08/15/2012 2:06PM

Arlington: Fires, Cooksey among five retired riders in Legends race

Barbara D. Livingston
Patti Cooksey is one of five retired jockeys competing in The Legends race on the Million eve program.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Years back, this kind of race might have been an exhibition. But for the third straight year, Arlington Park will host a parimutuel race pitting five retired riders against five younger and active ones, calling it the “Arlington Fab 5 vs. Legends.”

“The crowd really gets involved,” said Patti Cooksey, a pioneer among female jockeys who is back for a third year in the featured event of the Million eve program Friday. “They’ve got their money on it, and they really do seem to love it.”

Among the fan favorites returning to compete is Earlie Fires, the Hall of Famer whose mounts in this event ran second in the prior runnings in 2010 and 2011. The other retired jockeys are Zoe Cadman, Frank Lovato Jr., and Larry Melancon. Mounts in the 10-horse race, a starter allowance scheduled for two turns at a mile on the turf, have been randomly assigned. The active riders comprise the top five in the current Arlington standings: James Graham, Francisco Torres, Rosemary Homeister, Seth Martinez, and Jeffrey Sanchez.

Substitute jockeys and also-eligible horses will stand by in case they can be used in a timely way, and with bad weather in the forecast for Thursday, there is a distinct possibility the race could be run out of the chute on the Polytrack. Either way, Cooksey looks like she is on a major threat in Stanley G., trained by Larry Rivelli.

“I’ve been getting on horses at Keeneland, trying to get as fit as I can,” said Cooksey, 54. “These young jocks, they don’t cut us any slack. It’s more intense than the races I’ve ridden at Pimlico the last few years,” referring to the six-furlong Lady Legends for the Cure on Preakness eve.

Cooksey retired in June 2004. Other retirement ages and retirement dates: Fires, 65, September 2008; Melancon, 57, July 2010; Lovato, 49, September 2004; and Cadman, 37, March 2004.

Cooksey works in public relations for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Fires lives quietly in nearby Palatine. Melancon, who lives in Kentucky, has worked as an exercise rider since his retirement and will be coming in Thursday from Saratoga, where he is working for Al Stall Jr. Lovato manufactures his trademarked Equicizer practice-riding horses in Ohio. And Cadman is a commentator and analyst for HRTV in California.

Slotted as the eighth of nine Friday races, the Legends race appears fairly well-matched, with Stanley G., Denim (Lovato), Switching to Glide (Torres), and Hungry Wildcat (Cadman) looking like the logical favorites.

Twilight first post Friday is 3 p.m. Central, with the Legends race, the eighth of nine, at 6:22. Only one allowance (race 1) is on the card.

The Legends race is again being held in conjunction with the third annual “Dining With the Dynasty,” a fund-raising luncheon in the Turf Club attended by more than a dozen riding greats, including Pat Day, Chris McCarron, Walter Blum, and Jean Cruguet. The luncheon will benefit the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America. For information, e-mailing nancy.lasala@yahoo.com.