by Johnny D
December 11, 2020
In Tuesday’s edition of Thoroughbred Daily News, writer Sue Finley told the story of 23-year-old Phillip Miller’s attempt to replace Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone as agent for Ferrin Peterson in New York.
However, this is not a tale about a normal agent ‘coup.’ Miller didn’t ‘submarine’ Krone--racetrack lingo for when one agent undercuts another to ‘steal’ a jock. No, this switch was totally kosher. On the level. Out in the open. After a stellar east coast stint with Peterson, Krone’s headed back to SoCal. Can’t blame her, either. Have you seen a recent Queens weather forecast? Miller met with Peterson and offered him the job. He accepted.
If that were the end of things it really wouldn’t be much of a story, even though Finley reports that Miller is a horse owner with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Finance, an MBA candidate with a real estate license and a seven years of weekly volunteer service at the Special Olympics as an assistant swim coach. Miller also studied Multivariable Calculus and Business Law, made the Dean’s List every semester, and received a merit-based scholarship to attend school. He also designed an app to provide free college tutoring to under-privileged students.
No word about Miller curing the sick or restoring sight to the blind but give the kid time.
Anyway, according to Finley, Miller “…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.”
After reading about Miller’s accomplishments, the first question yours truly had is, ‘Why in the world does HE want to be a jock’s agent?”
Then we remembered, roughly 40 years ago, when a recent college grad, around the same age as Miller but appreciably less accomplished, abandoned a fledgling career in SoCal racetrack publicity departments for a shot at booking mounts for a struggling young jock named Ron Hansen.
Before he made the move, he consulted veteran jockey agent George Hollander (then booking for Hall of Famer Don Pierce) for advice on how to be a good agent. “Are ya makin’ a livin’ where ya at?” George drawled in a whisper, as if the FBI might be listening. “Then stay thaaar.”
Undaunted, the young man pressed. Finally, Hollander sighed, adjusted his trademark fedora and leaned in sideways, “Wanna’ be a good agent? Get yourself a f*****g good rider.”
Know what? George was correct. After 20 years of booking mounts for talented riders and not so talented ones, the ‘f*****g good’ ones won more races than the others did. The ‘great’ ones won even more often than the ‘good’ ones. Hall of Famers Sandy Hawley, Darrel McHargue, Alex Solis, Chris Antley and Jose Santos all survived in saddles aboard mounts arranged by the former young man. Hawley, bless him, endured the punishment for six years. For a wide variety of reasons, the others didn’t remain partners as long.
As Finley reports, Phillip Miller won’t immediately get the chance to begin his jockey agent journey. According to Finley, “…he (Miller) has been deemed by the New York State Gaming Commission as unqualified because he has no hands-on horse experience on the backstretch.”
OK. One question, please. Know who else had no hands-on horse experience on the backstretch before becoming an agent? Just about every other successful agent, ever. Finley also points this out.
Want to know what kind of experience an agent really needs? How to deal with people. That’s what the top agents do best (besides having the best riders), they handle people extremely well. Agents can find themselves in some sticky situations--owners and trainers upset about a ride, a cancelled call (‘getting spun’ in racetrack lingo), a missed workout appointment, etc. and they must expertly extinguish four alarm fires without leaving behind water damage. In other words, at any racetrack there’s a limited number of owners and trainers that win most of the races, a top agent must always keep himself and his rider in their good graces.
Veteran trainer Jerry Fanning once explained emphatically to a jock agent that he was “…nothing more than a pimp for little boys.” He continued, “You get the condition book for free and then you steal a pencil from the racing office and you’re in business.”
The abuse was silently tolerated. Fanning, who’s a good guy, may have been half-kidding. Then again, he could have been upset about a bad ride, a cancelled call or a box of stale donuts delivered to the barn. Difficult to tell and it didn’t matter. Agents handle people. Trainers and jockeys handle horses.
