Braulio Baeza
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Braulio Baeza arrived in the U.S. in March of 1960. Mr.Fred Hooper, the man who held Braulio’s contract and sponsored his immigration, immediately put him to work at Keeneland in the mornings exercising horses. On opening day of Keeneland, 1960, Braulio won the first race on the card on his first mount in the U.S. on a filly named, ironically, Foolish Youth (that which Braulio had obviously bypassed). He rode three horses that day and won on two of them.His biggest win that first year was the Washington Park Futurity at Arlington on a 2-year-old colt named Crozier. In early 1961, Braulio picked up the mount on Jacob Sher’s Sherluck when Eddie Arcaro decided to ride another horse in the Bluegrass Stakes, the prep for the Kentucky Derby.Even though Braulio was only Click here to view photos  

supposed to ride for Mr. Hooper under the terms of his contract, Mr. Hooper occasionally allowed Braulio to ride for other trainers; in the case of Sherluck, the trainer was Harold Young. Sherluck won the Bluegrass Stakes under Braulio and Eddie Arcaro suddenly decided he wanted the mount back on Sherluck in the Kentucky Derby. Braulio rode Crozier in the Kentucky Derby for Mr. Hooper and finished second to Carry Back, ridden by Johnny Sellers. Sherluck was no where in sight. Carry Back then won the Preakness. Crozier finished third. Sherluck finished nowhere. Eddie Arcaro didn’t want to ride Sherluck anymore and went in search of a different mount. As Crozier was not running in the Belmont, this situation freed Braulio from his contractual duties with Mr. Hooper and he picked up the mount again on Sherluck for Mr. Young. And the rest, as they say . . .

The first time Braulio ever rode in the Belmont Stakes, he won it on Sherluck at 65-1 and paid a record $132.00. After the race, President Eisenhower made the presentation giving Braulio Baeza one of the great thrills of his life. Surprising Braulio, Mr. Eisenhower spoke to the young Panamanian in his native Spanish tongue. It turned out that the ex-president had spent time in Panama building the Canal and, in the meantime, had learned to speak Spanish. America, what a country.
Life in the U.S. was not all congratulations and hoopla for Braulio Baeza at this time. He was lonely. His wife Carmen, and their new baby daughter, was still in Miami waiting for the word to move up North. He had no one to speak with at night in his hotel rooms and trailers, so he watched hours and hours of television. Quiz shows, Jack Benny, the Honeymooners, and I Love Lucy were some of his best English classrooms. On the track was no easier, even though he will tell you everyone was nice to him. Many of the other riders resented a little punk kid coming in from Panama and taking their best horses away from them. It was very useful that Braulio had learned to ride in Panama, which, by the way, is also where Manuel Ycaza had learned to ride. (The famous Panamanian Jockey School was not in existence when these two took up their trade.) Braulio knew how to protect himself in a race and also to give as good as he got. One leading rider kept calling him, “Kid, kid, hey, kid” and trying to intimidate him in a race every chance he got. One race, Braulio had this leading rider in tight quarters on the rail and wouldn’t let him out. The leading rider was crying, “Braulio! Braulio!” After that day, the other riders in the jockey’s room backed off the new Hispanic kid and were more tolerant and respectful.
Very soon, Braulio learned how to speak and understand more in English than just, “Yes.”
In 1963, he rode Darby Dan Farm’s Chateaugay to victory in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont for J.P. Conway. He finished second in the Preakness. Two days before the Preakness, Chateaugay ran off with the exercise boy for two miles at full speed. On race day, Braulio found the colt to be a bit sluggish, but still managed to get the horse to finish second.
The years of ‘64 and ‘65 are when Braulio really took off and began consistently riding the better horses. In 1964, Bold Lad won the honors for best two-year-old colt and Queen Empress, the best two-year-old filly. In 1965, a lanky, slightly cantankerous bay colt came along in the form of a horse named Buckpasser, trained by Eddie Neloy for Mr. Ogden Phipps. Buckpasser won Champion two-year-old colt and best two-year-old overall. Roman Brother won the title for Horse of the Year in 1965. Moccasin was chosen Champion two-year-old filly. Alas, Graustark, the best horse Braulio ever rode and affectionately calls, “The Machine” made his regrettably brief appearance that year as well.
The year 1965 also brought other changes to our little, skinny kid from Panama. First of all, he was no longer a little, skinny kid. Skinny, yes. From Panama, yes--but no longer wet behind the ears. He was now 25 years old. His English had improved enough to know that when he told his agent, Camillo Marin, something in Spanish, Camillo would not always translate it correctly into English for the other people. He also began to scrutinize his contract with Mr. Hooper. Previously when the contract negotiations would come up every year, Braulio would blindly sign whatever was put in front of him. Now, in 1965, he began asking questions. He asked Mr. Hooper if he could move his tack to New York for the Spring and Summer meets. Mr. Hooper agreed. Braulio thus made all the arrangements to move into New York. He lined up his clients and an apartment for his family in New York. However, when the meet at Hialeah ended and Braulio prepared to journey to New York, Mr. Hooper put his rather large foot down and refused to let Braulio go to New York. Mr. Hooper had changed his mind and wanted Braulio to come to Keeneland and Churchill with him. Now it was Braulio’s turn to refuse.
