Race of the Week 2017

What a Year for Jockey James Graham

What a year it’s been for Irish-born jockey James Graham!  After winning his first riding championship at Arlington last summer, Graham finished second in the standings at Keeneland last fall, journeyed on down to New Orleans for the winter and where he was runner-up in the Fair Grounds standings, and then returned to Keeneland for its spring meet to win three stakes – two of them Grade I affairs.
Arriving back in Chicago in time for Sunday’s races at Arlington, Graham won the second race of the day aboard Gary and Beth Leverton’s Mr Num Num for trainer Frank Kirby in a dead-heat finish, won his second by taking the fifth on Thad Ackel’s Mop Head for trainer Mike Stidham and completed a riding triple by winning the sixth on Terry Hamilton and Robert Morgan’s Gleam of Hope, again for Stidham.
Graham, born in Finglas, Dublin, will turn 33 years old next week, but since arriving in the United States in 2004 he has been an annual staple in the Arlington jockey colony as well as at Fair Grounds during the winter months.
Regular guests at Arlington each summer have come to know that they can count on Graham to deliver his best effort aboard every horse he rides, whether in a Grade I event or the Daily Double.
“I ride for good people and they put me on good horses,” Graham said during training hours this week at Arlington.  “That’s all there is to it.”
Of course, there’s some truth to that, but there’s also the fact that Graham is a “heady” enough rider to know when to take advantage of a situation.  In Keeneland’s Grade I Ashland, for instance, Graham was aboard Alex Campbell’s Karlovy Vary, sent off as the second-longest shot in that annual 3-year-old filly fixture. Graham quickly sprinted to the lead aboard that daughter of Dynaformer, was able to make the pace with tawdry early splits and then had enough left to withstand the race’s late runners by three-quarters of a length.  Karlovy Vary paid a generous $32.80 for the win.
“Looking at the replay makes me laugh,” said Graham.  “I can’t believe they let me get away with early splits like that.  I don’t know what they were thinking.
“I didn’t think they’d let me go as slow as they did,” Graham said.  “I was the only one in the race that had any speed.”
One week later, in the Grade I Jenny Wiley, Graham used the same tactics astride James Miller’s Daisy Devine to be clearly best by a length at the wire.  That daughter of Kafwain was also overlooked by the fans, returning a $16.20 win mutuel.  It was the first time Graham had registered two Grade I wins during the same meeting at the Lexington oval, but he wasn’t finished with his success in Kentucky.
On April 26, Graham piloted Stone Farm et al.’s Upperline to a length and a half-tally in Keeneland’s Grade III Bewitch Stakes after coming from off the pace with a bold late move in the stretch.  That win, aboard the heroine of the Arlington Oaks two years ago, was for the Chicago-based Stidham.
Despite earning his first riding championship honors at Arlington last summer, Graham seems particularly unimpressed by the accomplishment.
“Winning the title last summer was nice,” said Graham, “because it’s such a major circuit and I love it here.  But it’s hardly the most important thing for me – no matter where you are riding. The most important thing is for everyone to stay safe.  It’s a long meeting here.  For now, we’re here and just very happy to be back at Arlington.”
Racing fans are reminded that “Night School” will be held Thursday at 7:30 p.m. central time this week and concentrate on a preview of the upcoming Arlington season which will run through Sept. 25.
Hosted by Arlington line maker Joe Kristufek, this week’s session will feature Arlington’s senior director of marketing Howard Sudberry and be can be accessed through arlingtonpark.com.


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