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Gryder the Rider & Del Mar Late Pick 4 Play

by Johnny D

November 20, 2020

Jockey Aaron Gryder recently bid ‘adios’ to travelling around in circles on the backs of horses. He says ‘it’s time.’ His decision. Unlike other professional athletes, jockeys aren’t ‘released’ by a team. Unclaimed on waivers. Victims of expired contracts. No one in particular informs jockeys when it’s time to hang up tack. They’re independent contractors…kind of…hired out afternoons, like limos or bicycles. Ultimately, when fewer and fewer people are willing to enlist you for a ride around the city or the park, that’s when you know it’s time to call it quits. Gryder, thankfully, stops a bit short of that day.

The life of a jockey is challenging in so many ways. For example, how’d you’d like to have to stand on a scale every day before work and have your weight then announced to the world? Gryder is 5’ 6” and that’s on the tall side for a jockey. He learned more a lifestyle and less a diet to cope but still knew how to ‘pull’ a few pounds on race days by jogging uphill in a sweat suit or by doing yoga, boxing or Pilates, he told Channel Guide Magazine in 2009.

And then there’s the danger. Jockeys can’t think about that and perform well. But the threat’s still there, lingering in the air like the faint smell of burnt rubber. Gryder’s fortunate. 50-years-old and joints moving pretty well, thank you, because…and now that he’s retired it can be said out loud…he’s been lucky to avoid serious injury. No knock on wood required. Why push the envelope?

Gryder’s tale is interesting. Born in West Covina, Ca, he first attended the races at Santa Anita with grandparents when he was less than half a decade old and spent time on the monkey bars in the track’s infield playground. He remembers immediately being attracted to the sport. At 13, an age when some coddled kids are met by parents while disembarking school busses on cul de sacs, Gryder moved to live, work and learn at former jockey Rudy Campas’ farm.

Campas was a perfect teacher. An affable 26-year riding veteran, retired from the saddle just two years before the fortuitous meeting with the youngster one morning at Santa Anita, Campas had been a Southern California fan favorite. He was short, even for a jockey, and round, built like a bowling ball. One afternoon, toward the end of his journeyman career, Rudy had failed to win on an odds-on choice around the bullring at the Pomona Fair. During the stretch-long walk back to the jockey’s room in front of the grandstand and apron he was heckled mercilessly. Inside, he complained loudly in his signature nasal tone, “Why the hell are they yelling at me? They should boo the filly. She’s the one that didn’t try.”

From across the room, the mercurial and often fined perennial Pomona riding champ Paco Mena offered advice, “Hey, Rudy, do what I do. Give them the finger. It costs you money, but you feel better.”

Campas and farm life taught Gryder what he needed to know and more. He didn’t just learn to ride; he earned a degree in horsemanship. Up and at ‘em at 4 a.m., taking care of the horses, Gryder learned about equines from the ground up and those lessons were invaluable when finally paid to partner on their backs.

Always a polite ‘yes, sir,’ ‘yes, ma’am’ kind of teenager, Gryder found early success riding races as an apprentice at Aqua Caliente in Tijuana, Mexico. It was a development path apprentice Corey Nakatani soon also followed to Hall of Fame consideration success. Naturally, the gringo winning ‘all the races’ south of the border attracted attention and Gryder was recruited to join exclusive riding ranks at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar that included Hall of Fame riders like Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Eddie Delahoussaye, Chris McCarron, Sandy Hawley and more.

This writer was a member of the 1987 Santa Anita publicity staff when a young Aaron Gryder won, perhaps, the most memorable race of his career—a maiden event aboard a filly named Tom’s Sweetie. Never heard of her? No surprise. She didn’t do much other than to provide a young jockey with a Hallmark moment.

The morning before Tom’s Sweetie won at Santa Anita, Gryder’s father, who had been visiting SoCal to watch him ride, was about to drive back home to Sacramento. He noticed Aaron also leaving the house at the same time. He backed up his car, got out and spoke to his boy. “I love you, son. Go win a race for me tomorrow.”

That evening the 42-year-old father suffered a heart attack and died in a fatal car accident. Understandably, the teenage jockey was shattered by the loss of his loving dad but went to the track the next afternoon because a winning ride was the last thing his father had requested.

At that point this writer pretty much knew the kid would be a success. And he has been on and off the track. Here’s wishing he finds another foothold in this game/sport/business where he can share his experiences and his character. You have to admit, we can use the help.

