October 14, 2009

Wise Times with Chris DeCarlo

Do you remember what you were doing that Summer when you were 17 years old? Personally, I was an immature kid who thought I knew a lot more than I actually did. Yours truly was finishing my last year at Summer Camp, and preparing for my senior year of high school. How did I prepare for my senior year, you ask? By going to Monmouth or Belmont as much as possible, of course. Chris DeCarlo, on the other hand, had recently finished his first full year as a professional jockey. Chris had been destined to be a jockey from a very young age in large part due to his lifetime friendship with family friend and Hall of Fame rider, Angel Cordero. He is a few months older than me (sorry Chris), but in the Summer of ‘86, we were both 17 and Jersey kids who loved the horses.

That Summer I had my eye on a 3-year-old son of Mr. Leader. Wise Times was a horse who had shown flashes of great potential, but had not put it all together in any sort of consistent manner. He had won the Lexington Stakes impressively at Keeneland, but then finished a well beaten 9th in the Kentucky Derby. He followed that up with two 2nd place finishes in allowance races at Belmont. I felt those defeats were deceptively good, as they were open races against older horses early in the Summer, but with a record of 3 wins from 12 races, he wasn’t on anyone’s short list of top three-year-olds. His young English trainer, Phil Gleaves, brought him to the Jersey Shore in hopes of getting him back into stakes caliber form. Gleaves enlisted a good, but young, rider to work him in the mornings. Enter Christopher DeCarlo.

Chris and Wise Times got along together well and when it was time for his first race at Monmouth, he got the mount. An allowance race devoid of much talent, Wise Times and his teenage rider outclassed the field. I saw the race and I was quite impressed with the rallying horse blowing them away on the normally speed favoring strip. It was a win impressive enough to get Wise Times into the big race at Monmouth, the Haskell. When Haskell Day arrived, I was excited to see what this horse could do. It is not often that in a huge race, the horse I really like best is a double-digit longshot. I brazenly touted him to friends and family. Small potatoes compared to what Chris DeCarlo was about to do. Chris liked Wise Time a great deal, but he was not overly confident against this stellar field and on a track that was playing kind to early speed. Help arrived as the heavens opened a few races before the Haskell and the rain effectively took the edge off the speed bias. It was all Wise Times needed, storming down the lane at odds of 11-1, he easily defeated such stalwarts as Danzig Connection, Broad Brush, and Personal Flag. Chris had won the Haskell, his home state’s biggest race at 17. We both felt like wise guys in our own way.

Wise Times would have two more days in the sun, winning the Travers and Super Derby before badly going off form. Just weeks after the victory, which is still the biggest of his career, Chris DeCarlo felt the sting of the incredible lows that can accompany the thrilling highs of racing. A few days before he was to ride the Travers winner, he was injured riding for Allen Jerkens at Monmouth, breaking his wrist and finger. He lost the opportunity for two more enormous victories on the horse that he helped turn the corner to stardom. 23 years later and he still calls New Jersey home. His riding career since, has been one of a journeyman, but a successful one at that. For the past several years he has prospered being a consistently used rider by the powerful Todd Pletcher stable, winning countless stakes around the country. Unfortunately, this year has seen Chris catch a bit of the old seconditis. When I asked Chris if all these narrow misses get him down, he said “No way, they just make me mad.”

He has grown up a lot since that day in 1986, we both have. Back then we were a couple of New Jersey kids on opposite sides of the rail who thought we were hot stuff when Wise Times won the Haskell. Today we are a couple of 40-year-old family men who still love the horses. I am proud to call Christopher DeCarlo a friend. Wise Times indeed.


Anonymous said...

Both of you sound like people I wish I knew back then. So glad to have become part of this network and happy to know Chris now. Thank you ZATT!

LDP said...

Very cool! Nice job Brian.

Heather said...

very cool, indeed!!! :)

LDP said...

Wow Brian, Love the new template.