Whicker: Drayden Van Dyke prepares for a long ride
By Mark Whicker
ARCADIA — The subject was the young American jockey, and why he is as rare as a rainy morning at Santa Anita.
Who was the last previous prodigy?
“Mike Smith,’ said trainer Bob Baffert, referring to the 52-year-old winner of 26 Breeders’ Cup races.
That wasn’t as facetious as it sounded.
“It’s a tough question,” said Brad Pegram, the jockey agent. “You have to go back a ways.”
Who is the next one? Not as tough a question.
Drayden Van Dyke is 23, represented by Pegram, and will ride Ax Man for Baffert in Saturday’s San Vicente Stakes. He has a more promising future than most DVDs.
On Dec. 26, Van Dyke opened the Santa Anita season by winning the Malibu Stakes with City of Light.
Drayden Van Dyke is congratulated after City of Light’s victory in the Malibu Stakes race on Opening Day of Santa Anita Park’s winter meet Dec. 26. (Sarah Reingewirtz/SCNG)
He won the Eclipse Award as the best apprentice in 2014. He has 13 wins in this meet and his mounts have won nearly a million.
The San Vicente is part of the triage process that will cull the 3-year-olds to the 15 to 20 who will enter the gate at Churchill Downs on May 5.
Van Dyke and Tyler Gaffalione, another 23-year-old who rides back East, figure to be part of that for years.
So why has race riding become the almost exclusive province of France and Puerto Rico?
“I just think people nowadays are naturally bigger,” Van Dyke said. “ I know a lot of people who would like to ride, but they get too big and wind up being exercise riders.”
Van Dyke didn’t have that problem. “But the first thing I wanted to be was a pro basketball player,” he said, smiling.
He reproduces those dreams at fitness-center gyms, scoring 22 points in a jockeys’ game a […]