Below is one man's opinion regarding Del Mar's Saturday Late Pick 4 sequence: 



Late Pick 4 kicks off with an interesting 2-year-old Maiden Special Weight sprint at six and one-half furlongs.

  • #3 A Real Hero is a first-time starter that hails from the hot (3-5 at Del Mar) Michael McCarthy stable and has been working every seven days. He attracts the capable Umberto Rispoli to ride. Check workout reports for more ‘yeahs’ or ‘nays.’
  • #5 Empire House has a nice series of Golden Gate works for trainer Jonathan Wong. The trainer’s solid with first-time starters up north but hasn’t established a mark in the south, yet.
  • #6 Exotic West is a first timer from the Bob Baffert barn. Need any more info? Ok. He’s got a few Santa Anita works that are interesting, including a 1:00 from the gate and a 1:14 also from the gate. He blew out in 47 from the gate in his last prep for this. He’s the 9/5 morning-line favorite.
  • #7 Peachtree Road makes her second start for Richard Mandella and jockey Mike Smith. The outside post helps this filly that showed some run before folding in a five and one-half furlong debut in August behind the talented Princess Noor. Expect better this time.



Five panels sprinting on the turf always is a challenging affair. This is a turf test in which nearly every starter has a poor turf record. One exception is #8 Caerulean.

  • #2 Hartel attracts Prat for Peter Miller—they bat 30% overall. Can’t sail the Pick 4 ship without this runner. Hartel hasn’t raced in about a year—so there’s that--but he departed competition showing a mid-pack running style and some fast figures.
  • #5 Combat Zone had trouble in his last race and usually can be counted on for an in-the-money performance at a decent price. He’s just 1 for 17 lifetime but has been in the money better than 50% of the time. He’ll be running late.
  • #8 Caerulean has speed and is dropping in for a tag for the first time out of state-bred maiden allowance races. The outside box is a plus as this one figures to show speed in an attempt to wire the field. There’s not a great deal of other speed signed on.



Seems like there’s plenty of pace in this six and one-half furlong event, so we’ll look for something from off the pace.

  • #2 Chipper always takes money and will again with jockey Flavien Prat for trainer Mark Glatt. Together they bat about 20% overall. The 3-year-old gelding has a nice even style of running that should work well in here.
  • #3 Brace for Impact is the 5/2 morning-line favorite with 4 seconds out of 6 tries. He’s got speed in a race that seems to have plenty of that commodity. May be worth taking a stand against him.
  • #4 Lil Richards Bello has failed as favorite the last 2 times out—second in both races on the main track. His only turf try wasn’t awful. He’s second choice on the morning line at 3-1.
  • #7 Square Root starts for Doug O’Neill and Reddam Racing with jockey Mario Gutierrez. Blinkers were added last out going one mile on turf for a speed and fade performance. First out also was on turf. Switch to the main track for this and we could see a wake-up performance.


RACE 9 (7:24PM ET) // CLAIMING // 1 1/16 MILES (TURF) 

Pretty wide-open finale to close out the Saturday Late Pick 4. Here are a few suggested ways to go but you might also want to add something we’ve missed.

  • #1 Justin’s Quest could ride the rail to an exotics finish. He’s got 5 seconds from 12 starts, so he’s comfortable in the exacta. This is his first try on turf.
  • #4 Worthy Turk was second at the level last out, races for the always hot Peter Miller barn, has won 2 of 6 over Del Mar turf, and has not been worse than third in as many tries at the distance. All good stuff.
  • #7 Contagion gets a 7-pound weight break with apprentice Alexis Centeno. Toss his last when he broke from 11 of 12 going a mile on grass. He’s 1-3 on turf at Del Mar. Another with an outside exotic look.
  • #8 French Getaway fits in here, likes Del Mar turf (2-6) and the distance (2-3). He was second at about this level last out and a close third three back. Stuff to want on your side.
  • #11 Mithqaal is on the Also-Eligible list at this writing but would have to be considered if drawing in. The post is no bargain, but the 7-year-old has a win in four tries over Del Mar turf and has been no worse than third in four starts at the distance. Trainer Jonathan Wong hasn’t sparkled at Del Mar yet this fall, but he’s batting 27% overall and must be respected.



  • Race 6: 3, 5, 6, 7
  • Race 7: 2, 8
  • Race 8: 2, 4, 7
  • Race 9: 4, 7, 8, 11


Race On!