Jack Jocoy. The stable hands gathered outside the stall to look at the Americano who had begun to perspire heavily through his brand new white shirt and suit.
  • Jack Jocoy. The stable hands gathered outside the stall to look at the Americano who had begun to perspire heavily through his brand new white shirt and suit.
  • Image by Craig Carlson
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

On the pinto that he rode, he felt the beast’s physicality, its thickness through the barrel, feeling the strong uneven lope, a muscular ripple along the horse’s glistening croup and withers, the leather saddle against his jeans.The breeze blew in against his chest; he galloped the pinto.splashing through the water on the Del Mar beach, feeling strong and masterful, the sand giving way beneath him,the water spraying his face.

“Never mind no tequila,” Clayton said. “You just go in there and cut off them balls.”

“Never mind no tequila,” Clayton said. “You just go in there and cut off them balls.”

The year was 1943. he was seventeen years old, and he felt life opening up for him in all the glory he could capture — if, he thought, I’m willing to pay the price to take all that I can and make myself a player in this game of life, instead of a spectator like so many others content to watch and not be stars. The horse was up to its shoulders in the water, then slowed and began working its way closer to the beach's harder moist sand. Its rider headed toward the stream that emptied into the sea from the marsh where the new racetrack had been built six years earlier in 1937.

With that big break — caring for a Derby winner — Jocoy’s career began to soar.

With that big break — caring for a Derby winner — Jocoy’s career began to soar.

They trotted along the empty highway, the pinto moving easily; the rider loved the horse and wouldn’t overwork the animal. From across the road floated the roar of thunderous cheers. Nine thoroughbreds had just left the starting gate. There, another breed of horse, the thoroughbred, was running for money, was treated much more harshly than he would ever treat his pinto.

During Del Mar’s 1982 summer season, Jocoy cares for about 400 of the 2300 horses on the backside.

During Del Mar’s 1982 summer season, Jocoy cares for about 400 of the 2300 horses on the backside.

He rode into downtown Del Mar and up the Fifteenth Street hill, just a dirt road then, and after he took his horse to the stable behind his parents’ home, he went inside. His mother, a beautiful Englishwoman. confronted him in the kitchen where he was making himself a sandwich. She said sternly he was seventeen now, he’d graduated from La Jolla High and he had to start to make his way in the world.

Preparing injection. Jocoy: "Why should you deny the thoroughbred what you wouldn’t deny yourselves?"

Preparing injection. Jocoy: "Why should you deny the thoroughbred what you wouldn’t deny yourselves?"

“All right,’’ Jock Jocoy said. “Tomorrow I’ll get a job.”

“I want you out of the house tomorrow.”

Hitchhiking into San Diego, he joined the Navy the next day. The year was 1944 and he fought in the Pacific and sailed into Japanese waters on the first peace-settlement ships and he picked up souvenirs such as rifles with rising-sun flags on their bayonets, and he would later join the merchant marines, then become a lifeguard on the Del Mar beach, and all the while think mainly of himself and his physique and strength and collect scrapbooks with pictures of himself.

Jocoy’s dream is to own and breed the winner of the Kentucky Derby or Santa Anita Handicap or Hollywood Gold Cup.

Jocoy’s dream is to own and breed the winner of the Kentucky Derby or Santa Anita Handicap or Hollywood Gold Cup.

As an ambitious man. however, he realized the beach life was no life for him and that as a lifeguard he would never get what he wanted in life, and there was so much that he wanted. But his love of horses had held true and he saw them every day. now that he ushered for the Del Mar racetrack. For the next eight years, from 1946 to 1954, he would spend his summers at the track and the rest of his time studying at UC Davis, on his way to becoming a doctor of veterinary medicine.

Today Jocoy is an equine sports doctor, one of the world’s best. No other professional sports doctor has ever laid his hands on so many championship athletes worth so much money. One of the nation’s most prestigious horse races is the Hollywood Park Gold Cup. Of the twenty-seven winners to have run since 1955, Jocoy has cared for thirteen: Rejected, Swaps, Hillsdale, Dotted Swiss, Prove It, Cadiz, Pleasure Seeker, Ack Ack, Quack, Kennedy Road, Tree of Knowledge, Exceller, and this year’s winner, Perrault.

Eleven times Jocoy has been hired to go to the Kentucky Derby and care for a competitor; four times he has cared for a Derby winner — Swaps in 1955, Decidedly in 1962, Lucky Debonair in 1965, and Canonero II, in 1971. His advice has been solicited worldwide by thoroughbred doctors — he’s been invited to lecture in the People’s Republic of China on equine leg care, and to speak this November to the Philippines Thoroughbred Breeders Association. When state officials recently tried to ban many thoroughbred medications, Jocoy spoke before members of the Assembly to defend their use. And he was elected as a director of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, and he serves on both the track and medication committees of the international Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

During Del Mar’s 1982 summer season, he cares for about 400 of the 2300 horses on the backside. But injecting a horse with butazolidin or dexamethasone is easily done and any of the eight veterinarians on the Del Mar backside can do a competent job of that. What makes Jocoy the dean of Southern California’s thoroughbred doctors is that he has an uncanny ability to diagnose the horse’s most common ailment — lameness — and remedy the malady. Jocoy is one of the top men in his profession because he has.survived through a third of a century on the track while many other veterinarians have come and gone. He’s an exceptionally successful thoroughbred owner and breeder, his horses having won eighty-seven races, including thirteen stakes victories, a superb record considering that much wealthier owners and breeders have spent much greater sums with far less success.

Caliente was a beautiful but security-lax track in 1953, and anybody could get on the backside. Jocoy borrowed his mother’s car and loaded the back seat with an array of veterinary texts — Veterinary Notes for Horse Owners by Captain M. Horace Hayes, The Horse by William Youatt, Diseases of the Horse from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among others — and he crossed the border, making his way to Agua Caliente. He was twenty-seven years old and had a year of veterinary school remaining at Davis, and he stretched the truth to the first person he met.

“I’m a doctor of veterinary medicine,” he said to trainer Cliff Clayton, a long-legged cowboy who wore blue jeans and a ten-gallon hat. He was the very image of Gary Cooper and worked his horses as hard and cheaply as possible. Clayton looked at this kid who wore a bowtie and a suit jacket that was too tight around the shoulders, and who seemed he should have been going to a fancy luncheon with his mother the way he was dressed. Feeling awkward under Clayton’s steely gaze, Jocoy said, “You name what you want. If it’s legal. I’ll do it.”

