12/11/2009 12:00AM

Career change proves a winner for apprentice


It is not an uncommon story. A young man in his 20s, frustrated with his job prospects, decides to return to school.

What is uncommon is when a young man returns to school to become . . . a jockey.

That is the path Ben Creed took a little more than two years ago, when he left his job at UPS to join Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron's North American Riding Academy in Lexington. And now he finds himself not just a rider but currently the co-leading rider at Turfway Park.

Entering Friday's card at Turfway, Creed and Freddie Lenclud - a pair of apprentices - sat atop the Turfway rider standings with seven wins at the Holiday meet, just ahead of Tommy Pompell and Larry Sterling, who have six wins apiece.

Not bad for Creed, 26, a Taylorsville, Ky. native who said just two years ago "I was still living with my mom and dad."

Creed didn't get into racing by way of his family, nor through any connection, other than the Internet. Not knowing where to start, he used Google to find out how to become a jockey, and his search ultimately landed him as one of six students in the second class of the North America Riding Academy.

Unaccustomed to riding horses at the time, he said he struggled over the first year, not feeling fully comfortable on a horse until he completed a four-month internship in California as an exercise rider for trainer John Sadler.

Although Creed experienced some degree of success after starting to ride in late May at River Downs, winning races in Indiana and at Ellis Park, it wasn't until this fall that he felt he gained the understanding of what it takes to be a successful rider. Although he won just a single race at both Keeneland and Churchill Downs this fall, surrounded by a top-class riders, he said he learned not to be intimidated in tight quarters in closely packed fields.

Creed, more so than a typical apprentice, had a right to ride cautiously, knowing that over the summer his North American Riding Academy classmate and close friend, Michael Straight, was left paralyzed from a spill at Arlington Park.

Creed, currently based out of Lexington, still keeps in regular contact with McCarron and his fellow classmates. When reached by phone late Friday morning, Creed was actually at the school, visiting friends.

Work, however, remains his focus. Unlike some other Turfway riders, who plan to leave for Oaklawn Park when the Holiday meet ends Dec. 31, he plans to ride at Turfway for the winter/spring meet that continues until late March.

"I want to keep that ball rolling," he said.

Oaks-Derby ticket packages available

For the first time, Churchill Downs will sell two-day ticket packages to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks via the racetrack's new online box office, http://tickets.churchilldowns.com beginning Wednesday at noon Eastern. Seats are limited - 3,000 bundled tickets are being offered online for the Oaks and Derby. Prices for the two-day package range for $172 for individual first-floor grandstand bleacher seats to $6,390 for a third-floor six-seat clubhouse box with access to the Secretariat Lounge, a hospitality area.

The online sale, reflecting approximately 6 percent of Churchill's reserved-seat inventory, will offer third-floor clubhouse box seats in sections (312-314) and first-floor clubhouse seats in section 111. These sections are past the wire, shortly before or in the midst of what would be the first turn of the Kentucky Derby.

The grandstand seats offered in second-floor sections (222-225) and first-floor sections (121-128) begin roughly an eighth of a mile before the finish and extend to the top of the stretch.

Customers also can purchase advance general admission tickets for the Kentucky Derby for $40 and the Kentucky Oaks for $25.