by Katherine O. Rizzo
(First Appeared in the June 2017 Issue of The Equiery)
When you pull up Jody Petty’s race record on Central Entry Office, it is 30 pages long! Thirty pages of very small print! The database states that he has had 1281 starts in his two and a half decades as a jump jockey. And that is all by a man who says he “sort of just fell into the sport.”
Originally from Elkton, Petty now lives just over the border in Unionville, PA and officially retired from steeplechasing at this year’s Fair Hill Point-to-Point on April 16, riding his last race aboard a horse named Dr. Skip in the Amateur Open Flat. In a way, Petty’s racing career came full circle that day as he first started galloping racehorses just across the road at the Fair Hill Training Center while attending North East High School.
“I actually got my first event horse from over there,” Petty said with a chuckle. “A horse named Holy Matrimony that I rode up through Intermediate. I had no idea you were supposed to take jump lessons! That horse taught me more about riding than any single person.”
Right out of high school, Petty began working for Bruce Miller, foxhunting and schooling his younger horses. “It was actually Jay Meister who talked me into riding,” Petty said. From Miller’s stables, Petty moved on to working with Ricky Hendriks. “He taught me how to ride a race and put me on my first winner,” Petty explained. That first win was aboard Herbagar’s Fold, owned by William Lickle, in September of 1995 at the Fairfax Races in the High Weight Flat.
Petty’s very first race was a few years earlier in March of 1992 when he rode Anticipate for owners Mr. and Mrs. J. David McDaniel in the Rider Opportunity Flat at the Farmington Hunt Point-to-Point. The pair finished third. Petty rode three more times that first year; the rest were hurdle races. The following year, Petty rode in seven races including his first over timber. His interest in the sport continued to grow; as did the number of races he rode each year.
Petty’s first win over fences was in April of 1996 riding Nap, again for trainer Hendriks and owner Lickle, in the Maiden Claiming Hurdle at the Atlanta Steeplechase. From there, the list of races goes on and on. Over the course of his 25-year career, Petty has won 230 races, has come in second 187 times and third 163 times.
One of the most awarded horses in his racing career was three-time Eclipse Award winner (2003, 2005, 2006) McDynamo. Owned by Michael Moran and trained by Sanna Neilson, the big bay gelding won 20 out of 33 starts, finished second six times and third once for career earnings of $1,314,450. Petty rode McDynamo for six of those wins, taking over the ride in October of 2005.
With Petty in the irons, McDynamo won two of his three Eclipse Awards before being retired to Moran’s Unionville, PA farm. He also earned more than half a million dollars with Petty.
“Sanna put me on some really nice horses,” Petty said. He was working for Neilson while McDynamo was first making records. “My first race on him was at the Breeders Cup. He wasn’t having a good year, which is why I got the ride,” Petty stated. “Sanna was changing things up for him and told me to go out in front and just go for it. And it worked!”
“Jody did such a great job with McDynamo,” Neilson said of their first race together. “He rode with courage and did exactly what I asked. They got along right away and were beautiful to watch.”
“It is incredible for one horse to have won the Breeders Cup five years in a row,” Petty pointed out. Three of those wins were with Petty on board as well as winning two Colonial Cup wins. “He really cares about the horses just as much as he cares about winning,” Neilson said, adding, “and he will always be a part of McDynamo’s amazing history.”
For his stellar 2005 season, Petty earned the National Steeplechase Association Leading Jockey award.
Hunt Cup Guts
After more than a decade of riding as a professional, Petty decided to move back to the amateur world, specifically to be able to ride in the Maryland Hunt Cup. “It is hard to explain, but I wanted to go back to riding just for the fun of it,” he said.
His Hunt Cup mount came in the form of a 10-year-old Irish-bred gelding named Guts for Garters. Originally imported in 2012, Guts for Garters won off the bat with the late H. Brooks Durkee in the irons in the Novice Timber at the Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds Point-to-Point that March. Petty took over the ride in 2013, finishing second in the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Point-to-Point Open Timber before placing third in their first Hunt Cup.
“Petty really came full circle,” Guts for Garters’ trainer Neilson said. “He was a logical choice for this horse as he was always a beautiful timber rider and like I said, he took care of my horses.”
The following year, Guts for Garters won the Hunt Cup in a photo finish over Imperial Way for owner Stewart Strawbridge. “That was a very special win for my family,” Neilson said. “Jody was very influential in producing The Bruce, who my brother Stewart won the Hunt Cup with in 2007. It was really special to then have Jody win on my brother’s horse.”
Guts for Garters and Petty finished second to Raven’s Choice in the 2015 Hunt Cup and second again in 2016, nearly catching the winner Senior Senator at the wire. To recap, the pair rode in the Maryland Hunt Cup, the country’s most grueling timber race, four times in a row, finishing first once, second twice and third once. Impressive to say the least.
“This is huge to me,” Petty said. “There are horses that certainly have won the Hunt Cup more times than him but it is incredible to place four years in a row with third being the worse placement.”
Coming to a Close
Guts for Garters fell early on this season at the Brandywine Hills Point-to-Point and according to Neilson, will recover fully. “He was going to be out for this year’s Hunt Cup, however, and Jody had always said Guts for Garters was going to be his last horse,” she said. “It is nice that he was able to go out on his own terms. He is such a great guy to have in my life for sure and has had an incredible career.”
“I really was riding for the fun of it these last few years and wanted to keep going for Guts for Garters,” Petty explained. “The plan was always to retire this year after the Hunt Cup. I just ended up doing that a bit earlier instead.”
Petty added, “I am very proud of my career and the horses I’ve had a chance to ride. Racing for friends such as Sanna [Neilson] and Eddie Graham is very special for me.”
Although Petty has said he is done riding races, he will not be disappearing from the racing world. After spending the last few summers down in New Orleans at the Fairgrounds, Petty has applied for a more permanent position there and plans to move this month.
When you ask Petty to look back and talk about what stands out the most to him during his racing career, it isn’t any specific horse or prestigious race that comes to mind. It is the trainers that taught him along the way and more importantly, his family. “I’m one of 10 kids and my mom was my biggest fan,” he said. “She passed away before my Hunt Cup win but my family put up with a lot and I am very thankful for everything they have done and all the support they have given me.”
©The Equiery 2017