Clayton spat and looked at the kid out of one slit eye. “I got three horses need cortisone. You know what cortisone is?”

“I sure do,” Jocoy said. “It’s one of the newest wonder drugs.”

"You know how to give it without spooking an animal?”

“You bet. Oh, excuse me a moment, sir, but I forgot something in my car.” Getting into the back seat, Jocoy quickly flipped through one of his book’s pages, trying to find the chapter that explained how to give a horse a cortisone injection, which, when he found it, said that the area on the horse must be shaven, but he hadn’t a razor. However, scrounging around the car floor, he found one of his old straightedges.

By the time Jocoy returned, Clayton, tired of waiting, had left for lunch, instructing one of the grooms to take the kid to each of the horse’s stalls. Pointing to the straightedge, then to his face, Jocoy persuaded the groom to go to his living quarters and return with some shaving soap and a brush. As the groom watched in wonderment, Jocoy began to lather the stallion’s neck, but the stallion turned its rump and narrowly missed him with a kick. Grabbing the halter with one hand, trying to shave with the other. Jocoy was pushed against the cement wall when the horse reared on its back legs.

Never mind the shave, Jocoy thought. I’ll just inject him. He managed to get the needle in, but every time he tried to attach the syringe, the horse reared and tried to come down on top of him. The Mexican groom grabbed the halter, but the stallion was too disturbed — its ears lay sleek to its coat, its eyes glassy and insane — and the horse bullied the groom into a corner and tried to turn and kick Jocoy.

By now the rest of the stable-hands had heard the commotion and gathered outside the stall to look at the Americano who had begun to perspire heavily through his brand-new white shirt and suit. His bowtie was partly off the collar. It all seemed so easy in school, he muttered, and he grabbed again at the halter to take control of the beast and finish an injection that, thus far, had taken twenty minutes. But the stallion wouldn’t be still. In an effort to distract the stablehands, and to let them know that the little general was calm and collected, not at all taken aback, which he was, by a horse that wouldn’t stay on all four legs long enough for him to finish a simple injection,

Jocoy began what would become the first of his many lectures on equine sports medicine. For the next ten minutes, as he tried to calm the stallion, he pontificated on the value of steroids. “They’re the miracle drug of the Twentieth Century,’’ he began and muttered. under his breath, for the stallion to relax. “They reduce inflammation so well and promote such fast healing that soon every trainer in the world will be using them. ... Of course, it’s my belief that a horse can be over-treated. . . .” As the stallion reared again, the stablehands exchanged knowing glances and laughter spread among them. This fool who couldn't even connect the syringe to the needle, they had decided, wouldn’t go anywhere, except, maybe, home to his mother.

Finally, connecting needle and syringe and completing the injection, Jocoy made a head-first dash from the stall. Brushing the straw off his shin, straightening his bowtie, Jocoy looked back at the stallion and saw a big bloody pool spread down the neck to the point of his shoulders. He went to the next stable, the young Mexicans following, talking in Spanish behind his back as he took an hour to inject two more horses, both of whom were left badly shaken and bleeding. But luck was with Jocoy: Clayton had taken a long lunch, and none of the stablehands spoke enough English to tell him about the mess the young veterinarian had made.

The next summer, having just graduated as a doctor from Davis, Jocoy was back at Caliente, this time telling trainer Bill Thompkins about his new method of gelding, the equine term for castration. Until Jocoy developed a procedure that revolutionized thoroughbred castrations in the West, common practice dictated that the stallion be strung up by his tail, his back legs lifted off the ground, all this being done for the doctor’s safety; but for the horse, resulting frequently in severe back problems.

Jocoy theorized aloud that he could geld a stallion in a way that caused no pain or shock and which was more humane, besides enabling the horse to race the next week, rather than wait the one month normally needed for recuperation from the health setback. “In short,” Jocoy finished, “my method is superior.” But in fact he had never in his life performed a castration on a thoroughbred, much less one using his new technique.

And what’s more, Jocoy’s method required the use of an anesthetic, but trainers wouldn’t use anesthetics then; they believed them to be poisons. Thompkins told Cliff Clayton, who had just taken on an ornery mean stallion he couldn’t race because the horse’s testicles flopped so much they were too painful to run.

“I hear you’re the best de-baller on the track,” Clayton said one day.

“Sure, I’m good,” Jocoy answered.

“Good, ’cause I got a stallion I want de-balled.”

Clayton drove Jocoy the next day to his Chula Vista ranch. He invited him inside the house. “Have a shooter or two,” Clayton said.

“A what?”

“Come on and have a drink.” Clayton pulled out a bottle of whiskey.

“Coke for me,” Jocoy said.

After four shooters — all for courage — Clayton grabbed both arms of the chair and pushed himself up onto his feet. “Let’s go cut the balls off that horse.”

Inside the barn, Jocoy began to ready his hand-mixed anesthetics. “We don’t use no anesthetics here,” Clayton said. “You want to poison my horse? He’ll never run again.”

“But Cliff,” Jocoy began, “you got to use a little tequila.” (Since working in Mexico, tequila was Jocoy’s new word for anesthetics.)

“Nah,” Clayton spat. “Don’t need no tequila. The moon was full last night. The temperature is right today. That’s what matters. The signs are right.”

From out of his equipment bag Jocoy took his brand-new emasculators, long-handled pliers, bright and shiny.The stallion was mean already, but must have known what was about to happen, because as soon as Jocoy got close enough, he bit the doctor’s shoulder. Clayton yanked the loop on the end of his twitch even tighter around the horse’s nose. “Now, I hear you can de-ball a standing stallion. Well, I never seen that before, and that’s what I want to see today.”

“But the tequila,” the doctor said.

“Never mind no tequila,” Clayton said. “You just go in there and cut off them balls.”

The first cut would be to open the bottom of the scrotum and peel away the sack. The second cut would sever the testicles. Jocoy took out his scalpel and bent beneath the stallion. It kicked a hole in the wall before he could make the first cut. Jocoy tried again, and blood streamed to the ground.

“Good job!” Clayton said.

