11/25/2009 12:00AM

Q&A: Alton Hungerford

Benoit & Associates
Assistant starter Alton Hungerford bravely ran in front of and corralled Quality Road after the colt broke through the starting gate, while blindfolded, before the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 8 at Santa Anita.

Assistant starter who corralled Quality Road before the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Birthdate: May 25, 1951, in Texas City, Texas

Family: Married, wife Donna.

What happened with Quality Road?: "The horse was fighting so bad, he made the front doors open. I was assigned to open the front doors for horses who would not load. It turned out to be him and Zenyatta. He was blindfolded. After the doors were closed, he broke the front doors open. That's a bad spot. I was standing in front of him. I grabbed him. He was strong, and he was blindfolded."

What do you weigh?: "I weigh 200 pounds."

So he outweighed you by about 900 pounds: "I just had to make sure I knew where my footing was. You have to know how to turn a horse. You've got to keep their neck bent and not get run over. You just want to get him stopped until someone else can come and help out."

Were you scared?: "No. You just smile that no one got hurt. It was a wild ride."

Best horse you've seen: "John Henry. They couldn't beat him. He was a tough racehorse. He was all class at the gate, though. You didn't have to handle him. This horse was pure class. He'd walk right in the gate."

Toughest horse at gate: "A Quarter Horse named Rocket Mick. He hurt more people that any horse I know. I had to handle him for two years. When I'd see his name on the overnight, I'd go, 'Oh, no, not again.'"

Injuries: "Broken ribs, broken arm. Fractured ankles. There's been quite a bit. Broken jaw. I've been on the gate for 36 years."

Why do you like it so much?: "You never know what's going to happen. It's exciting. It changes second to second. I've worked around a lot of nice horses. I've seen the best."

You obviously hurt your left leg. You walk with a limp. What happened?: "I broke it the first time in a car wreck. The second time I was riding a horse. The third time, I was riding a bull."

A bull?: "I thought I wanted to be a bull rider. But I wasn't any good at it."

How much shorter is your left leg than your right?: "Four inches. But it still works. It still gets me there."

Do you take pride in protecting jockeys?: "We take a lot of pride looking out for everybody. Us, the jocks, the horses. Whoever is in the most danger first is who we look out for."

Get to know jockeys over the years?: "Most of the jockeys I knew best are gone. Laffit Pincay Jr., Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye. I was close to those three. Now, I'm old. The younger riders hang out with younger people."

How long will you do this?: "I float teeth on the side. I do that on my days off from the track. I make more money on that than I do on the gate. I'm usually working. I'll do this until they run me off, I guess."