Braulio disobeyed and went to New York anyway. In the words on the Statue of Liberty: he was yearning to be free. Mr. Hooper slapped an injunction on him which stopped him from riding and Braulio missed many important races that Spring. He did, however, make a very important association with a new agent, Lenny Goodman.
Mr. Hooper finally had his day in court and Braulio was ordered to buy his contract back from Mr. Hooper for $100,000. (We’re talking 1965 here, folks.) With money of his own and that borrowed from friends, Braulio did just that and began riding as a free contractor. And the rest, as they say . . .
In 1966, Buckpasser won 13 races in a row with Braulio, thus clinching the Horse of the Year honors. Among the list of victories with Buckpasser was the Travers Stakes, which Braulio won for the first time that year. He also rode Successor, Lady Pitt, Open Fire, and Assagai--all Champions in 1966. Beginning in 1965, Braulio made the list as the leading money-earning jockey in the nation four years in a row.
The remainder of the 60s are riddled with Champions such as Vitriolic, Queen of the Stage, What a Pleasure, Gallant Bloom, Dr. Fager, Arts and Letters and Hawaii, among others.
Champion horses of the 70’s include Reviewer, Numbered Account, Key to the Mint, Ack Ack, Shuvee, Susan’s Girl, Optimistic Gal, Talking Picture, Foolish Pleasure, Honest Pleasure, Dearly Precious and Wajima.
In August of 1972, Braulio made the trip to England in order to ride a horse named Roberto in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at York. Lester Piggott was the usual rider but he opted to ride another horse in the race and Roberto’s owner, Mr. Galbreath of Darby Dan Farm, who also owned the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club, called on Braulio to take the mount. Roberto was named after the great baseball player, Roberto Clemente.
Braulio accepted the offer and traveled to England a few days in advance so he could get on Roberto before the race and to acclimate himself to the new time zone. After galloping Roberto across the English countryside the morning of the race, Braulio told Mr. Vincent O’Brien, the trainer, that Brigadier Gerard had better be a pretty good horse if he was to beat Roberto on this day.
Brigadier Gerard was the English powerhouse that year. He was unbeaten and not expected to lose this race either.
After taking Roberto to the front early on, the team of Roberto and Braulio went unchallenged for most of the race. Roberto was simply just galloping along at his own leisure. The rest of the field, made up completely of English riders, took their horses off Roberto’s pace and didn’t move until the half-mile pole. Braulio saw the rest of the pack advancing toward him around the 5/16 and waited patiently. Brigadier Gerard, the Champ, tried to catch them in the stretch but to no avail. Braulio turned on the steam and that was that.On his way back to the unsaddling enclosure, Braulio tipped his helmet to the Queen of England herself, who waved at him in appreciation of a job well done. Who’d’ve thought a skinny, little kid from Panama . . .
Braulio won his first official Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey in 1972, the first year they were instituted. He won his second Eclipse as outstanding jockey in 1975. East-West Stable’s Wajima, trained by Steve DiMauro, was the colt which was purchased for a record $600,000 in 1973. He lived up to the hype, winning Champion three-year-old colt and the Travers, among other notable races. He was deemed too valuable to keep racing and was retired to stud early in his racing career.
In 1973 and 1974, Braulio’s battles with his weight began to be problematic. He was not able to ride as many horses because he could not make the weight. Several times he considered retiring but then another good horse would come along and this would give him incentive to continue battling his weight.
Late in 1974, Braulio found a nutritionist that helped him with his weight issues and he was in control of his weight once again.
In 1975, Braulio rode Foolish Pleasure in the Great Match Race against the ill-fated Ruffian. The strategy planned for the race against the filly was easy. In all her prior victories, Ruffian had never been seriously challenged right out of the gate. Leroy Jolley, the trainer, and Braulio planned to press Ruffian from the get-go. Jacinto Vasquez was aboard Ruffian and when Foolish Pleasure and Braulio came out of the gate, Jacinto stepped on the gas and went with the colt, head-to-head. Mid-way down the backside, there was a sharp crack, like wood snapping. All of a sudden Ruffian disappeared from beside Foolish Pleasure. Braulio yelled, “Hold on!” to Jacinto. There was nothing to be done at that point but to finish the race and so Braulio galloped his colt across the wire. It was the most bitter of his victories. Ruffian and Jacinto did not go down, but her leg had been broken and she had to be destroyed after surgery could not repair it.
In Summer of 1976, at the height of the Saratoga meet, Braulio woke one morning to discover that after having jogged in his plastic suit and reduced the night before, he still had 8 pounds to lose before the start of the race day. He called the Clerk of Scales and told him that he was going to ride no longer.
Thus ended the riding career of one of the finest jockeys who ever lived. He was pure poetry on a horse: efficient, elegant and always spectacularly in rhythm with the horse. He won a total of 3140 races in the United States and another 873 in his native Panama for a total of 4013 lifetime wins.
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