`Cowboy' Stakes Out New Home -- Kaenel Triumphs In Slew Handicap
RENTON - He weighs less than 115 pounds - even taking into account the two-foot steel rod implanted from his right hip to his knee, the huge diamond double-horseshoe ring, and the white 10-gallon Stetson.
But Cowboy Jack Kaenel lived up to his reputation as a heavy hitter when he came to Longacres yesterday to ride a 3-year-old named Welcome Dan Sur (4-1) to victory in the $30,000 Seattle Slew Handicap.
In this instance, a great deal more was known about the rider than the ridden.
Welcome Dan Sur (4-1), trained by Mike Chambers, had neither raced here nor run in a stakes event, although he had shown promise at Golden Gate Fields this spring in three races at a mile or more.
Kaenel, who flew in for the day from Northern California, is one of the most colorful and well-traveled jockeys in the country.
He said he plans to move to Longacres in 10 days, after he rides Brown Bess, the 1989 Eclipse Award-winning turf mare, in a $400,000 stakes race in California next weekend.
Kaenel's the prototype of the rambling man. He says he's ridden at 57 different tracks. Only 24 years old, he's already a 13-year veteran after an exceptionally early start.
At 11, Kaenel rode his first race in the Midwest for his father, ex-jockey and trainer Dale Kaenel.
``I weighed 68 pounds,'' Kaenel said.
When he was 15, he'd already won more than 500 races on the bush circuit. So he dropped out of ninth grade and lied about his age in order to qualify for a license to ride at the major tracks.
He later was ruled off at Pimlico for three months when officials discovered his true age, but he came back the following spring to win the 1982 Preakness. At 16, Kaenel was the youngest jockey ever to win it.
At 20, he rode Zany Tactics to world records at six furlongs on both the turf and the dirt. At Longacres, he wore a silver belt buckle engraved with the records.
On a track surface rated good yesterday, Kaenel's mount won the one-mile Seattle Slew so handily, it was like watching Arnold Schwarzenegger take on Hans and Franz. It wasn't the margin - three-fourths of a length over Sky White - but the apparent ease of the victory that was impressive.
``I was very confident, or I wouldn't have come,'' Kaenel said.
Although Piranha Jones cut off Welcome Dan Sur in the first turn, the mishap did not discourage the brown Kentucky-bred colt.
In fact, Kaenel appeared to be applying the brakes on Welcome Dan Sur most of the way. He barely warmed the whip late in the second turn, and Welcome Dan Sur accelerated around the outside from fifth place to second.
Then Kaenel gave him a strong finish down the stretch to overtake Sky White, a son of Belle of Rainier.
``I had a lot of horse under me,'' Kaenel said, with a little grin.
The ride left the distinct impression that Chambers means to preserve this colt for bigger and better things, such as the Longacres Derby.
``This horse is going to be better the further he goes,'' said Chambers, speculating the colt could compete at 1 1/2 miles.
Welcome Dan Sur was purchased by Leroy and Jeffrey Welcome of Redmond for $15,000 as a yearling at the fall sale at Keeneland, Ken. Chambers had him last year, but didn't particularly care for him.
``To tell you the truth, I hated him as a 2-year-old,'' Chambers said. ``I did not like him at all, in any aspect.''
Part of that dislike was based on conformation; the colt is tall, but short-backed with disproportionately long legs from the knee to ankle.
It was nothing that $22,300 couldn't fix. ``I guess he's perfect, after today,'' Chambers said.
The winnings probably won't improve his temperament, however. Welcome Dan Sur is not a sweet-tempered animal.
``He turned around and bit me in the foot one time,'' Kaenel said. ``He had my whole foot in his mouth and he was trying to pull me off.''
With one victory in four lifetime starts and only $16,875 in total earnings, the colt was assigned 112 pounds in his first Longacres start, but actually carried 117 because Kaenel was five pounds over the weight.
Kaenel is scheduled to ride Cape Ludtke, twice stakes-placed at Longacres last year, for Chambers in a $50,000 invitational race on the turf next Sunday at Golden Gate.
He's also ridden in Northern California for other Longacres trainers, including Clint Roberts and Larry Ross.
As incentive to move to Seattle for the summer, Chambers has offered Kaenel first call on the horses in his barn.
Almost a year ago, Kaenel went through a harrowing equestrian accident away from the track. An avid cowboy who owns 30 head of cattle and 15 roping horses at his farm in Martinez, Calif., Kaenel likes to enter rodeos, competing in roping and bareback bronc riding.
In his home arena last June 13, he was working a green-broke horse for a friend when it flipped over, shattering his thigh bone. He remembers seeing the ragged end protruding through the skin just above his right knee.
He managed to return to racing two months later, rather than the expected four months, with the metal rod in his leg.
Kaenel says it's ``hard telling'' how he'll do at Longacres, where former leading riders Gary Boulanger and Vicky Aragon are solidly in the top two spots.
``If you get on a roll anywhere, there's no telling how good you might do,'' Kaenel said.
``And whenever you do good, you're taking horses away from the leaders. But I'm not shooting for any goals. I'll play it by ear.''
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