When rising superstar Joe Talamo captured the Autumn Santa Anita riding title to break the five-year Southern California reign of Rafael Bejarano and Joel Rosario, it was a scrapbook-filling moment for the 22-year-old. For his agent, Scotty McClellan, it was just another day at the office.
Jay “Scotty” McClellan, 57, is celebrating his 40th year as a jockey agent. The son of Chick McClellan, longtime agent for Fernando Toro, McClellan started at the age of 17 in 1972, 18 years before Talamo was born. His first rider was Frank Olivares, and at various times through the years represented Robyn Smith,
Marco Castaneda, Ken Skinner, Corey Black, Richard Migliore, David Flores, Darrel McHargue and Alex Solis.
Though he had success with all his riders, his big break came in 1981.
“Doc Giammarino, who owned a horse named The Medic, and Chris McCarron were neighbors and often shared a ride to the track,” recalled McClellan. “Doc would always pick McCarron's brain and found out that McCarron and his agent Vince (DeGregory) weren't getting along that well, even though they were the national champions two years running.”
“One morning I was standing at Santa Anita and there was a group of eight or 10 of us in a circle, talking and telling jokes. Doc walked up and had a look on his face like he had info for me. He called me aside and I said, ‘I don't know what you're going to ask, but whatever it is, the answer is yes.'
“He said, ‘Do you know what I'm going to ask you?' I said ‘I have no idea but by the look on your face, I know it's good.' He said, ‘McCarron is going to call you up tonight and ask if you will take his book.' Would you be interested?”
“I said, ‘Hell, yeah. I also said he'll never need another agent. And that was the truth. He never had another agent until he retired 21 years later. Chris was a super guy; a hard worker, smart rider and didn't burn any bridges.”
Through the years, his riders all carried one similar trait; high character.
“You kind of see how guys are before you get them,” McClellan continued. “You know them from their past experiences—whether they're getting mad at this or that, or yelling at their agents after a race. Those guys aren't for me. The job is stressful enough dealing with people all the time and trying to get on the right horse.”
After McCarron retired, McClellan had considerable success with Solis, who was leading rider at Betfair Hollywood Park several times. When Solis' business lessened in 2009, the agent picked up Joe Talamo, then 19 and a promising jockey from Louisiana. Solis fired McClellan and shortly thereafter left California.
“I have no idea why Solis left,” said McClellan. “Maybe he was jealous of Joe, I don't know. Solis didn't have as much business as he used to have while Joe had quite a bit building. When riders get older, they don't have as many barns as they used to ride for, even though mentally, they think they're the same as they were. It's not as if Alex wasn't a good rider, he is. But younger guys come in and take your spot. It makes it harder and harder because even though you work at trying to get them on horses, it doesn't help.”
“One day he called and said he had to make a change. I said, ‘Fine, good luck.'”
“Talamo's perfect, a good kid,” explained McClellan. “He works hard and he loves teasing me and kidding around. When anyone comes to me; newspapers, television, publicity, charities, anyone who needs a favor from Joe, he always says yes. He goes out of his way because he believes it's for the good of the sport.”
Agents are an old school breed. The relationship with their riders is one of the few contracts remaining that are established by a handshake. Jockeys generally earn 10 per cent of purse money and their agents traditionally receive 25 per cent of that income.
Though his dad was a big help. McClellan learned things the old fashioned way. “Somebody can tell you what to do, but like anything else you learn by doing it,'' he said. “One of the first things you learn is that you can talk until you're blue in the face to try and get on a horse, but if a guy doesn't want your rider, he's not going to put you on.”
After 40 years on the job, McClellan shows no signs of weakening, especially when a youngster like Talamo has the world in front of him.
In case you're wondering, Scotty is McClellan's middle name, but one by which he's always been known. “My legal name is Jay, but I've been called Scotty my whole life. When they took roll in school and they called out Jay, it would take me a few moments to realize they were calling on me. They must have thought I was dense or something.”
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