Sometimes a trainer will guide an inexperienced agent and help him to learn the ropes of the game. The late conditioner Dick Mulhall did so for yours truly once during the Pomona Fair. At the time, we were booking mounts for perennial leading rider Ron Hansen and the jock’s services were in high demand. Mulhall wanted to book Ron in a certain race and the agent attempted to stall the trainer, “I’ve got one in there. Can I get back to you?”
Mulhall was a cagey dude and immediately smelled the stall. “Look, you stupid son-of-a-bitch, ride this horse. He’ll win.”
A ‘call’ was given. The horse won. Easily, too. No ‘hands-on horse experience’ necessary.
Finley’s larger point is that the sport is not welcoming enough to those attempting to breech its inner circle. That may be true, but this case seems more about a misguided rule that needs to be changed than anything else. One doesn’t need hands-on experience under the hood of an automobile to qualify for a driver’s license. A few tests ought to be enough to keep incompetents out. Although, if you’ve been on the road recently, it seems some have escaped detection.
Meanwhile, while we await a New York Gaming Commission rule adjustment, below is one man’s opinion of how the Saturday Los Alamitos Late Pick 4 might unfold.
LOS ALAMITOS TB // RACE 6 (5:58PM ET) // CLAIMING // 5 1/2 FURLONGS (DIRT)
As stated, this is a difficult and deep Pick 4 sequence. Would be great to single here and spread appropriately elsewhere.
#7 Sadie Bluegrass is all racehorse. She’s won 6 of 9 overall and 4 of 7 at the distance. She’s got enough speed to stalk outside or to take the lead. She gets 7 pounds of weight off with hot apprentice Alexis Centeno. One could question why owners are willing to dismiss this one for a $12,5 tag but that’s how one wins races: by running them where they belong. Why trainer Jonathan Wong has another entered in this race against his probable 1-5 shot is a valid question. Bottom line: by late afternoon Saturday, this filly ought to have visited the Los Alamitos winner’s circle just before bedding down in a new shedrow.
LOS ALAMITOS TB // RACE 7 (6:28PM ET) // OPTIONAL CLAIMING // 1 MILE (DIRT)
See this as a 3-horse affair and that’s good because we’ll need to save ammunition for later. Important to be correct here to advance while keeping the ticket price down.
#1 Paid Informant has a few races that fit well at this level. She’s been close at the level at Santa Anita and Del Mar. She should be close to the pace and be difficult to beat.
#5 Lucky Peridot is a 4-year-old filly that hails from the strong Peter Miller barn. She’s won just 2 of 17 lifetime starts but they both came at Los Alamitos at this distance. She has races that fit in here. She’s raced 12 times on turf with 0 wins but is 2-4 on fast dirt. Reasons to like this one.
#8 Miss Megan likely will head to the front directly from this 8 of 10 post position. Apprentice jockey Jess Pyfer takes over on this filly who set the pace in the 7-furlong state-bred Betty Grable last out. Can this duo get a mile at Los Alamitos? That’s really the question you’ll either pay or get paid to answer. She’s never raced for a tag in 9 starts, usually a sign that she’s shown some promise.
LOS ALAMITOS TB // RACE 8 (6:58PM ET) // SOVIET PROBLEM S. // 1 MILE (DIRT)
Cal-bred 2-year-old fillies gather for this one-mile stakes race. As is usual with 2-year-olds stretching out, many of them for the first time, there should be plenty of speed. Also, some of these are moving turf or synthetic to dirt, so there’s that. We’ll attempt to sort through the field to find the correct combo of early fliers and closers. It won’t be simple.
#1 Mucha Woman has speed and figures to use it from the rail. Her issue appears to be hanging on late and that long Los Al stretch run might be her downfall.
