Ronnie Franklin sat in the Laurel jockeys room yesterday afternoon, studying a racing form. Riders weighed in and left with their whips. Franklin reached for the tool of his new trade and began to write.
Franklin, 30, retired as a jockey last week, and as an agent has begun reliving the experience through Clinton Potts, a 19-year-old apprentice from Texas. Franklin called the career switch inescapable, saying a lack of mounts had left him depressed and constantly struggling to lose weight. Of his 84 horses during this meet, three won.
"I knew the last year and a half, my heart wasn't into riding the way it should be," he said. "I was fighting my weight because I wasn't riding enough, and my depression in turn caused me to eat more. I was walking around here with my head dropped down, hardly ever cracked a smile."
Franklin said the career change has recharged him, and that the thought of daily sessions in the hotbox is reason not to reconsider.
He has become an agent at a time when Laurel is without a standout apprentice -- an oddity in Maryland -- a part Franklin hopes to land for Potts. Shawn Payton, the meet's leading apprentice, ranks 10th overall with 24 winners. Potts, whose apprenticeship ends in June, won his 10th yesterday.
Franklin is responsible for securing the jockey's mounts and in return gets a 25 percent cut of the earnings. It takes savvy and salesmanship and hustling between stables, and Franklin says he is up to the task. He still gets up at 4 or earlier each morning.
"So far, he's done super," Potts said of Franklin. "He's really coaching me. I've learned a million things from him already."
On the way to 1,354 victories over a 12-year career, Franklin grazed the outer reaches of his profession. As a teenager, he won the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes on Spectacular Bid, as well as an Eclipse Award. He later battled with drug addiction. His advice is not limited to riding.
"If things come together like I think they should, this'll probably be a long-term thing," Franklin said. "I like to experience different things, really. When I go for something that I really like -- not to be egotistical -- I can really get good at it. So far, it's been fun."
Seven Lords a Winning
Seven Lords came from New Jersey to Laurel and won his 14th race of the year, putting him among the nation's leaders. The 5-year-old, trained by former jockey agent Rene Araya, has been third or better in 24 of 26 starts in 1990. . . .
Silano is set to go for his 20th victory in today's $50,000 Walter Haight Handicap at Laurel. The 1 1/8-mile race, named after the late Washington Post turf writer, drew a familiar lot of older horses, including Jet Stream, Due North and Learned Jake. Silano, the 121-pound highweight, will be ridden for the first time by Mike Luzzi, Laurel's top jockey. . . .
"Inside Track," a 30-minute documentary on Maryland's thoroughbred-racing industry, will be telecast tonight at 8:30 on WHMM-TV-32.