Jockey Rudy Turcotte dismounted after his morning gallop aboard Cure The Blues and gazed admiringly at the animal who has changed his life. "This colt," he said, "is my ticket to somewhere."
On the day last April when he rode Cure The Blues for the first time, Turcotte's once-successful career had been on the road to nowhere. He wasn't winning many races; he was sinking into depression; he was losing his enthusiasm for the only profession he knew. Under such circumstances, jockeys typically hope for a single stroke of fortune that turns their fortunes around.
Turcotte's came during that race at Pimlico. Cure The Blues had been showing his inexperience, trying to swerve and acting as if he wanted to stop dead in his tracks. The jockey remembers the rest vividly: "When he was two lengths in front, I hit him twice. Then he was four in front! Six! Eight! 10!"
Bernie Bond, the colt's trainer, dashed out of the grandstand and said, "Rudy, I think we have a runner."
"Bernie," Turcotte said, "we have a runner but he still doesn't know a damned thing."
Bond said, "Well, I want you to help teach him. I want you to get to know him and him to get to know you. I want you out here every morning."
More successful jockeys might have been reluctant to lavish so much time on a single, unproven animal. Turcotte might not have done so at an earlier stage of his career, but now he had little to lose.
He had come from Canada, broke into racing at Aqueduct in 1969, and enjoyed instant success. While he never emulated his illustrious brother, Ron, a two-time Kentucky Derby winner, Rudy established himself as a solid, capable, consistent performer on the Maryland and Pennsylvania circuits. But as he looks back on the last few years, he feels that his fortunes turned around abruptly in one horrifying split second in 1978.
Turcotte was riding a filly named Easy Edith who broke down in the stretch turn at Pimlico, breaking her jockey's collarbone and starting a chain-reaction pileup that killed rider Robert Pineda. Easy Edith had been treated with the drug Butazolidin, and the incident became a prime argument for those who wanted the drug banned. After Turcotte was quoted in the newspapers expressing his own reservations about the medication, he feels many trainers who favored the drug were turning their backs on him. Whatever the reason, his career took a nosedive -- until Cure The Blues came along.
Every morning, Turcotte walked and galloped the colt, trying to show him what the game was all about. Bond gave him the tutelage that has made him such a successful developer of 2-year-olds over the years. Cure The Blues responded by winning all five of his races in Maryland, by a total of 38 lengths.
But as the colt established himself as the most brilliant member of his generation, Turcotte found himself in limbo. Bond trains the second string of owner Bert Firestone's stable, and at the end of the season was going to turn over Cure The Blues to LeRoy Jolley, a master at preparing 3-year-olds for the Triple Crown series. Jolley was using an established star, Jacinto Vasquez, on most of his horses. Where did that leave Turcotte?
It left him, of course, in a very vulnerable position. But Bond had told Firestone how much Turcotte had contributed to the colt's education, and Firestone had told Jolley, and so Rudy Turcotte has come to Florida to ride the best 3-year-old thoroughbred in America.
Turcotte spends part of every morning at Jolley's barn, exercising the colt and keeping a watchful eye on him. He knows he must be watchful because just about every agent of every good rider in America covets the mount on Cure The Blues and knows that Jolley's relationships with jockeys are sometimes turbulent. "Don't even stub your toe," a friendly rider advised Turcotte.
Although he comprehends the sensitivity of his position, Turcotte insists that he is calm about it. Pressure, he said, is what he felt when he was enduring a three-year slump. "When I'm on the best horse," he said, "I don't feel pressure. A horse like this gives you confidence. He's going to put me where I always wanted to be."