#3 Dylan’s Wild Cat has improved Beyer Speed Ratings in all 3 starts, including a head runnerup finish in the Golden State Juvenile, a common race to many of these. This daughter of Ministers Wild Cat had some trouble early in the race. She is trained by veteran Neil French and will be ridden by top SoCal pilot Flavien Prat. It should be noted that Prat has not had a successful Los Alamitos meeting thus far.
#4 Governor Goteven has speed and was a mere neck back in fourth in the common Golden State Juvenile last out. She is stretching out to a mile and will be turning the heat up early for trainer Walther Solis and jockey T. J. Pereira.
#6 Sensible Cat was fractious and off slow in a poor debut before closing like a rocket in a one-mile state-bred maiden turf race. That style will work well in here if she can transfer that grass form to the dirt and act with better. She’s got upside.
#8 Westward Breeze, like #6 Sensible Cat goes for trainer Carla Gaines. This one gets Umberto Rispoli (24% with Gaines) to ride. She won her only start, a state-bred maiden race at five and one-half furlongs on turf. She absolutely exploded in the stretch that afternoon. Can she muster that kind of late kick around two turns on dirt? Questions abound.
#10 I’m So Anna is a bit the proven commodity in here with a runner-up finish at the distance on a synthetic surface at Golden Gate and a win over the Los Al track. He has 2 wins, 2 seconds and a third in 5 career tries, including a stakes win in the Pikes Place Dancer Stakes at Golden Gate on turf last out.
LOS ALAMITOS TB // RACE 9 (7:28PM ET) // CLAIMING // 1 MILE (DIRT)
No base on balls in here with this group of 10 (2 also eligible) going one mile. These are runners that haven’t won a race for over an $8,000 tag since September 25 and a ‘spread’ seems the appropriate response.
#1 Six Point Rack won for a $16k tag at Pleasanton in July but hasn’t been close since against mostly better. Flavian Prat rides here and that’s nearly enough to give this guy a second glance, although Prat hasn’t been on fire at Los Alamitos this season. This gelding may fit at this level but his last out at Golden Gate doesn’t inspire confidence.
#2 Maxinamillion gets Tyler Base and should show speed from an inside post. He’s been in the money in his last 7 starts at Golden Gate and Pleasanton. In 6 of those he was either first or second and last won for $8k in August at the ‘Gate. He’s 11 for 13 in the money at the distance. Pretty solid performer.
#3 Blame It On Kitty is just 2 for 22 lifetime and hasn’t run well in his last 3 starts. Before being dumped for $12,5 two back at Santa Anita, he had some ability. Questions abound.
#5 Will Dancer adds intrigue to this race because the 4-year-old hails from the under-the-radar sharp Eddie Truman barn and has had 3 consecutive increasingly rapid three-quarter mile works at Santa Anita. Very unusual for a trainer to work a $10k claimer that often at that distance. Usually, efforts from such runners are saved for the afternoon. Two back was a good one over this track. Pay attention.
#6 Little No Way is a 6-year-old with just 3 wins in 25 starts, so it’s tough to justify asking this one to win. However, his recent form is ok, and he won his last race for $8k at Del Mar going one mile.
#7 Punaluu is a 4-year-old with just 4 wins in 21 starts. He has 8 runner-up efforts and 2 show placings. He’s never been this distance and never has raced at Los Alamitos. Mostly, he’s been at northern California venues for high-percentage trainer Isidro Tamayo. Here he starts for low-profile sharpie Rosemary Trela (4-10 this year). It should be noted that while this guy is a bit cheap, he is 1 for 14 on synthetic and 3 for 6 on dirt!
#8 Better Ring Home gets big class relief on the dropdown in here. He’s just 2-22 and comes off a poor race for a trainer that’s 0-17 this year. He would surprise but not completely shock.
SATURDAY LOS ALAMITOS TB LATE PICK 4 TICKET - $1 BASE
Race 6: 7
Race 7: 1, 5, 8
Race 8: 3, 6, 8, 10
Race 9: 1, 2, 5, 6, 7
Ticket Cost: $60 for $1