A bleeding razor slice ran along Jocoy’s left palm. “I cut my hand, not the balls,” he said.

“Damn, Jocoy, cut the horse and watch out for your hand next time. Now get back under there and cut off them balls.”

His hand painfully throbbing, feeling queasy, wishing he had drunk a shooter or two after all. breathing in deep, knowing his reputation was at stake, wiping the perspiration from his forehead, using the meanest, most decisive slice he had ever made, Jocoy cut away the scrotum. Another merciless motion severed the testicles, which plopped on the ground. “That a way. Doc!” Clayton called.

Jocoy felt as elated as after a La Jolla High football game his team won when he was varsity quarterback in 1943. But the elation wasn’t because he had done his first thoroughbred gelding. Rather, Clayton had called him “Doc.” Somebody important had finally acknowledged that he was, indeed, a doctor.

“How’d you like to come out to my ranch and de-ball fifty horses?” Rex Ellsworth asked Jocoy after hearing about how well he gelded stallions.

After a long day’s work, Jocoy had performed his job so capably that Ellsworth offered him the position of veterinarian for his Chino farm. For the year that he stayed, Jocoy had free housing and gasoline, as well as a $400 monthly salary and all the free meat he wanted to eat. He left after that single year, saying he wanted to be his own boss. This time he avoided Caliente and instead went to the big tracks, Santa Anita and Hollywood, with the assurance that he would work as Ellsworth’s veterinarian, while at the same time trying to get many other owners to hire him. One of Ellsworth’s horses for whom Jocoy cared was Swaps, the 1955 Kentucky Derby winner.

With that big break — caring for a Derby winner — Jocoy’s career began to soar, other trainers reasoning that if Jocoy took care of Swaps, they should have Jocoy care for their horses too. By the early 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Jocoy had more business than he ever dreamed possible, and he was making money in incredible amounts, earning upward of $12,000 monthly, frequently working for a thousand dollars a day. Today Jocoy is worth more than three and a half million dollars; he is a kingpin in a multibillion-dollar industry.

His success came with a price, of course, not only for Jocoy himself but for his wife, Katie, who has spent twenty-seven years shuffling from hotel to hotel as they followed the racing circuit, this time at Arcadia, then up to Bay Meadows in San Mateo, or to Pomona, or Hollywood Park in Inglewood. Katie had talent as an artist, but the constant moving, trying always to set up a new home, made painting too difficult.

Then there were his four children. If they had school to finish, they were left behind with Katie, and Jocoy lived alone until they finished. They, too, constantly moved about and lived in hotels or cramped apartments. “It was a drag sometimes,” his youngest daughter, Jan, says of those days. “When you live in a hotel, people think it’s supposed to be a vacation, but for me it was cement and television and being taken away from friends.” She can also remember sharing time with her father, before 1960, and they would draw in coloring books; he gave her his personal attention.

“But by the 1960s,” his wife says, “he had to meet the pressures of his business, and he just didn’t have more time for the children. He’ll tell me sometimes that if he had his life to live over again, from the time the children were young, he would choose to be a veterinarian at home in Del Mar and work with the horses around Rancho Santa Fe, and that maybe his family would have been happier. But the way he was raised, the main thing was to take care of the necessities. The emotional part was left to wither away. He didn’t spend personal time with his children.”

Now it is 1982 and Jocoy is driving to San Diego from Los Angeles in the sparkling brown El Dorado he just bought, so that now he has two Cadillacs — one for work, and this one he’s driving, which he calls his dinner car. Today in particular he’s a truly happy man. His gypsy lifestyle is temporarily suspended and it’s so nice to be headed south for as long a stay at his Del Mar home as he has had in thirty-nine years.

Today is July 18 and the Del Mar season begins in three days and lasts until September 8. This seven-week period is the only time he gets to live at home, and he doesn’t want anybody or anything to mess it up. Definitely, Jocoy doesn’t want any problems from his children, who are all grown now, although he’s not enamored of their careers, three of his children being musicians, the other a collector of Oriental rugs. After all, they’re adults now and they ought to be able to handle their own financial obligations without always looking to their father to bail them out of difficulties when they can’t afford payments on their cars, for instance, or they need help to pay rent.

So he gives them money and puts food on the table and provides them a great place to live and they grow up on five acres with horses and a pool, and now he just doesn’t want any problems — just happy, peppy days at work and with Katie at home in the kind of home he always dreamed of, on the beach at Del Mar, with the sand and ocean for his backyard, so that he feels as though he owns the beach and that his guests are the people in their beach chairs and on their towels.

Turning on the air conditioner and checking his digital gas-range computer, Jocoy thought of the Del Mar racetrack that he likes to call the Saratoga of the West. He might even watch a few races this season. After all, he has the best box at the track, as close as a grandstand spectator can be to the finish line. But then, perhaps he will not go to too many races this season. These days, Jocoy has ambivalent feelings about the track. He has all the money he needs — a couple of hundred thousand dollars comes in each year now without his really trying — and there are things he wants to do that have nothing in connection with the horses, such as running in 10,000 kilometer races, or becoming the American champ, for his age group, in the hundred and 200 meters, or improving on his fifth-place finish in this year’s World Veteran Decathalon Championships, held at San Diego State University. But he’ll be back at the track’s backside. He’ll be back just as surely as he has difficulty imagining himself treating some little dog that scratched itself and him offering words of wisdom to the dog’s twelve-year-old owner.

By eight-thirty, the sun is high and warming the air. The grooms have been up four hours already, after having slept in their dingy, crowded rows of portable shoe boxes set up to accommodate them for their seven-week stay at Del Mar, a span of time in which they’ll infrequently — perhaps never — leave the backside, owing their life to the three or four horses for whom they care for $750 monthly, rent and utilities paid, they not needing much else, and what is needed can be bought somewhere on the backside, including anything from their dinner to shaving cream or new shirts and socks.

The grooms and hot-walkers and exercise boys are mainly Mexicans and girls nowadays, most of the blacks having gone, and along with them the all-day and all-night poker games that Jocoy used to play in when he was a ‘‘twenty-one man” who arrived at the track at seven and stayed till seven, seven days a week (seven-seven-seven: twenty-one), building up his business in some kind of crazed pursuit of his dream and his security.

