11/19/2014 3:31PM

Hovdey: Goodbye, farewell, and amen


Rosie Napravnik did it the right way, which is to say she did it her way, going out on her own terms in a blaze of glory with all four limbs intact and a new life literally on the horizon. The touching ceremony last Saturday at Churchill Downs simply added a cherry to what Napravnik served up during her nine years, four months, and 23 days as a jockey who was battered and repaired many times but never broken. If it’s a boy, they should name the baby Rod, in honor of mom’s hardware.

Pregnancy is a pretty good reason for a jockey to retire. Weight gain is another, although technically not the same. Either way, jockeys who get to announce they are stepping away while standing in the winner’s circle are rare in any form.

If Untapable had lost the Distaff on Breeders’ Cup Day 1, chances are Napravnik would have saved her announcement for the following afternoon, when the dust from the rest of the races had settled. In that case, her last remembered ride might have been aboard Top Decile, who came within a half-length of catching Take Charge Brandi in the Juvenile Fillies on Breeders’ Cup Day 2, or with Tourist in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, her final mount, who suffered through a hopeless journey on the far outside of the packed field.

Instead, it is likely that Napravnik will be recalled as going out a winner, thanks to Untapable, or at least on a winning high, since the feeling of a Breeders’ Cup victory is usually good enough to last well into the winter.

Johnny Longden set the bar on final rides in 1966, when he ended a 38-year career at age 59 with a victory aboard George Royal in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita. He had announced that the San Juan Capistrano would be his last ride at a turf writers’ soiree three days before the race.

“Longden’s chances of going out in a blaze of glory appear slim,” reported the Associated Press, “because George Royal has won but one race in four tries this year at Santa Anita.”

He won by a nose.

Chris McCarron had an easier time of it with Came Home in the final ride of his 28-year career in the Affirmed Handicap on June 23, 2002, which was announced well enough in advance that Hollywood Park had a farewell ceremony all ready to go the moment he jumped off the horse. Came Home won by a comfortable two lengths at odds on, which gave an emotional McCarron plenty of time to think about how those 28 years had passed.

David Gall was 57 when he rode and won the last race of his career Sept. 18, 1999, at Fairmount Park, where he had been the big fish in a small pond for decades. Gall, who won 7,396 races, was moved to retire because, as he put it, “injuries have been coming regularly the last four years.”
Pat Day, 51 at the time, did not know for certain that Two Trail Sioux would be his last ride when they finished second in the Delaware Handicap on July 17, 2005, just 2 1/2 months after surgery to repair damaged cartilage in his hip. But he had a pretty good idea, and he made it official during a press conference 18 days later at Churchill Downs, where he recorded 2,481 of his 8,803 total winners.

Jerry Bailey laid it on the line when he announced his retirement Jan. 18, 2006, stating the reasonable desire to “walk away in one piece.” He was 48 and a six-time national champion, but he still had to survive a few more rides before hanging up the white pants after riding Silver Tree in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28.

Silver Tree, apparently offended that Bailey was getting all the attention, kicked his jockey in the hip in the paddock before the race, then went out and finished second.

“I guess you could say I went out with a bang,” Bailey said.

The Bill Shoemaker retirement tour went on way longer than anyone thought possible, but he did make some memorable stops during 1989 before his last mount at Santa Anita on Feb. 4, 1990, in a race they called “The Legend’s Last Ride.” The Legend finished fourth.

On the other hand, Eddie Arcaro spent what was to be his final season riding Kelso, the 1961 Horse of the Year, and finishing third in the money standings behind Shoemaker and John Sellers with far fewer mounts. Arcaro, 45 at the time, rode Nov. 18, 1961, at Aqueduct, packed up, and spent the rest of the year traveling to faraway places with strange-sounding names and riding international races and exhibitions in places like Tokyo, Melbourne, and Sydney.

Arcaro also spent a month in Tahiti, which apparently was enough to convince him that his career as a jockey was over. At a swanky dinner party in Manhattan on April 3, 1962, he let it be known that he would call it a career after 4,779 wins and a record $30 million in earnings by his 24,092 mounts. This seemed premature, what with rides like Kelso and Jaipur waiting in the wings, but Arcaro laid it out.

“One, I’m 46 years old,” he said. “Two, I became bored with riding.”

No. 3 was an opportunity to go to work for American Totalisator, then later Arcaro ended up in front of the camera beside Howard Cosell on the ABC telecasts of Triple Crown events. There was no No. 4, but it was understood when he added: “I feel like I’m leaving on top.”