Bug Boy An apprentice jockey who gets a weight allowance to compensate for his inexperience.” from the beginner’s guide to racing…..
Charlie Clahain was a trainer’s dream. Young, but not childish, well spoken, mannerly and talented.
The owner’s loved him and he sure could ride. As an apprentice, he carried 5 lbs less than the rest of the field but he rode even better than a pro – like a hungry pro.
With Charlie, you didn’t have to wade through the layers of complicated ego that so often surround the best riders and you didn’t have to fight for him with an agent. He was there to ride for you with a smile and an attentive ear. Charlie was a rising star.
The ladies loved him too. His boyish charm, strong straight teeth, tiny gymnast’s frame, and Irish accent had the women squirming for more of his attention. He had a soft voice and a giant laugh. He was small enough that weight wasn’t as much an issue as it was with riders older and taller than he was.
In the jock’s room, he was friendly and funny. The best jockeys liked the fact that he rode well and carefully – not like a lot of hungry, inexperienced bug boys who rode loose or took unnecessary chances with the owner’s horses or with other jockey’s lives. Not once had the older riders had to pinch him off or drive him to the rail to show him how the game was played. He avoided scuffles with other jocks and was respectful when appropriate. Everybody liked Charlie. Everybody hoped that he would stay around instead of drifting off to Canada or to the lesser tracks up north. He was smart enough to ride out his apprenticeship here in Southern California where the purses were high. Once he lost that 5 pound advantage, he may have to make other plans. He made friends easily and yet nobody knew where he stayed at night, which was usually at one girl’s house or another. Other than a good Irishman’s zest for Guinness, he didn’t seem to have any messy habits to clean up after or conceal.
Charlie ticked off wins at a respectable rate. He always gave credit to the horse or trainer and never dismounted without giving the male horses a good hearty pat or gentle kiss on the neck for the fillies. He was garnering a good reputation with important barns and showing no tendency towards billowing into an egomaniac. He took his successes as well as his losses in stride and racing welcomed him.
The Stewards, racing’s state employed umpires, had a responsibility to the betting public to ensure that racing was clean and fair. Every apprentice rider was scrutinized not just for his riding ability (or lack of same) but for personal habits that might make for racing scandal. They were pleased with Charlie. The one time he was called to appear before them for a horse that lugged out in the stretch and interfered with a horse making a move for the finish line Charlie bowed his head and accepted a three day suspension without protest. Even if it was obvious from the replay tapes that Charlie’s horse was tired and that Charlie did all that his 108 pound body could do to maintain a straight course, the impeding cost the betting public an honest win and the Stewards couldn’t let such things go.
During his suspension, Charlie disappeared without a trace. Most sidelined riders hang around the barns or the races, garnering business and complaining about being wronged by the Stewards. Not Charlie. No phone call to his agent, no whining, no walking around the barns kicking dirt – no Charlie at all.
Racing has a tremendous ability to forget those who are not in attendance and not many people worried much about it. Charlie took a full two weeks to re-appear, and with him returned his smile, his laugh and his riding talent. He neither apologized nor explained anything to anyone including his exasperated agent. He resumed riding and winning at a fair clip. Soon, Charlie was very close to losing his apprentice status and several owners, trainers and girls were anxious to know if he planned to stay in Southern California for the summer meet at Del Mar. Charlie managed to duck all of the questions and charmed his way out of long term entanglements with the owners, the trainers and women. When he was only five wins away from “losing the bug” Charlie was involved in a nasty spill and broke three ribs and his collar-bone. The ambulance delivered him to the hospital on a Friday afternoon and by Saturday morning, Charlie had vanished.