Posts Tagged ‘ THE PREAKNESS STAKES ’

WATCHING THE PREAKNESS: A THOUGHT ABOUT COURAGE

EX-JOCKEY LEARNED THE HARD WAY

 

     Stewart I. Haupman was petting a $2,300 cockatoo when I met him several years ago at his parrot shop in Redondo Beach, California. But he wasn’t always in the exotic bird business.

     He grew up in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, a tough tenement section brimming with poverty and controlled by gangs. At the age of seven, he sold magazines and sang on weekends at Jewish weddings to help support the family

     Sharing a small two-bedroom flat in a tenement house with his parents, grandparents and a brother who had polio, he slept on a cot in the hallway.

     When he turned 14, he quit school, forged his father’s signature, and became a stable boy at the old Jamaica Race Track. A year later, he became an exercise boy at Hialeah, a track in Florida.

     It was there he got his first mount as a jockey. The third horse he raced, won! Within eight months, he had won 127 races and had become a full-fledged jockey.

     Over a period of eight years, riding for Sonny Jim Fitzsimmons, whom he described as “the dean of trainers,” he had won 832 races. “Being a jockey, that was my education. I rode and I broke yearlings for the DuPonts, the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys… “I owe a lot to those people. They taught me to be a human being. I learned to function in an area of society I never even dreamed I could be a part of.”

     As a winning jockey, the kid from Hell’s Kitchen not only rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, but found a pride within himself. “The racetrack gave me self-esteem. I had a great time. Winning a big race is an unbelievable experience.

     “You hear the crowd yelling, screaming. And You’re whipping and driving. Well, it’s exciting. You wave at the judges in the winner’s circle. There’s smiles. Applause. The track gave me the feeling of being somebody special. Like a track star.”

     During a race at Hialeah, his mount “snapped an ankle” and Steward went down in front of the pack. Trampled by six horses, he was “busted up bad” and spent nine months in the hospital, gained weight and lost that competitive edge to win.

     “To have success suddenly taken away from you — it was devastating! When you’re a kid, nobody paints you a rosy picture. Nobody tells you there’s a rose garden out there. You find it. Then, all of a sudden, it’s gone. It seems that nobody really teaches you that in life, you win a few and lose a few. You should never quit when you’re down.”

                                                               — Boots LeBaron —

 

 

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