Vince DeGregory turns 84 on Aug. 29, but he has a lot to celebrate today.
On Monday, the veteran agent who now calls the shots for jockey Tiago Pereira at Santa Anita, underwent throat surgery for 90 minutes at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank to remove a growth attached to his thyroid gland that left a vertical scar of about three inches just below his Adam's Apple.
If he's vain about his looks, he can cover the scar with a bow tie. But that's the least of his worries.
“The doctor (Warren Line) told me yesterday that when he first started the procedure he was expecting the growth to be the size of a pea, but as he went further, it became the size of a large grape,” DeGregory said. “He got it all out and thank God there's no cancer. When I saw him yesterday he gave me a clean bill of health.
“I said to him, 'The scar's going to remind me that God doesn't want me to die yet.'”
There are still plenty of leaves on the tree, even though the rings are growing.
“I started as an agent in 1959,” DeGregory said. “My first jock was Conn Errico at Belmont Park. I went to Aqueduct when it opened later that year. Sword Dancer trained by Elliott Burch won the opening day stakes.
“(Eddie) Arcaro was like a stepfather to me. He's the one who got me to become a jockey's agent. I had to go in front of (stewards) Marshall Cassidy and Cal Rainey at that time. “They were very, very strict and I remember Arcaro telling me, 'Vince, never screw anybody at the draw.
When you give a person a call, stand by that. I've used that as my motto my whole life.
“I've seen all the great horses of their day: Bold Ruler, Nashua, Tom Fool, Damascus, Sword Dancer, but the greatest one to me was Kelso (named Horse of the Year five consecutive years from 1960 through 1964).
“When I was a young guy coming up I didn't know enough about Thoroughbreds to give an opinion, but as time progressed and from being around the game, I learned from other people. I paid attention to trainers, and an old man I never forgot was Sam Winninger, who was a private clocker.
“He would bet his own money and taught me how horses worked, how they traveled, so that when I got a rider, I could pick one horse from another. That helped throughout my career.”
DeGregory, born in Greenwich, N.Y., about 10 miles from Saratoga Springs where he was raised, served in the Army at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, with Dick Groat, a lifelong friend now 85 who would go on to play shortstop with second baseman Bill Mazeroski for the World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960 and be named National League MVP.
“My roommate in the service was (former catcher and longtime broadcaster and comedian) Bob Uecker,” said DeGregory. “He's my buddy and I love him. He's still kicking.”
As is DeGregory, a living treasure of racing history who has represented seven Hall of Fame jockeys: Angel Cordero Jr., Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay Jr., Bill Shoemaker, Alex Solis, Jacinto Vasquez and Jorge Velasquez, in addition to Victor Espinoza, Darrel McHargue and Joel Rosario, each with Hall of Fame credentials as well.
If there's room for DeGregory, there would be little argument that he deserves a spot, although he'd be the last to lobby for enshrinement.
He got all the glory he needed on Monday.
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