When the gates opened on the 2019 Preakness, maiden Bodexpress leapt into the air, flinging jockey John Velazquez's feet out of his irons and dropping the Hall of Fame rider to the dirt — hard.
“He was just not behaving good in the gate,” Velazquez said on NBC. “He was not standing really well. He got me up against the wall in the gate. When the doors opened I was standing up right from the start and I kind of jumped sideways. I'm good, I'm good. It's just disappointing when you come in here for a big race like this.”
Somewhere on the sidelines, retired jockey Kaymarie Kreidel and her off-track Thoroughbred Witch Hunter sprung into action.
Bodexpress would run the entire race mid-pack, to the outside of the Preakness field, and where others may have swung to the outside rail, where they could easily be snagged by an outrider, Bodexpress followed the race for the entire 1 3/16 miles. He followed the field as it galloped out, and disappeared on the backstretch behind the infield tents. Unaware the horse was still loose, photographers, reporters, and contenders' connections began walking across the dirt track, preparing to get in position in the infield winner's circle. That's when Bodexpress turned around and began sprinting the wrong way around the course, right for the crowd.
Kreidel and “Hunter” weaved through people and camera equipment at full speed to meet him. He evaded them, and the pair gave chase. It took them a couple of attempts to catch the colt — he slowed just short of the sixteenth pole and waited for her to catch up, then spun and took off in full flight again, back past the now-cowering crowd with Kreidel in hot pursuit before she was close enough to lean over, bobbing perilously out of the saddle for several strides, and snag his inside rein.
Kreidel said it's by far her biggest catch yet. What was going through her mind as she sped after Bodexpress?
“He's mine. That horse is mine.”
Kreidel was a jockey for 16 years, from ages 19 to 35, and she said the mindset for an outrider isn't much different. There's the initial pop of adrenaline before a tunnel-vision focus on the job at hand. A lot of her ability to focus is thanks to the talents of the horse underneath her.
“You've got to trust these guys 120 percent. Not 100 percent, 120 percent, because not only are you reaching out [to catch the horse], so they've got to judge everything,” she said, still breathless after the big catch. “I had people, I had horses, so I had to weave in and out without hitting anything, getting anybody else dropped. We're flying at full speed. So it's trust. You've got to have trust in these guys.
“When they're loose it's kind of like a light switch turns off and they don't really think about anything but just running free and wild. So our job is to contain everything.”
Kreidel's trust in Hunter is well-founded. Once a horse like him learns his job, she says, they gain a sense of intuition — they know their job is not to pass the speeding horse as a rival, but to draw up close, and steer themselves while their rider leans as far over as possible.
“They love it – these ponies, once they learn this job, they love it It's just like being a racehorse – they take pride in winning a race, and these guys take pride in catching a horse,” she said.
“And when you don't get to catch a horse, they get mad. They do. When you can't get a horse, and you have to pull out of it, they get pissed off. They don't want to pull out of it. They know their job. I've actually had horses that I've had trouble pulling them up [after I've caught them] and I've had my horse turn and make ugly faces at them, trying to get them to back off.”
It should have been no surprise to anyone that Hunter could keep pace with a Preakness runner. Although he retired in 2011 the winner of one race from five races, he's well-bred — the son of Ghostzapper out of an Alphabet Soup mare. Hunter ran his five races in the Stronach Stables colors, and when he retired, Frank Stronach gave him to Kreidel to start his second career. Kreidel said Hunter can expect a couple extra flakes of alfalfa in his stall tonight for a job very well done.
Kreidel has been an outrider full-time on the Maryland circuit for the past seven years, and part time for 17. She's never seen a horse get loose in as big a race as this one, let alone follow the field for 1 3/16 miles and still want to play afterwards. Kreidel said she drew up alongside Bodexpress before the horses passed the stands for the first time in the Preakness, but he took one look at her and veered in, too close to the field for her to follow.
“He was fine. He was playing games,” she said of Bodexpress. “I don't know if you saw him come out of the gate but he actually lunge-bucked out of the gate and tossed the rider in the air. Rider had no shot at staying on. To him, this race was just a game and I was unfortunately the one who ended the game for him. I was the party pooper.”
Word on Bodexpress's condition was not immediately available, as trainer Gustavo Delgado told media he was at a loss for words while leading his horse off the track, but the colt was walking well as he exited the course.
Besides the safety concern of having an unpiloted, rogue horse in a race like this one, Kreidel said she also takes seriously a situation like this one because it can impact the race's outcome.
“These are quality horses. To have something as silly as a horse goofing off coming out of the gate interfere with everything … you've got to realize, he interfered with the race. If a jock sees a loose horse, he's got to take a hold even if he doesn't want to because he doesn't know if that loose horse is going to come in front of him because with nobody on him, there's no steering,” she said. “The last thing you want is a loose horse coming over in front of you and you go down. So it's not fair to the riders of the race. They all have to ride cautiously because now they've got a loose horse in the mix.”
Kreidel was swarmed after the race, accepting congratulatory hugs from fellow outriders and fielding questions from reporters while walking a fidgety Hunter. When asked what her biggest victory as a jockey was, Kreidel struggled to recall the details.
“It was a $100,000 stake for Graham Motion,” she pondered, trying to remember the race's name. “You win a stake race for Graham Motion, Graham Motion wins a lot of stake races. That was just kind of nothing for him.”
But this race, even though she wasn't on one of the contestants — this will stand out for a long time to come.
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