But the ‘‘twenty-one man” routine stopped seven years ago, and this day Jocoy doesn’t pull onto the track until nearly eight-thirty, driving along the stables in his white Cadillac, which, along with his never-ending supply of brand-new starched white shirts, has become his trademark, leading trainers and grooms to call him the “society vet.” The regular schedule he follows is the best way to discover how thoroughbreds are treated, information few race fans ever obtain because racing is a highly policed sport that involves gambling, and only those persons with security clearances — approved by both the state and FBI — may go on the backside.

Donald Ross’s stable is Jocoy’s first stop. Ross, a leading jockey at Hollywood Park in the late Sixties, is a very competent trainer but he hasn’t great horses, most of them valued in the $10,000 to $200,000 range. Ross is a small man who slicks his hair back with plenty of oil, and he wants Jocoy to know that his exercise boy noticed the filly. Social Pendant, was breathing hard after her morning work.

Bringing his endoscope to the stall, Jocoy told the groom, Juan, to put the halter on the horse. The endoscope, a pliable black tube, uses fiberoptics that enable Jocoy to see inside the horse’s body, as it’s inserted into the nostils and down through the respiratory tract into the throat and lungs. On the end of the tube is a small swiveling periscope. Although Social Pendant was plainly uncomfortable, Jocoy has learned to move with authority around horses. The filly stayed still. The triangular-shaped larynx and its mucous folds were swollen from edema and infection. He injected the horse with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

Next, Jocoy had to perform a Caslick, an operation named for the surgeon who invented this odd surgery for fillies. Just as some stallions must be gelded if they’re to run well, many fillies have their vagina partially closed, to prevent air from being sucked in, which causes the vagina to become enlarged and, rubbing against other organs, become raw, often infected, significantly slowing the horse. Turning the filly rump-first, having Juan stack bales of hay behind her legs in case she kicks, Jocoy injected local anesthetics, then sliced the edges of the vaginal lips, throwing the black scraps onto the sod. Taking bowed needles and thread, he sewed the lips together. As they healed they would meld together, thus sealing the upper margin of the vagina. Attesting to the perversity in which he was engaged, Jocoy said to a spectator, "Imagine that. Sewing a horse’s vagina — just so people can bet on her.”

Back in Ross’s office, at the end of his stalls, Jocoy stepped out of his veterinary role and offered his client the kind of universal wisdom that goes beyond the racetrack world, that’s as old as the thoughts of a Roman businessman, a wisdom that almost everybody must possess if they’re to succeed in accumulating wealth by selling their product, especially if that product is their own self. Ross was unsure whether he would get the opportunity to train the $500,000 son of Affirmed, a colt he wanted very badly because it could become his big horse, the animal that could make him a name in the thoroughbred world. The colt’s owner, Dan Stathatos, had a few horses in training with Ross, and horses with other trainers, too, arid he wasn’t sure which trainer he wanted to handle his Affirmed colt. Ross, with his hands in his jeans’ back pockets and trying to appear low-keyed, despite the concern in his voice that betrayed his agitation, said to Jocoy, “I just don’t know if I’m going to get him. Doc. He’s a runner, but Stathatos is looking around at several trainers and I’m just not sure he’s going to want me.”

Here Jocoy had what he loves most — an audience leaning on his every word. In this instance, Ross wanted the kind of confidence-building Jocoy intuited he needed: “Listen, Donald, you were once the leading jockey at Hollywood. Don’t ever forget that. That’s where you have it over Joe Marti and those other trainers. You tell Dan you’ll be able to tell if the colt can run, and that, if he can, you’ll keep him under wraps. But if you keep quiet, you’ll never get the colt.”

Then comes Nadine Falbo, a young woman training her own horse. Prince My Prince, which ran second-to-last the day before. After the race, she spent seven hours in front of her colt, watching its every urination, defecation, bit of hay he ate, every shift from one foreleg to the other, listening for every snort and cough, just because she had been so sure, almost certain, that her horse — her dream — would run well and he hadn’t.

After seven hours of looking, she had called Jocoy at his home. She said he just had to get down to the stable. That was last night. Well, her 9:00 p.m. call was better than the calls at four o’clock in the morning, when owners, thinking they know why their horse pulled seventh in an eight-horse field, give Jocoy their opinions, then cry a little bit, then beg the doctor to tell them that their horse is, after all, a winner. Jocoy went to the stable last night to appease Nadine, but he said there was nothing he could do for her, and now, today, there she was again, waiting for the doctor and certain he could do something for her colt. She walked with him to her colt’s stall where another dark-haired girl sat on a bale of hay, just looking at Prince My Prince. The dark-haired girl was Nadine's partner in ownership of the colt and had flown in from New Mexico to see its maiden race.

From out of her jeans pocket, Nadine pulled a shiny new stethoscope. “She wants me to have you check his breathing,” Nadine said and looked at the dark-haired girl, who looked back at Nadine as though Nadine had betrayed her by saying she was the one who doubted the doctor’s expertise in practicing his profession. Jocoy has an explosive temper and in his chest could feel a tightening, constricting band begin to twist.

That these two little girls would tell him, a man with a third of a century on the track, eight years of university training, eleven times to the Kentucky Derby, to check their horse’s breathing, as if he didn’t know what he was doing! He bit the inside of his cheek and silently took the stethoscope, placed the diaphragm upon the colt’s chest, and found nothing unusual. Nadine suggested the colt had a temperature. Jocoy took his temperature, which read only slightly above one hundred degrees, normal for a horse.

— But that must be why he ran poorly, Nadine said. Can you inject him. Doc?

— Your colt’s healthy enough. An injection isn’t needed.

— But will you look at his race film with us?

— Nadine, this was your colt’s maiden race, all right? Give him a chance to show himself.

Later that afternoon Jocoy returned to the stables to give another horse a Lasix injection and Nadine and her dark-haired friend had hired another veterinarian to check their colt. The new doctor advised them to send their colt to San Luis Rey Downs for X-rays and treatments. By late afternoon, dismayed by their new doctor’s advice, they asked Jocoy to come back and help them. By now Jocoy could tell that the two women were suffering badly from frayed nerves, and that they felt their dream was shattered. Feeling protective of them, Jocoy said. It’s a tough world, but that doesn’t mean you two can’t get all dressed up and go out to a nice fancy dinner at Mon Ami.

