10/27/2009 11:00PM

Kelsey happy with his choice


The decision facing Zach Kelsey a few years ago was one that pops up for few people, even Montana cowboys. It was time to choose between becoming a jockey or a rodeo cowboy.

Kelsey, 25, specialized in team roping and bull riding, but found the appeal of race riding safer, and more enjoyable.

"The bull riding was something that wasn't a good way to make a living," he said. "You still got to get off of them every time."

There are more dignified ways of parting company with a racehorse, such as in the winner's circle, which Kelsey has been doing a fair amount of lately. Kelsey has been successful riding at small tracks in the Intermountain region of Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming, and is based at Los Alamitos this fall. Friday, he will ride his first seven-figure race when he climbs aboard Divide the Cash in the $1,272,250 Golden State Million Futurity.

Kelsey, who arrived at Los Alamitos at the start of October, was aboard Divide the Cash for an important win in the 400-yard Golden State Million time trials on Oct. 17. Divide the Cash was timed in 19.67 seconds, which equaled the eighth-fastest among the 10 qualifiers.

Owned by Abigail Kawananakoa and trained by Blane Schvaneveldt, Divide the Cash will be making his stakes debut. A colt by Separatist, Divide the Cash has won 2 of his last 3 starts, a streak that began with a maiden win on Aug. 16, the fourth race of his career. The Golden State trial was the first time that Kelsey had ridden the colt.

Kelsey was not discouraged when Divide the Cash drew the rail for Friday's race, which means he will be in the gate a bit longer than the others.

"I think the colt stands up [in the gate] really good," Kelsey said. "He's just now coming into himself. He's maturing."

Divide the Cash will need a career-best performance to win the Golden State Million. The race is led by LD Fire, who won the Ed Burke Million Futurity in June and has won 3 of 4 starts.

Kelsey is a native of tiny Malta, Mont., which he describes as "lots of wheat fields and cows." Kelsey spent this summer riding at small tracks such as Yellowstone Downs and Great Falls in Montana; the Idaho fair circuit at Cassia County, Oneida County, and Sandy Downs; plus the Elko County fair in Nevada and Wyoming Downs.

Last fall, Kelsey rode at Lone Star Park and Blue Ribbon Downs in Oklahoma, but this year chose Los Alamitos, knowing that Schvaneveldt, the legendary trainer, would help him find mounts.

"I didn't think I was going to be able to come down here and get those type of horses right away," he said of Divide the Cash. "I had the right connection. I knew Blane would be willing to help me get started."

The early success led Kelsey to decide he wants to stay in California this winter. "I'm a Californian now," he said.