Letters to the Editor: Jeff Thornbury On Arlington, James Graham

Two Emmys with James Graham aboard Coady

A little over 20 years ago, a young man from Ireland approached me about his wish to become a jockey in the United States. His name was James Graham. James impressed me so much with his dedication and work ethic that he soon was living at my home and galloping for me every day. His sweetheart, Lisa, joined him, they married, and Lisa became my treasured assistant trainer for a time. James showed tenacity and great athletic ability and became an apprentice rider.

He has always been the same every day; always sober, punctual, full of energy, and always full of fun. He has ridden for me and many others in a great career; racing in Kentucky, New Orleans, and Illinois. Arlington Park has always been a special place for him. I have watched him win (and lose) there over the years. I have enjoyed his antics and the rapport he has with the scores of kids that surround the winner's circle. He never fails to hand out as many goggles as he can while high-fiving with the crowd.

This past Saturday, Arlington ran its final “Million” weekend of races. The “Million” was reduced in purse size, but paid tribute to one of the finest men I have ever known in racing, Mr. Richard Duchossois. Those of us who have raced over the years at Arlington are heartbroken to see it parceled off, and this year any hope of saving it has evaporated. I first saw Arlington Park as a young kid while accompanying my father's partner, Dr. Robert Copelan, as he practiced there. I have always been in awe of its expanse and natural beauty, and the new grandstand is still one of the loveliest in the world. I have truly loved racing at Arlington.

The newly named “Mr. D Stakes” brought everything full circle for me. I watched my man James Graham take Two Emmys to the front, set a pedestrian pace down the backside, and sprint for home after they made the final turn to win this final Grade I stakes in typically cheeky fashion. This was the bright spot of the day for me and for many others, saddened to see racing end at this beautiful, heroic track. I was laughing at James's brilliant accomplishment, while crying at the same time, knowing that Arlington's time had come. Hats off to Mr. D., and hats off to James Graham for leaving us with a sweet taste we'll never forget.

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