There’s no group that’s more overlooked during the Derby party season than the short, strong men who ride the horses around the track.
That’s why I was glad to see the Galt House is organizing the inaugural Night of Silk Derby Party on Derby Night to raise money for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. They had a press conference this week, at which Pat Day spoke, and announced that the new event has some impressive sponsors, a great dance band and an auction that I bet will have better horse-related items than any other. The $375 ticket price, considering that some other parties are priced upwards of $750, is almost a bargain.
A few years ago, I was involved in the Mint Jubilee, when it was run by the University of Louisville. There was some effort in those years (2005-2007) to make the jockeys a part of the Friday night event. All were invited, and many with Derby mounts went through the effort to get fitted for tuxes (I went with a group to Sam Meyer’s to get them) and were honored at the party. One year, they even invited every living Derby winning jockey to the Jubilee, and honored them all on stage. It was an impressive gathering.
In 2006, there was a program I helped set up in which we tried to raise money for the PDJF in which Derby jockeys would wear a special patch on their pants. This was controversial at the time, and I took a seamstress with me up to the jocks’ room on Derby Day to put the patches on. And any thought I had that being a jockey was glamorous quickly vanished. I’ve seen high school gyms with better facilities, and the jocks spends a lot of time focused on their weight — sitting in the hot box, figuring out what to eat and waiting. And only a handful of the best riders make a decent living.
But rather than giving the jockeys the star treatment they deserved, the focus of the party was always on faux celebrities, like reality show stars. Rueben Stoddard was a bigger deal than Calvin Borel. Some of the money raised at the party was supposed to go to the Jockeys’ group, and the jockeys offered up some cool memorabilia for the auction.
The Jockeys Guild, which at the time was going through a management scandal, and the Mint Jubilee organizers eventually decided to go their separate ways. So the jockeys group had no Derby-related event at which it could raise money to help these men who had lost their opportunity to make a living because they’d fallen off a horse.
So now I’m pulling for the Night of Silk party to be a big win-win for the jockeys. They certainly deserve it.