In contrast to Nadine were the Priddys, his next clients. They’re from Del Mar and live half a block from Jocoy. Ray Priddy is the kind of man Jocoy respects and loves. When Priddy owned his big horse, Kamehameha — a stallion he bought in Kentucky for $4500 and which won $325,000, and which he sold for $500,000 — every time it won a race, Priddy stuffed a bundle of hundred-dollar bills in Jocoy’s hands, telling him, “Go take Katie out for steaks.” Jocoy didn’t care so much about the bills as that they symbolized the way horse racing should be, that Priddy would take full responsibility for a horse that didn't run well, and that he shared the responsibility for a horse that was a winner.

This day Priddy had left his stable under the quite competent charge of George, their Mexican head groom, a big bull of a man who. from his usual seated position atop a bale of hay, made sure the other younger hands stayed in line and properly did their chores. George has been on the track since 1942, all that time not paying rent, having built up a bankroll of legendary proportions, not having a wife, only a lady friend who visits him and cooks for him in his little room. Recently, George was complaining that he never got to vacation. So the Priddys said take two weeks and George packed his bags and left for Mexico but returned two days later, telling Ray Priddy, “How can I stay away when I fear, day and night, nobody will take proper care of my horses?

By George’s own decree, he’s the only one of the Mexicans who may address the honorable doctor, making sure that the younger hands see him, as they saw him now, addressing the doctor, asking “Have we got work today, doctor?” George wore an undershirt and dirty sand-colored slacks and a cowboy hat and was brown-skinned and big-bellied and had big tough hands and thick shoulders and a black beard, shadowy dark on his face. He and the doctor walked into Priddy’s office, where all the bridles hung from silver pegs, and the smell was of leather and coffee, and a shepherd dog gloomily lay in the darkened cubbyhole. Together they looked at the chalkboard, on which Ray Priddy had written, in big child letters, “X-RAYS.” Jocoy walked to his Cadillac, George walking beside, shouting at a groom to get to work, the groom watching the two of them as they conducted their very important business. Headed back inside the stable, George lugged the heavy gray x-ray machine and set it on the ground. Jocoy tossed him lead gloves and a lead apron. Tying on the apron. George shouted to a groom who chewed a piece of straw. “Bring the caballo! Pronto!”

The animal’s hide rose and its skin rippled and twitched. Stomping its left hoof, moving nervously forward, then back, every time George set up the plate, the horse knocked it over. “The horse needs a little tequila,” Jocoy said. Returning two minutes later, he smoothly injected the horse.

Now it wobbled with shaking legs. A drugged or sick horse is easily spotted, because the head is lowered; its whole nature is changed from nervous alertness to a drunken stupor. "Borracho," George said knowingly.

Jocoy set up the plate, instructing George to hold it against the left fetlock, above the hoof. From down the row they heard a dog bark, then snap at a stallion that was loose and galloping toward them. “Ay!” George shouted. “Loose horse!”

“My x-ray equipment!” Jocoy cried as he dodged to the side and the stallion ran madly past, its dark eyes panicky.

The stallion reached the other end of the stable and quickly turned back toward them, this time headed straight for the x-ray equipment. George heroically dashed in front of the stallion and waved his arms as if he were on the deck of an aircraft carrier, providing landing signals. He shouted again, “Caballo! Caballo!” The stallion came fast at George and was about to run him down. But George ducked. The stallion jumped over his head, running even faster after it landed and regained its .balance, out the stable door. The stallion was gone, the equipment never touched.

“Sheet,” George said and wiped sweat from his forehead. He had a tight, worried look on his face.

“Come on,” Jocoy said, “let’s get back to work.”

“Very good, doctor, very good.”

At about eleven-thirty, after having coffee at the cafeteria’s backside, Jocoy drove over garbage piles of straw, stopping for horses being led from the track, waiting for them to amble past. He pulled up in front of John Sullivan’s stable. Sullivan is from Ireland and for twenty years labored as an obscure trainer to whom the press paid little or no attention. Then three years ago a friend, who trained in Ireland, was handling a European champion, The Bart, for the Groves family, and he recommended they have Sullivan train the horse in the United States, since in Europe horses past three years have few stakes races, with big purses, in which to compete, but in America they can earn purses of $150,000 and more until seven or eight, or until they’re retired.

Suddenly Sullivan became the center of attention, with television cameras at his stable, newspaper reporters breaking in on his lunches, and fans from all over the world listening to his every word as he spoke of The Bart’s race strategy. But after winning $200,000, The Bart stopped showing the run it had demonstrated in Europe. No matter how much Sullivan looked at The Bart, he couldn’t figure what was wrong.

Jocoy examined the horse and noticed a subtle shift in the stallion’s squareness of posture — a horse should show even balance between all legs whether still or moving — from the left leg onto the right leg. But from the carpus joint down to the coronet, the left foreleg looked straight and clean. Still, Jocoy was sure the leg was hurt, and x-raying showed a tiny chip, like a minuscule island, off the carpal joint. The Bart needed surgery, Jocoy had said, always a risky proposition, but that successfully performed operation kept the stallion competing and winning — $700,000 more for Sullivan and the Groves family.

Jocoy charges more for his work than any other backside veterinarian. Sometimes that means losing business. Thus the Groves family, after reviewing his bills, instructed Sullivan to fire him. Realizing The Bart needed Jocoy, Sullivan retained the doctor as an “advisory consultant,” but couldn’t let him administer to The Bart. Then, two days earlier, during a morning work. The Bart broke his shin bone and was through for good. The Bart gone, Sullivan had no big runners, and he had, once again, become just another trainer on the backside. Jocoy came smiling to Sullivan, but the trainer was irritable and quick tongued. “I didn’t think ye were going to come today.”

“You knew I’d be here,” Jocoy said. “So don’t worry, John.”

“I’ll fire ye if I please.”

“And hire me back the next day.” Sullivan turned his back to Jocoy and walked into his office. “Look at La Pola, all right? And let’s have no more trouble.” La Pola, soon to race, stood stiffly, slow to move, his muscles tight from heavy work. Equine muscles are unusually high in sugar content. When the horse is worked very hard, the sugar turns into lactic acid that sometimes remains too long, making movement difficult. The ailment is called azoturia, or Monday-morning disease. In his hands, Jocoy took La Pola’s stifle — the rear knee — and, feeling with his fingers, moved down to the gaskin, feeling deeper to the soleus and digital extensor muscles that were knotted and cramped. He injected azium, an antispasmodic muscle relaxant. Then he went to another horse that had a sore back in the region of the croup, above the rump. Jocoy injected a steroid into that area.

