by Frank Vespe
“I like to see success stories,” J.D. Brown is saying. “People who, people don’t give them all the credit they need, and then they take off.”
He ought to. Fact is, he’s smack in the middle of one of those stories right now. Brown is the agent for jockey Xavier Perez, whose collaboration with Bowie-based filly Dance to Bristol has led to a seven-race winning streak, three of them in graded company, including a Grade 1, the Ballerina, at Saratoga.[boxify cols_use =”2″ cols =”5″ position =”left” order =”none” box_spacing =”5″ padding =”5″ border_width =”2″ border_color =”blue” border_style =”solid” height =”50″ width =”50″ ]To hear J.D. discuss Dance to Bristol… [sc_embed_player fileurl=”https://www.theracingbiz.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/JDreDance.mp3″][/boxify]And if all goes according to plan, the team will, after one interim start, reconvene in less than two months time at Santa Anita Park for the Breeders’ Cup.
Like a lot of things in life, the Perez-Dance to Bristol combination wasn’t exactly planned. Dance had had a solid but unspectacular three year-old campaign, winning once in five starts and earning a little more than $84,000. Perez, likewise, had done well but hadn’t set the world on fire, winning 78 races for about $1.8 million in purse earnings; he’d finished eighth in the Maryland jockey standings for the year.
“We kind of lucked into the mount,” Brown said.
By February, trainer Ollie Figgins, III was looking for a new rider for his horse. She’d finished second four consecutive times, most recently a decisive defeat to Bold Affair in the What a Summer Stakes at Laurel. Figgins contacted Brown to see about getting Perez, who had ridden other horses for him at Charles Town, aboard.
Brown jumped. “I told him, ‘We’d love to ride the horse,'” he said.
In their first try together, Dance to Bristol blitzed allowance company, cruising to a four-length victory that made Brown think the horse — who’d been toiling in minor stakes company — might be something more than he realized. Perez, on the other hand, had already figured that out.
“I told him, ‘Xavier, you got a nice horse here,'” Brown recalled. “He said, ‘No. I got a real nice horse here.'”
The two, horse and rider, have seen their careers advance in tandem. After two allowance wins with Perez aboard, Dance to Bristol won two ungraded stakes — the Sugar Maple at Charles Town and the Skipat on Preakness weekend at Pimlico — before trying, for the first time, graded company. In succession, she’s won the Grade 3 Bed o’ Roses, the Grade 2 Honorable Miss, and finally the Grade 1 Ballerina.
Perez, too, has been moving in the right direction. He finished eighth in the rider standings during the Laurel winter meet, then fifth at Pimlico. And this summer, he finished second among riders at the Colonial Downs meet, behind only longtime Colonial stalwart Horacio Karamanos. He’s already won more races, and earned far more money, than in any prior year.
A big reason for all that success is the filly by Speightstown out of the winning Louis Quatorze mare Dance to Dawn.
“I put him as one of the top three riders in Maryland [now],” said Brown, “and he’s well on his way to being one of the top three in the country.”
Though horse and rider have made three straight trips to New York — with a fourth coming up on September 21 — Brown, the agent, has stayed behind. For one thing, he says, “This has been working pretty well.”
Indeed, it has. He watched the Ballerina on TV at home. In the lane, it looked for all the world like Book Review would go by and win, but Dance to Bristol — perhaps motivated by Brown’s long-distance chant of “C’mon wire, c’mon wire” — dug in to hold her off.
“Dance to Bristol still had some things to prove [going into the race],” Brown observed. “A lot of people still had doubts. She was tougher than people thought — she just doesn’t give up. She’s got a big heart.”
Interestingly, his words to some extent mirror those he uses to describe Perez, whose book he has handled for three years. “He’s a very, very determined rider,” Brown said. “He doesn’t like to lose, and he’s a strong finisher.”
Of course, many riders are determined and don’t like to lose but ultimately don’t succeed. Brown thinks that Perez has something else that really sets him apart.[pullquote]He’s a very, very determined rider,” Brown said. “He doesn’t like to lose, and he’s a strong finisher.”[/pullquote]
“He already had the skills [when he and Perez connected],” Brown noted. “He has a work ethic that’s unreal, unmatched.”
That work ethic shows itself in the morning — Perez works eight to 10 horses each day, according to Brown — and in the afternoon. “He rides hard on everything,” Brown said. “He don’t care whether it’s 2-1 or 20-1.”
That finishing ability showed itself in the Ballerina, when Dance to Bristol needed her very best to hold off her rival’s late charge. In the Honorable Miss, in July, he showed something else — patience, and presence of mind — that should stand him in good stead. On that day, Dance to Bristol took the worst of the trip — steadied, dropping towards the rear of the field, then stalled behind a wall of horses — before a seam presented itself. Yet Perez never panicked, and when opportunity finally knocked, he and the filly had a ready answer.
As it happens, Brown has some experience with serendipity. In his career in boxing — as a manager and adviser — he’s had the savvy and good fortune to be involved with three world champs, including the great Sugar Ray Leonard.
Which raises at interesting question: How’d he end up hustling mounts as a jocks’ agent?
“Did I ever tell you that story?” he asked. “I got tricked into it.”
Like a lot of Maryland racing stories, particularly those that make you chuckle, former trainer Eddie Gaudet figures prominently. It seems that Brown, then an owner of horses — his father was a trainer for decades — and Gaudet were chatting one morning. Gaudet suggested that Brown become a jockey agent; it was, he thought, similar to putting fights together and promoting them. Brown demurred; he had a gig already.
“Eddie left,” Brown explained. “About 15 minutes later, a jock comes down to me and says, Eddie Gaudet told me to see you — that you’re going to be my agent. I said, ‘He did?’ It was Richard Monterrey.”
Soon Brown had passed the exam, received a license, and begun to represent riders, Monterrey among them. He and his riders did well but never had the chance to grab the golden ticket — until, perhaps, now.
“She’s something else,” said Perez, in the Albany Times Union (here), of Dance to Bristol. “She’s amazing. She’s the best horse I ever ride in all my career and she’s going to be the one that’s going to take me to the Breeders’ Cup.”
In addition to praising his young rider, Brown gives credit to Figgins. “Ollie’s done exceptionally well with this horse,” he said. “He’s a very good trainer.”
Meantime, there are still nearly two months until the Breeders’ Cup and another race upcoming. There’s work to be done between now and then.
Still, it’s hard not to look ahead — for the rider, or the agent. Breeders’ Cup weekend is also Brown’s birthday.
“That,” he said with a laugh, “would be a great birthday present, I’ll tell you.”
(Featured image, of Dance to Bristol winning the Skipat, by Laurie Asseo.)