a merit-based scholarship to attend the school.
But he's unqualified to be a jockey's agent?
There's nothing wrong with taking the path from jockey or trainer to agent; Angel Cordero and Kiaran McLaughlin are two good examples of people who have succeeded at it. But to say that's the only path defies reason.
The rule would eliminate the careers of almost any jockey agent you ever heard of-Harry Hacek, Vic Gilardi, Lenny Goodman, and more. The people who managed the careers of Steve Cauthen, Eddie Delahoussaye and Jorge Velasquez would have been deemed unfit at the start.
Ignore for a minute that the rule seems arbitrary, insular and protectionist, ensuring that the path of many bright young people trying to get into the sport will be blocked, and that only insiders can play. That's not the best way to invite smart, passionate people into horse racing. (And for what it's worth, the rule would disqualify the most talented racing secretary from being a jockey's agent, which makes no sense.)
Shouldn't consumers (trainers) and employers (jockeys) decide who succeeds at this job, not someone in charge of issuing occupational licenses?
How many times have we said we should bring new people into the sport? How many seminars have you attended on attracting young people? How many committees have we formed and organizations have we launched for just that purpose?
But instead of bringing his considerable intelligence, education, character and passion for the sport to horse racing, Miller will go on to work in another industry. He'll do just fine.
I'm not so sure about us.