Through the rest of the early afternoon, Jocoy filed down the teeth of one of Chuck Taliaferro’s horses. A thoroughbred’s teeth must be regularly filed because as the horse clamps down hard on its bit while racing or being worked, the animal bites its tongue and may bleed badly if the teeth are too sharp. One of Bruce Headley’s horses had just returned from the farm where, having eaten feed on the ground, it could have gotten worms. Jocoy stuck a long tube down the horse’s nostril, into its stomach, and using a big pump, he forced a pint of pink deworming solution into the animal. Another one of Headley’s horses needed a Caslick. At Bobby Wingfield’s barn, Jocoy had to geld a stallion.

Other horses would need butazolidin injections. The state recently tried to eliminate use of this drug, an anti-inflammatory agent. In the opinion of some people, “bute” reduces inflammation, but the underlying problem, frequently arthritis, goes on. In later years, they say, the arthritic condition may return, but in a more severe and crippling form, because bute allows the aggravated stress of works and races to continue. About fifty percent of the backside's horses receive butazolidin. Jocoy, however, believes bute is good for competitive horses, and he spent two years working with the state horse racing board to make sure the medication’s use wouldn’t be outlawed. Butazolidin is a curative agent, Jocoy said, that reduces swelling, which is important to realize, since healing cannot occur if there’s swelling. He injected butazolidin into six horses this day. Two thoroughbreds received Equipose, a steroid used to build strength and muscle mass on gaunt animals. A filly had been in heat too long — a condition known as “horsin" — and Jocoy had to inject her with progesterone, a hormone that would balance her estrogen cycle. Several horses received concentrated vitamin and mineral injections, while others were given vitamin E and selenium injections. By two-thirty, Jocoy had made about $500. (He sends monthly bills to the horses’ owners.) He had one last task: he had to inject Lasix into a bleeder.

Due to hypertension and stress, some horses bleed very badly through their nose during a race. Lasix, a diuretic, makes a horse urinate more than it would normally, which, in Jocoy’s opinion, lowers the animal’s blood pressure just enough so that it will not rupture arteries in the lungs and, therefore, will not bleed. The simple injection must be given three hours prior to the horse’s race.

Like many other medications, Lasix was recently threatened with prohibition because, by concentrating urine, it made detection of other substances difficult, sometimes impossible, thus foiling the state’s attempt to police thoroughbred medications strictly. During the 1981 Del Mar summer season, Jocoy spoke before state Assembly members who serve on committees that govern horse racing. They were considering a ban on numerous medications, including Lasix.

“Before you people came to hear me,’’ Jocoy said, “each one of you used a drug, whether it was coffee to keep you awake, aspirin for your arthritis, or a drink to relax. Why should you deny the thoroughbred what you wouldn’t deny yourselves? Furthermore, if this country can put a man on the moon, then it sure can figure out a way to test a horse’s urine.” The state officials compromised. This January the use of Lasix was continued on the condition that the administering doctor provide a sample of the horse’s blood before the injection.

This day Jocoy gave the injection but forgot the blood sample; he was busy talking to Mary Jones Bradley, inheritor of the Florsheim shoes fortune, currently the owner of Cougar II, ahorse with more than a million dollars in earnings and the hottest sire in the world today. Jocoy had passed her on his way to the stable where the bleeder was kept, and she wanted to speak with him. Jocoy had advised her to buy Cougar II. There was another horse she wanted to buy, and she sought the doctor’s advice. Jocoy hurriedly injected Lasix into the bleeder and returned to Bradley. (Jocoy also is her veterinarian, since Charlie Whittingham, the world’s leading trainer, with earnings of $3,571,645 this year alone, is her trainer, and Jocoy is his regular veterinarian.) As they looked at a chestnut filly, brought into the United States from Chile, she said Jocoy was the only racetracker at parties who danced well enough for her, and weren’t those glorious times? Jocoy smiled expansively, like the strongest and best and brightest kid on the block. They talked awhile longer, then: “Dr. Jocoy, please report to the track veterinarian at the receiving barn,’’ boomed the backside’s public address system. “Dr. Jocoy, please ...”

Sitting in his office chair was Dr. Alan Edmundson, the state veterinarian. He and Jocoy share no love for one another. Their respective positions make them natural adversaries. Jocoy is only as good as the horses he keeps running, and within legal bounds, he must do whatever he can to insure that his horses maintain peak performance levels. Edmundson, however, must enforce the laws and rules that Jocoy must obey. Today Jocoy broke a law for having forgotten the pre-Lasix blood sample. Edmundson called the track stewards, who are responsible for the overall running of the track; they’re state people, too. Jocoy said to Edmundson several times that he wanted to talk directly to one of the stewards. Jocoy worried that the bleeder’s trainer — Jocoy’s employer — would be blamed and his horse scratched from its race. Edmundson refused to tell the steward that Jocoy wanted to speak with him. Off the telephone, Edmundson became even meaner, telling Jocoy that the horse might well be scratched (when actually, he likely knew all along that the stewards had no intention of taking such action).

“I don’t want the horse scratched,” Jocoy said. “And I don’t want my trainer troubled.”

“But we may have to scratch your horse,” Edmundson said very nicely and patiently. “Besides, no other veterinarians have ever forgotten their horses’ blood samples.”

“Come on, Alan. Never?”

“Listen, Jock, I know.”

“All right, but couldn’t you have let me talk with the stewards?”

“But you were negligent. Doc. That’s two times.”

“I may have forgotten, but I wasn’t negligent,” Jocoy said and felt hot and didn’t like all those owners, trainers, grooms, and hot-walkers gathered around the two of them, seeing him have his professional reputation blackened.

“You were negligent. Doc.”

“Alan, I’m not negligent,” he said, openly maddened that Edmundson had to make a scene in front of everybody. “I just plain forgot.”

“Answer me this: Were you or were you not negligent?”

“No.”

“Look, I’m not going to argue anymore. I think you were negligent. And the stewards want to see you tomorrow morning.”

