by Jennie Rees
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Robby Albarado, sidelined with a lower-leg fracture when unseated after the start of an April 23 race at Keeneland, will ride J Boys Echo in the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets unless the jockey thinks he can’t do Albaugh Family Stables’ colt justice in the 1 1/2-mile Triple Crown finale.
Albarado is to resume riding next Thursday at Churchill Downs, the day after entries are taken for the Belmont Stakes. He has been riding horses on his farm, and Friday morning galloped a couple for Romans. He is scheduled to work horses Saturday morning, though not J Boys Echo.
“He’ll make the decision on whether or not he’ll be ready to ride a mile and a half next Saturday,” said trainer Dale Romans. “… It’s one thing to be ready to ride an allowance race here going a mile and a sixteenth and another thing to go a mile and a half with classic horses, classic jockeys. I think we’re all pretty sure he can do it. We’re just looking if there’s something we don’t know. But we’re not expecting that he can’t, unless he comes back and says, ‘I need a few more days. You’d be better off with somebody else.’ If he tells me he’s ready, I’m going to believe he’s ready. If something goes wrong in the race, I’m not going to believe it’s because he wasn’t ready.”
Said Albarado: “If I’m not ready, I won’t do that to Dale. If I feel I’m not ready, I won’t take a chance. I’m part of a team here. I’m pulling for them whether I ride for them or not.”
The jockey, who was a finalist for the Hall of Fame this year, said he doesn’t expect the Belmont’s marathon distance to be the issue. “Believe it or not, a mile and a half is an easier race to ride than three-quarters of a mile race,” he said. “You gallop for a mile, a mile and a quarter.”
Asked about having to be in that crouched position that would have most people’s legs wobbling after 30 seconds, Albarado said in reference to his career mounts, “I’ve been in that crouched position 30,600 times.”
Albarado won Aqueduct’s Gotham Stakes (G3) on J Boys Echo, the pair subsequently finishing fourth in Keeneland’s April 8 Toyota Blue Grass. But two weeks later, the jockey was sidelined with a fractured lower left tibia and fibula that required a rod and two pins being inserted. With Luis Saez aboard, J Boys Echo finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby after being waylaid at the start when a crush of horses careened into him.
Albarado says his rehabilitation began only a few days after his April 24 surgery. Under the supervision of Fred Hina, the director of sports medicine for the University of Louisville’s men’s basketball program, Albarado began doing exercises, drills and stretches to restore his strength, balance, flexibility and range of motion. Hina was the New York Mets’ head trainer before joining Rick Pitino at U of L in 2001.
“He knows horse racing; he’s owned horses,” Albarado said. “He did things that would help me ride. I was doing things that I’d never been able to do before. I was sitting at the house and Rick Pitino called and said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m on the couch, about to go to therapy.’ He said, ‘Well go see Fred Hina. I’m going to set you all up.’ I’d never met Fred before. I walked in and said, ‘Hey, I’m Robby.’ He said, ‘I’m Fred. Get on that middle table.’ Right away. He said, ‘We’re going to start off simple. But these simple things work and eventually we’ll get you where you need to be.’”
Albarado was kicked in the face by a horse in the paddock three days before he was to ride Animal Kingdom in the 2012 Kentucky Derby. He took off riding the Kentucky Oaks card in order to be 100 percent for Derby Day. But when jockey John Velazquez became available upon the scratch of 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo the day before the Derby, Team Valor president Barry Irwin opted to replace Albarado with Velazquez, who went on to his first Derby victory with Animal Kingdom. Albarado, however, showed his readiness to ride by winning the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on the Romans-trained Sassy’s Image on the Derby undercard.
“He told me he could ride, so we rode him,” Romans said.