The horse racing world lavishly feted Ryan Fogelsonger this past weekend, and the 21-year-old jockey from Silver Spring enjoyed every second of it. For three days, he and his agent, Kevin Witte, got the star treatment in Beverly Hills, Calif., and on Monday night he touched down at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel to accept the 2002 Eclipse Award for leading apprentice rider in the country.
"It was awesome," said Fogelsonger, the dominant rider in Maryland the past year, moments before boarding a flight yesterday from Los Angeles to return home. "The whole thing was amazing."
While in California, Fogelsonger hobnobbed with Toby Maguire and Jeff Bridges, stars of the upcoming film version of the bestseller "Seabiscuit." Famed trainer Bob Baffert took him aside and said some day he would ride a Kentucky Derby winner for him. The night before the awards dinner, Fogelsonger rented a Hummer limo and invited out an old girlfriend now attending Cal State-Fullerton. She brought along the entire women's gymnastics team.
"We rode around like rock stars," Fogelsonger said.
Wide-eyed, Fogelsonger and Witte also visited Santa Anita Park, where they were escorted to the jockey's quarters to meet some of the greatest riders in the game -- Laffit Pincay, Julie Krone, Kent Desormeaux.
At the Eclipse dinner, a bugler in the dining room went over to Fogelsonger's table and serenaded his party with "Maryland, My Maryland."
"When they announced Ryan as apprentice rider, the table was surrounded with cameras and lights," Witte said. "He was nervous and had a stutter or two making his speech, but if you know him, he's so charismatic. They took to him really well."
Fogelsonger couldn't be riding any higher -- 21 years old, never injured and sought after by nearly every trainer with a fast horse in Maryland.
He easily defeated rival apprentice John McKee in balloting by turf writers and industry members to take the Eclipse, becoming the ninth Maryland-based apprentice jockey to win in the 32-year history of the awards.
For the year, Fogelsonger led all apprentice riders with 267 victories and $4,489,311 in purse earnings while scoring with 22 percent of his mounts. He finished atop the standings in the Pimlico summer-fall meet and captured the Laurel fall meet title. In the final 98 days of the year, he won two or more races 50 times.
This afternoon, Fogelsonger resumes riding at Laurel, with no signs of slowing. Already he ranks third in the country with 35 victories in January, and he won't lose his apprentice weight allowance until May 24.
"I'm definitely going to feel on Cloud Nine the next few days," he said. "Maybe it will boost my confidence even more."
Fogelsonger and Witte plan to keep their business in Maryland, for now, but returned from the Eclipse Awards with designs on higher-profile competition in California or New York. Of the eight other Maryland-based Eclipse-winning apprentice jockeys, Chris McCarron and Desormeaux went on to great fame in California.
Yet winning does not guarantee an apprentice success. Alberto Delgado, who won in 1982, had some important moments, such as his second-place finish on Oliver's Twist in the 1995 Preakness Stakes. Now he struggles daily for mounts at Laurel Park.
Fogelsonger's good friend, Jeremy Rose, won in 2001, and while he maintains strong business, he still gets up every morning to work horses for trainers to secure afternoon rides.
"It was business as usual for me," Rose said. "It was a great award -- don't get me wrong -- but it doesn't mean you're going to keep winning. At any point you can stop."
Rose said he expects the jockeys to razz Fogelsonger when he shows up for work today. "You can't help but like Ryan," he said. "He's a great kid. But I'm sure we're going to harass him. We'll beat him up or something."