Once back out in the sun: “The hell if I’ll wait till tomorrow.”

Driving to Chuck Taliaferro’s stables, going inside the trainer’s office, Jocoy called the stewards. The one with whom he spoke said they hadn’t even remotely considered scratching his mount.

Before the next morning’s hearing, Jocoy cornered each veterinarian he ran into, grilling them as to whether they had ever forgotten a pre-Lasix blood sample. Five of the seven veterinarians with whom he spoke — or who were spoken about — had forgotten, or in some other way messed up their blood samples.

Inside the stewards’ office the next day, the three officials were friendly but distant enough to make Jocoy feel that he might be in trouble.

— Dr. Jocoy, you ought to know the rules, said Alfred Shellhamer, a former jockey.

— I just plain forgot, Jocoy replied.

— The blood-test requirements have been in effect only seven months, steward Pete Pedersen said. Please explain the procedure.

The three men remained noncommittal, nodding their heads as a stenographer took down what was said.

— I just want you to know, Jocoy said, Edmundson deceived and slandered me. All I have is my professional reputation, and if he wants to chew me out, have him do that behind closed doors, not in front of everybody.

As he walked to the door, Jocoy grabbed the handle and asked, “So am I going to be fined?”

— We haven’t decided. Shellhamer said.

— Well, keep the fine under a hundred dollars, would you?

Four days later, in the mail, Jocoy received the offical ruling: a one-hundred-dollar fine. Notice of the fine was posted at various spots around the backside.

Grooms and hot-walkers kept stopping Jocoy, asking what he did wrong. Jocoy had a line for them: He said he ran a stop sign.

Later in the same day the stewards’ hearing was held, Jocoy went to see the horses run and put on his tiny California Thoroughbred Breeders Association pin — which gives him access anywhere on the racetrack — and he went to the clubhouse, his shirt wetted by perspiration, hands roughened and sweaty, his shoes dusty and caked with mud, he having been squatting, lifting, and bending all day — a man of the earth and animals.

Anyone who was on the track long enough greeted him: “Say, hey. Doc,” or “How ya doin’, Doc?” Those greetings, some from people he didn’t even know, made him feel omnipotent in his world. People asked the savvy vet which horses to bet on, not realizing that the doctor doesn’t bet in such small ways, that Jocoy does gamble with horses, but gambles by owning them, selling them, with tens of thousands of dollars at risk each time.

On his way to the clubhouse, he was confronted with memories everywhere he looked, because he’d started at the track by lifting cases of beer off delivery trucks, then working as an usher, but never losing sight of those things he truly wanted — one being possession of the six seats in the box he now has, squarely on the finish line. A woman came along snapping photographs of track bigshots. A clubhouse attendant said, “Take Jocoy’s photograph. He’s one of the track’s big men.” And Jocoy, never breaking stride, came back with, “Hey, I’m only five-foot-eight!”

Then Joe Schwartzvald, a Turf Club waiter, came beside Jocoy and asked if the doctor would do him a favor and obtain a parking sticker that he couldn’t get, because he hardly pulls any weight around the track, not like Jocoy, and he needs to park close to the Turf Club — his legs practically cave in every time he walks, which he doesn’t do so easily anymore now that he’s nearing seventy. Jocoy said he could get the parking sticker.

Schwartzvald then asked the doctor if he remembered back to 1971 and Ack Ack’s colic. Schwartzvald, of course, remembered. He had been serving the Jocoys prime rib that night. Supper was very formal, a chance for the family to be together, one of the few nights in a long time Jocoy had taken out his family to devote himself to them. He dressed in a suit that night. Running into the room came Snake, Ack Ack’s groom. “The big horse is sick,” Snake said. “Colic.”

“I have to go,” Jocoy said.

“Oh, Jock,” Katie said.

“I have to.”

Inside his stall, Ack Ack, 1971 horse of the year, rolled on his back and kicked his powerful legs. He was autointoxicating himself, because horses use fermentation to digest their food, but Ack Ack, worth three million dollars, couldn't pass his waste, which had turned to poison, and he was dying and there wasn't a thing Jocoy could do for the horse except to inject him with antispasmodics, antibiotics, and relaxants. Ack Ack’s owners, Greer Garson and Buddy Fogelson, would come in to see their prized stallion, and there would be Jocoy, beside the horse, talking to the animal, knowing that he wasn’t a god and couldn’t cure the beast but only calm him and ease the way for him to make himself better. Six days and nights he spent beside Ack Ack till the horse pulled though.

Jocoy knows the cruel aspects of horse racing; questions about the subject elicit responses that are defensive. He’ll provide an answer common to many successful and highly competitive people, that for any achievement a price must be paid, whether one is a writer whose eyes have been weakened by too much reading, a business executive who never sees his family, or a track star whose body aches constantly.

Thoroughbreds must pay, too. Much of horse racing is cruel, which isn't meant necessarily to denigrate the sport, but to make clear that the thoroughbred is a creature that has been turned into a gambling tool, used by bettors and the state to make money, the state extracting revenue from each track. But horse racing’s cruelties aren’t always obvious, for it’s also true that thoroughbreds are some of the most pampered living things on earth — constant cleaning and bathing, massages, grooming, the best feed possible, round-the-clock health care.

But given even these luxuries, ninety percent of the thoroughbreds at Del Mar suffer physical injuries or have other kinds of health problems. A pastured horse runs and plays and stays active and limber, but the thoroughbred, stabled almost all day and night, must frequently run as hard as it can, often urged on by a jockey or exercise boy using a whip to force even more run from the horse. And of course the horse cannot tell its trainer or rider that today it doesn’t feel well enough to run because its back is sore, or it is coming down with the flu. In addition, while the thoroughbred’s owner, trainer, groom, and hot-walker love the animal, economics temper their love. Feeding and care for a thoroughbred every year it’s at the track runs to about $20,000 (in addition to the $30,000 or so — sometimes much more — spent just to own the horse), no matter whether the horse is a champion or a loser. It’s hard enough to break even on a thoroughbred, much less to show a profit, and that’s why an owner, in most cases, wants his horse to run as often as possible and, above all else, to win, sometimes at any cost. For this reason, with few exceptions thoroughbreds are run by the age of two, but at that age they’re still growing.

