04/18/2013 3:31PM

Hastings: Gryder showing class on and off track

Barbara D. Livingston
Aaron Gryder is riding this season at Hastings in Vancouver, British Columbia.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Everyone at Hastings knew Aaron Gryder could ride. After all, spanning a career that began in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1986, he has won 3,578 races and his mounts have earned close to $113  million. He displayed his excellent riding skills by winning two races opening weekend, but what really impressed everyone at Hastings was his attitude and class. He displayed both when picking up the mount on longshot See Eye to Eye in Sunday’s last race after Fernando Perez booked off with a sore shoulder.

Gryder had showered and dressed and was heading to a dinner engagement with owner Glen Todd, who convinced Gryder to be his first-call rider at Hastings this year. There were no other riders available, and the horse would have been scratched if Gryder didn’t agree to ride her. It wouldn’t have been the first time a horse at Hastings was scratched due to a rider not willing to ride a horse, especially a longshot like See Eye to Eye who went off at 18-1 in a bottom-level claming race for fillies and mares.

“At first, I said no because I was going to dinner with Mr. Todd,” Gryder said. “When I heard they were going to scratch the horse, I didn’t hesitate to pick the mount up. People put a lot of time into their horses, and we’re only running two days a week here, so the horse might not get to run for another month. I didn’t want to see that. The owners spend a lot of money and time and deserve to see their horses run. I didn’t know anything about the horse, but I was happy to see it was for who they call Uncle Frank. He was also pretty happy to see me.”

Uncle Frank is trainer Frank Barroby, who was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2010 for both his riding and training record.

“The first day I met Aaron, I could tell he was a class act,” Barroby said. “This certainly proved it. He gave her a super ride. He even thanked me after the race and asked if he could ride her back.”

See Eye to Eye, finished second, beaten a length, in the eight-horse field.

Gryder, a leading rider at Aqueduct, Hollywood Park, Churchill Downs, Arlington Park, and Golden Gate, feels lucky to have been able to have a long and successful career at something he loves to do. He remembers wanting to be a jockey when he was 4 years old.

“My family wasn’t involved in horse racing, but my grandparents loved to go Santa Anita,” Gryder said. “I would be on the swing in the infield, and every time I heard Trevor Denman say ‘the flag is up’ I jumped off the swing and ran to the fence. I was swept up by the excitement of it and still am.”

Gryder, 42, learned to ride from long-time Southern California jockey Rudy Campas. Gryder was 12 years old when he met Campas, who had just retired to a farm he bought in Riverside.

“He told me if I wanted to learn how to ride I could come to his farm the following summer and he would teach me,” Gryder said.

The first time Gryder got on a horse, he was terrified and held on for dear life. Campas told him he was a natural.

“I wasn’t sure what I did right, but it was the fear of falling that kept me on,” Gryder said. “He said your 13 years old, have never ridden a horse before, and every time it looked like you were going to fall off your instincts reacted. You can’t teach that to somebody.

“That was the last time I was ever afraid to get on a horse.”

Gryder has ridden all over the world, including Australia, Hong Kong, Europe, and the Middle East. The biggest win of his career came aboard Well Armed in the $6 million Dubai World Cup in 2009. He said Well Armed was probably the best horse he rode on a regular basis.

“I was fortunate to ride Sunday Silence once and Bayakoa a few times early in my career,” Gryder said.

There has never been a rider with Gryder’s credentials here on a regular basis. Last year, he won the Breeders’ Cup Marathon on Calidoscopio. It begs the question: Why is he riding here?

“I’ve always tried to surround myself with winners, and Mr. Todd is certainly that,” Gryder said. “I enjoy riding for a man that loves the game so much. He treats his employees well, and it seems like everyone that works for him has been with him for years. He has a bunch of horses he is excited about, and I’m looking forward to riding for him. I still want a lot out of my career, but this is a great opportunity and I didn’t want to let it pass by.”

Gryder enjoyed his first weekend at Hastings and said he liked the track.

“It’s like Belmont compared to other bullrings I’ve ridden on,” Gryder said. “I’ve ridden on a lot of bullrings and won the Illinois Derby twice when it was at Sportsman’s Park. The turns here aren’t nearly as tight. I was impressed with how kind they are.”

More impressive was the way Gryder has handled himself since he arrived here.

“He is such a welcome addition,” said Harold Barroby, the all-time leading trainer at Hastings. “Hopefully, some of the jockeys here will learn something from him.”