03/12/2010 12:00AM

Agent's job always a merry-go-round


ARCADIA, Calif. - There was a shake-up among jockeys' agents at Santa Anita the other day, when Joel Rosario, one of the circuit's leading riders, left Vic Stauffer for Ronnie Ebanks, who had been repping for Eclipse Award winner Tyler Baze.

There also was sunrise in the east and somewhere a dog bit a man, so nobody spilled any coffee when they heard the news.

Bearing in mind the words of the late jocks' agent Pete Wilson, that the only requirement for the job "is a nickel pencil - the condition book is free," no one should ever be surprised that agents tend to ebb and flow like the tide.

And despite Rosario's status among the top tier out West, Stauffer still represents the emergent young star Martin Garcia, who just won the Santa Anita Handicap aboard Misremembered. Likewise, the next agent who lands Tyler Baze should count his or her blessings.

The Rosario move was news to Harry "The Hat" Hacek, whose iconic status among jockeys' agents was earned through more than three decades with that book and nickel pencil. It has been more than three years since Hacek, 63, left the racetrack to deal with health problems, including the effects of diabetes and the relentless disease of macular degeneration.

"I still have some sight," Hacek said. "I spend a lot of time walking around Hollywood, where I live, and reading with my magnifying glass in the library. But you know, I think I see the business clearer now than ever. And I know I could handle a jock's book blind and standing on my head in a phone booth at the gap."

Hacek got his start on the racetrack mucking stalls and walking hots at the tracks in his native Chicago. He got his first taste of racing's brighter side in Florida as a driver for Saul Alinsky, the legendary Chicago community organizer and author, who also happened to be a passionate follower of the ponies.

One thing led to another, and Hacek ended up with one jock, then another, and then got pretty good at the job. Through the years, he was most closely associated with Darrel McHargue, with whom Hacek made his California debut in 1975, the same season they won the Preakness aboard Master Derby.

At this point, though, it is probably easier to list the names of the riders Harry Hacek has not represented through the years - Angel Cordero, Laffit Pincay, and Earl Sande among the few - but it is an impressive roll call that includes Alex Solis, Aaron Gryder, Eddie Delahoussaye, Garrett Gomez, Sandy Hawley, Chris Antley, Jorge Chavez, Marlon St. Julien, and Craig Perret.

With such a history, it is a fair question to ask Hacek why he couldn't hold a job . . . no disrespect intended. He laughed.

"I always said that when you came around with a bad rider, you were a pest," he said. "When you came around with a good one, you were a hard worker.

"You know, I always approached the job as kind of a hobby," Hacek went on. "I never had any trouble getting a top rider, but I don't think I respected them the way I should have. There was always a new project, and I always enjoyed getting people started.

"I never really had that killer instinct, either," Hacek added. "I loved the game and I wanted to get along with people and be honorable. That's why I always admired Vince DeGregory, because he always honored his calls. If he made a mistake, he would swallow it."

Hacek was not that surprised when he heard about the Rosario switch.

"The agent with the toughest job and the least job security is the guy with the second leading rider," Hacek said. Rosario is currently second in the Santa Anita standings to Rafael Bejarano.

"Jockeys are always told how much better they should be doing," Hacek said. "Valets, groupies, girlfriends, agents. Everybody's telling them they should be riding this horse or that horse, but in reality the agent is one on one with his jock. That's why I so admire the long-term relationships, like Scotty McClellan had with Chris McCarron and Alex Solis, and Harry Silbert had with Shoemaker. It's a hard association to maintain."

When all is said and done, Hacek may have one of the best stories about losing a jock, one that he knew he was losing before he even hit the ground. It was the winter of 1979. Hacek was in New York, booking mounts for Eddie Maple, when he got a call from Steve Cauthen out in California.

"Steve was in his infamous slump at the time, and guys like Jack Van Berg and Wayne Lukas encouraged him to call me," Hacek said. "Maple was doing fabulous, but I wanted to go back to California. So I got on the plane and sitting next to me was a fellow named Billy McDonald, who was Robert Sangster's business manager.

"We got to talking, of course, and Billy tells me that he's going to California to sign Cauthen to a contract to ride in England," Hacek continued. "Here I was, crossing the country to go to work for Cauthen, having just quit Eddie Maple. 'Wow,' I said. 'I sure wish I had known about that.' "

Hard feelings? No chance. Hacek and Cauthen won a dozen races or so, then Steve headed for England.

"I was just glad to have him as part of my resume," Hacek said.