Their bones haven’t hardened or grown to full size. Yet these thousand-pound animals are being asked to run at speeds averaging thirty miles an hour — sometimes reaching speeds of more than forty miles per hour — and to put 55,000 pounds per square inch of pressure on their legs nearly every day. The stress can be analogized to what would happen to the arm of a sixteen-year-old boy if he were forced to pitch, every fourth day, a nine-inning major league baseball game. (His arm could easily become permanently sore.) And whereas most athletes enjoy an off-season when they can rest and recuperate, thoroughbreds on the Southern California circuit race all year, because of the region’s mild weather, while in most other of the country’s twenty-five states that allow horse racing, the weather may be too hot or too cold, and the animals are pastured part of the year. Traveling from Santa Anita to Hollywood Park to Del Mar (three of the nation’s six richest thoroughbred racetracks), the horses run in a circle of grueling races and morning workouts that isn’t broken until the horse is worn-out or proven a nonwinner, in which case the animal probably will end up at a second-rate track such as Fresno or Aeua Caliente.

Thoroughbreds, like professional football or basketball players, have painful injuries and aches that require medication if they’re to be kept competing. Another kind of man than Jocoy — someone less calloused, more sympathetic — probably couldn’t bring himself to administer to animals that are essentially money-making machines. (They’re also beautiful animals with whom he has developed sentimental relationships; he sees his patients daily, and their successes can be so fabulous, their failures so disheartening, that he has derived an extraordinarily deep feeling for his work.) Some people would put an end to horse racing, maintaining that man should show mercy upon the earth’s creatures, and that medicating the thoroughbreds with drugs — so that they can run competitively — is a cruelty to which the animals must involuntarily, and therefore unfairly, submit. But in this world, in which Jocoy is at the top, the subtler cruelties intermingle with the obvious beauty and flamboyance, and he has accepted both extremes.

“When I come to horses with a needle or tube to stick down its nostril,’’ he says, “they don’t like what I’m going to do to them. But they’re living beings, and I want to be as kind as possible to them. As long as I’m in control of the situation. I’m not going to allow any animal to be treated excessively cruelly. You know, there have been times when I’ve told owners they can’t race their horse anymore because that would hurt the horse too badly. Have you ever seen a bad vet work? Some of them have no feeling for the horses. They don’t pat them or talk with them. They just grab the horse and shove in the needle and they’re through. Trainers who know my work say that I take control of the horse and make sure the horse knows I’m in control, but that I don’t intimidate the horse or make the horse cower.”


One of the Del Mar thoroughbred season’s highlights is the annual yearling sale, held August 17 at the racetrack, in which 127 untested colts and fillies would, this year, be auctioned for prices ranging from $8000 to $130,000. On the sale day. Jocoy came home at noon and waited at the patio table for Katie to fix him lunch. The sun shone and he looked at the translucent waves break on the beach, and he felt content. Katie set his tuna sandwiches on the table, then asked if he would do something with her this day — anything, she said, just so that they spent some time together. As the two of them ate, Bouncer, the doctor’s Jack Russell terrier, poked its head into his lap, snapping jaws, growling for attention. The rest of the lunch Jocoy held his terrier and fed him lettuce. He repeatedly asked his wife if she loved his Bouncer? There wasn’t much else he said to Katie. His daughter, Jan, came outside to the porch, after she had finished washing her clothes in her parents’ washer, and she was ready to leave for her home in Cardiff. “I’ll see you later. Dad.” she said.

He ignored her and played with his dog. She said again, “Good-bye, Dad.”

“Say good-bye to my Bouncer,” he replied.

“I want to say good-bye to you.”

“Don’t you want to say good-bye to my Bouncer?”

“I wanted to say good-bye to you , but you never say good-bye to me. I don’t even know why I come here to see you.” She paused. “I don’t even want to see you anymore.” And she angrily walked back inside.

“What did I do? What’d I do wrong?” he asked his wife, who had watched but didn’t want to interfere between her husband and daughter.

As Jocoy rose to leave, Katie asked where he was going. She hadn’t remembered the yearling sale was this day. “I thought we were going to do something today,” she said.

“Don’t you remember?” he said. “The sale’s today.”

“Oh, Jock, you’re not going to buy another horse, are you?”

“All right, Katie,” he said. “I promise I won’t.”

“Jock, when are you going to realize you don’t need the racetrack anymore?” Roughly $2.6 million changed hands that day. As the auctioneer kept up his fast singsong pitch, buyers in the first ten rows looked over their pamphlets that listed each yearling’s bloodline of sires and dams (and their earnings). Behind the auctioneer’s pulpit were the portable stalls, and a lot of people were back there to look over colts and fillies before they were led up to the platform in front.

Jocoy spotted Charlie Whittingham, who’s so media shy these days that he hardly speaks to anybody unless he’s sure they’re absolutely alone. But Whittingham and Jocoy own Johannesberg, a large beautiful colt that, at three years, is still growing and hasn't collected himself yet and who ran last place twice this season at Hollywood Park, a big disappointment. Jocoy’s dream is to own and breed the winner of the Kentucky Derby or Santa Anita Handicap or Hollywood Gold Cup. He has had horses that have placed second in stakes races of more than $100,000, but he has never won one that lucrative.

But now he’s breeding foals from his broodmare, Crimson Kate, daughter of the great champion Crimson Satan, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap. He has six horses from the Crimson Satan line, and he’s hoping that one of them will become his big horse. Jocoy and Whittingham talked about their colt, Johannesberg, whose back ankles were swollen and who wouldn’t be racing at all this season at Del Mar. Then Mary Jones Bradley came over to them. She and Whittingham had been looking at a bay filly, sired by Hyannis Port, son of Kennedy Road, Canadian horse of the year, a winner of $481,007. “It’s a good line,” Jocoy said. She asked if he would look at the filly to see if it was healthy and looked like an athlete that could run. As the handler led the filly, Jocoy went over and examined her. He came back excited, telling them the filly looked good and that she might show some run. The filly’s hip number was sixty-four. As the auctioneer sang his calls, Mary Jones Bradley turned to Whittingham and Jocoy and said, “Let’s go thirds on the filly.”

Whittingham, lips tight, mumbled as how that was all right, and he turned to Jocoy and said, “What do you say, doctor?”

“Count me in.”

  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

Comments

Sign in to comment