By Richard Rosenblatt
It rained all day at the Big A. The track was a sloppy mess. There were no spectators, only a few essential workers.
For Kendrick Carmouche, a dreary Saturday (Dec. 5) at Aqueduct turned into the most joyous day of his 20-year riding career. The 36-year jockey, after competing in 20,376 races, finally won his first Grade 1, guiding True Timber to a 5½-length victory in the $250,000 Cigar Mile (G1).
While leading True Timber to the winner’s circle, he was congratulated by several people, and then asked, “Was this a Grade 1?” Laughter followed, as Carmouche held his arms skyward, then leaned over and hugged True Timber.
Carmouche is not a household name in the racing universe, but he is one of the most respected jockeys. When you race in the New York, it’s tough to break into the national spotlight competing against a past decade worth of Eclipse Award winners – Ramon Dominguez, Javier Castellano, Jose Ortiz, and Irad Ortiz, Jr.
“This means so much to me,’’ Carmouche said, tears in his eyes. “This is the biggest win of my career and I hope I have many more blessed ones.’’
His father, Sylvester, Jr., and brother, Sylvester III, are jockeys. A native of Vinton, Louisiana, Carmouche lives with his wife Whitney and their two children, Olivia and Kendrick, in Delaware; they have about 15 horses on their farm and his wife is the equestrian coach at the University of Delaware.
Carmouche took out his jockey license at 16, and won his first race on April 27, 2000, aboard Earl n Erin at Evangeline Downs.
He’s won his share of Grade 2s and Grade 3s, but finally winning at the top level has been a long time coming. He missed six months in 2018 with a broken leg from a spill at Kentucky Downs, then sat out several months this year due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
All that was forgotten after the Cigar Mile, a race named for Hall of Famer Cigar, who won the race in 1984 when it was called the NYRA Mile, and then renamed a year later.
True Timber ($16.60) broke well from post 5 in the six-horse field, stayed close to the leaders, King Guillermo and Mr. Buff, then made a three-wide move to the lead at the quarter pole and pulled away steadily for the victory.
Winning time was 1:36.40.
“I had a perfect position leaving the gate and all the way around there,” Carmouche said. “Right before we get to the quarter pole, I just pulled the trigger and I said they’re going to have to run me down.”
For trainer Jack Sisterson, a former assistant to Doug O’Neill who set out on his own in 2018, it was his second Grade 1 win; and for True Timber, the win ended a 13-race losing streak.
“I got to give credit to True Timber, the farm (owner Calumet Farm), the incredible staff I have, and of course Kendrick,” Sisterson, who took over True Timber’s training in the summer when Kiaran McLaughlin retired to become a jockey agent, said. “I had all the confidence in the world when Kendrick texted me, ‘I got you brother, don’t worry’, with a little peace sign.”
Snapper Sinclair was second, followed by 4-5 favorite Performer, King Guillermo, Mr. Buff and Bon Raison. Firenze Fire, Majestic Dunhill, and Mind Control were scratched.
With his first stakes win, the 6-year-old True Timber could run next in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 23. True Timber has a career record of 29-5-5-9 and earnings of $1.2 million.
Carmouche also was on the verge of winning his first Aqueduct fall meeting title. He entered the final day of the meet (Dec. 6) with a 21-17 lead over Jose Lezcano.
Carmouche credits “hard work and perseverance’’ for getting him to this point.
“You have to stay in the game and be ready for opportunity when opportunity comes,’’ he said. “This is the point I’m at in my career right now, I’m ready for any opportunity and this is why I think things are going the right direction. They’re giving me good horses to ride and I think it’s going to open up eyes for other trainers and other owners that I can do the same thing, if not better, than those other guys.”
Brooklyn Strong ($16.20) won the $150,000 Remsen (G2) by a neck over 6-5 favorite Ten for Ten in the race for 2-year-olds. The gelding was ridden by Joel Rosario, and earned 10 Kentucky Derby-qualifying points.
Known Agenda was third, followed by Pickin’ Time and Erawan.
Malathaat ($2.90) improved to 3-0 by rallying to win the $150,000 Demoiselle (G2) by three-quarters of a length over Millefeuille.
The win was worth 10 Kentucky Oaks-qualifying points. The filly is trained by Todd Pletcher and was ridden by John Velazquez.
Malibu Curl was third, followed by Cafe Society, Traffic Lane and Celestial Cheetah. Dollar Mountain and Caramocha were scratched.
Sharp Starr ($4.50), with Jose Ortiz aboard, outdueled Portal Creek by a neck to take the $100,000 Go for Wand Handicap (G3), a one-turn mile for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up.
Trained by Horacio DePaz, Sharp Starr came into the race off a 15 3/4-length score in a state-bred allowance mile on Nov. 7 at the Big A. Kendrick Carmouche was aboard for the win.
Nonna Madeline was a distant third, followed by Stand for the Flag, Graceful Princess and Overheated. It was the first graded stakes win for DePaz, in his first season of training full-time on the NYRA circuit.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.