It was supposed to be a jockey's secret. and a personal celebration amid an otherwise ordinary afternoon of mounts for Jack Kaenel.
Instead, Monday's lineup at Timonium Raceway features Kaenel in seven races -- and a track-hosted party marking the occasion as he returns to the track after his admission of falsifying his age by a year and the subsequent cancellation of his apprentice jockey license two months ago.
Monday, Kaenel will become 16, the minimum age for professional jockeys. His birthday, and legitimate racing start, are being marked by a party for him and 100 track personnel.
He and Bill Passmore, a rider with 33 years experience, were the leading riders at Pimlico when Kaenel's true age was discovered in May. At the time, Kaenel was earning $6,000 a week. On the New York track circuit, where he had previously ridden as a 15-year-old, his weekly paychecks were sometimes $15,000.
His one-day stop in Timonium fulfills an agreement with the Maryland Racing Commission, which was sympathetic in its decision to remove the jockey's license in a hearing last May 20.
"I feel like this is my second 16th birthday," said Kaenel, a native of Omaha whose stories of his family's gypsy-like travels between "bush tracks" in the West softened the commission. "I wanted to ride in Maryland on my first day back because the ruling was so good.
"They could have really hurt me."
The fanfare surrounding the suspension has made Kaenel a celebrity. He has appeared on television shows and will be the subject of a "That's Incredble!" segment in October.
Since using a false birth certificate to obtain his license and ride his first pari-mutuel winner at a Canadian race track last September, Kaenel has won $1.2 million in purses, bringing his personal earnings to $85,000.
Kaenel's first paydays came as an 11-year-old on back road tracks in Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado, where age limits go unenforced. Four hundred wins later, Kaenel and his family took their mobil home to Manitoba. Dale Kaenel, a trainer, wanted to race his three horses there.
"I wasn't going to ride, just exercise horses, but the stewards (in Canada) encouraged me," Kaenel said. "I had added on a year a few years ago, because I've been around horses for so long. I figured I could get by with it, in the same way kids lie to get in adult movies."
Already Kaenel has an agent, Billy Vuotto of Lanham, a lawyers, an accountant, and a valet.
"Jack's going to be a gold mine," Vuotto said. "He'll be a Derby winner.
There's a whole lot of talent wrapped up there."
Kaenel will race Tuesday at Delaware Park before moving to Saratoga for August. Then, he will ride the Acqueduct program in afternoons and the Meadowlands in the evenings.
Vuotto says he didn't know Kaenel was only 15 when he became his agent last December.
"If I had know, I'd have never let reporters near him," Vuotto said. "He said he and his father didn't want to worry me with that. His secret got out in the excitement of winning those five races in one day (April 21).
"I'll tell you, Jack was shaking like a kid."
In the 10 weeks since his license was cancelled, Kaenel, 5-feet-4 and 102 pounds, rebounded from an appendectomy to ride 26 winners in 53 races on the Oklahoma circuit. Friday, visiting Saratoga for the first time. Kaenel was greeted by Angel Cordero, who led the others in a premature round of "Happy Birthday."
"This birthday," Kaenel said, "has been a long time coming."