Horse Track Blog
By John Day
FOREST HILLS, NY--One unusual aspect of New York City living is the fact that you can live next door or across the hall from a person and not even know their last name. There are over 400 units in the building in which we live and I couldn't cite four last names of people living here.
The sad part is that we've lived here for 18 years.
A woman who commutes with my wife and me from Queens into Manhattan either overheard us talking about horses or we may have been in the throes of a pre-Derby frenzy and she couldn't have helped but notice.
One day, she casually asked, "Have you ever heard of a former jockey named Manny Ycaza?"
The shock on my face must have shown. I was barely able to stammer, "Dr. Fager."
"Who?" she asked. "I don't know anybody named Dr. Fager, but there's a guy who lives on my floor who says that he is a former jockey. I saw the inside of his apartment once and there were lots of trophies all over the place so I guess he really was a jockey."
Yes, Manny Ycaza most definitely was a jockey. Some say that he is the pioneer of the "Latin Invasion" of jockeys that resonates to this day.
Below is a link to Dr. Fager's past performances from Horseracing Nation that gives the astonishing record of one of the great horses that ever looked through a bridle.
Beginning in his third race on September 10th, 1966, Ycaza got a leg up on Dr. Fager in the World's Playground Stakes from Atlantic City and romped home in front when he ran seven furlongs in 123.2. Curiously, when one clicks on the details of the race the Horseracing Nation site lists Braulio Baeza as the jockey in the race. That's one problem with archival sources of sports information--each year, fewer and fewer people are around who can confirm such details.
According to the site, Bill Shoemaker replaced Ycaza for the Doctor's next two races (the Cowdin and the Champagne) and when Dr. Fager suffered his first career defeat in the Champagne, trainer John Nerud put Ycaza back on the horse for the Gotham and he beat the immortal Damascus, getting the mile in 136.2.
Nerud then did two curious things, although one of them may have had its roots firmly and bitterly planted in the dirt of the stretch run for the 1957 Kentucky Derby. In the '57 Derby, Nerud's Gallant Man lost the race by a nose when Shoemaker infamously misjudged the finish line, allowing Iron Liege to nip his colt once Shoe sat back down in a duel to the wire.
Reportedly, Nerud siddled up to bar, ordered a tall drink, threw it back and proceeded to "cry like a baby."
Nerud's first unconventional decision was to skip the Derby with Dr. Fager. It doesn't appear that the trainer thought that his colt had distance limitations since Dr. Fager won three times at the Derby's 1-1/4-mile distance. Perhaps Gallant Man's heartbreaking Derby loss soured Nerud on running at Churchill Downs.
Secondly, Nerud ran Dr. Fager in the Withers at Aqueduct and replaced Ycaza with Baeza. If a jockey has ridden a colt twice and won twice, why would the trainer opt to replace the jockey?
Dr. Fager and Baez won the Withers on May 13th and Nerud then once again gave Ycaza a leg up for this third, and final, ride aboard a colt that would go on to become the only horse to win four championships in one season. In 1968, Dr. Fager was named top Sprinter, Turf, Handicap and Horse of the Year. Ycaza guided Dr. Fager to a win in the 1-1/8-mile Jersey Derby, finishing up in 1:48.
Perhaps Nerud saw something in the relationship that Baez had with Dr. Fager because they teamed up for all but one race for the rest of the colt's career. That included a mindboggling world record 1:32.2 mile at Arlington Park in the Washington Park Handicap.
So, a neighbor of mine rode the great Dr. Fager. I need to stop him in the lobby one day and hear a few horseracing tales.
Our friend who lives near Ycaza explained to us, "To me, he's just Manny. He still tells me that he could ride tomorrow if they put him on a horse. The guy used to be married to Miss Universe and he's still got a body on him at his age."