When his right rein broke in the fourth race last Saturday at Turfway Park, apprentice jockey Cory Orm's only thought was how was he going to get out of this mess unscathed? The reins are what a jockey uses to control a horse and without them they are all but helpless when it comes to steering the animal around the track. But Orm worked his way out of danger and into the winner's circle, piecing together a riding performance that his mentor Chris McCarron called an "amazing feat of courage, determination and athleticism."
My thoughts were to stay calm, keep the horse straight and stay out of everybody's way. I didn't think I had a shot to win at all.
”-- Apprentice Jockey Cory Orm
In what was supposed to be a non-eventful one-mile, $5,000 claimer, Orm's mount Elliday and the rest of the field headed around the first turn when the right rein broke. It was something few, including the track announcer and trainer Billy Allen, even noticed. But such an incident can result in calamity.
"When it first happened, I was thinking, 'What am I going to do?'" Orm said. "My thoughts were to stay calm, keep the horse straight and stay out of everybody's way. I didn't think I had a shot to win at all."
Orm reached up and grabbed the throatlatch on the mare's bridle on the right side to try to control her. He was lucky that his mount seemed perfectly happy to continue to run around the track in a straight path.
"She was very cooperative," Orm said "She didn't give me any trouble. So far as our being able to win the race, the horse definitely deserves the credit."
He was also fortunate that it was the right and not the left rein that broke. Still having his left rein, he had some control of the horse when trying to get her to negotiate the turns.
As the race progressed, Orm's situation continued to brighten. Not only was he able to control his mount, but she had stayed within striking position.
"At the top of the lane, we're fourth and she's ready to run," he said. "My instincts took over and I started riding."
Elliday was still eight lengths back at the eighth pole, but a relentless late run got her to the wire first.
"I called two jockey agents who worked for me," McCarron said "One has been an agent for 51 years and the other for 38. Both said they have never seen nor heard of a rider ride around the track with one rein and win the race."
Orm, 21, is a graduate of McCarron's North American Racing Academy, a school for aspiring jockeys where the students learn all aspects of the racing game. Though there's nothing McCarron or anyone else can do to prepare a jockey how to deal with a broken rein, Orm must have learned to stay calm under pressure.
"I have to give Chris a lot of credit," Orm said "He teaches you how to think during a race."
That Orm is now being credited with one of the gutsiest rides of the year is hardly something someone could have expected based on his start as a jockey. The Louisville native lost with his first 52 mounts before winning last Thursday's first race at Turfway aboard a 66-1 shot named Lexi's Ready.
"I've been riding for a while and I always want to win every race," he said "You go a while without winning one and you start to doubt things a bit."
He got some attention from the win aboard the 66-1 shot and even more for his ride on Elliday. On Sunday, he won for the third time in his career and for the third time in four days.
"I definitely think things are looking up," he said. "I've got a lot of mounts in the week ahead. There are a couple of trainers I've been galloping horses for in the morning and now this has opened their eyes. I think they're thinking, 'Wow, this kid can do this.'"
The Iron Horse
Randi Persaud isn't someone who comes to mind when you think of the sport's top trainers, but the New York-based horseman has done a terrific job with a horse named More Than A Reason, who has earned $477,720 in his career. Persaud's secret? He believes in actually running his horses, a radical theory in this day and age when most trainers can't keep their horses in the barn enough.
Persaud claimed More Than A Reason for $15,000 for owner Anthony Calabrese on Nov. 8, 2008. For that amount of money, he bought a horse with modest talents. But run a horse with modest talents enough and good things will happen.
Since that race just more than two years ago, More Than A Reason has run 44 times, including 24 starts in 2009. He doesn't win often, but he doesn't miss many dances. And last Saturday, he won the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap at Aqueduct, earning $60,000.
"I baby him," Persaud said. "He's my best horse. I don't train him hard. I just run him."
And run him and run him.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at email@example.com.