In March, James Graham closed the Fair Grounds meeting in New Orleans with 106 wins and his first riding title after four runner-up finishes there over the years.
Normally, his agenda then would have taken him northward on the Midwest racing circuit, winding up the summer at Arlington Park in Chicago.
This year, however, the 36-year-old native of Dublin, Ireland, decided to follow a different path. A path which brought him to Del Mar for the first time in his life and the experience of his first summertime meeting as a regular here.
“The racing in Arlington is very unstable. So we thought, why not try California?,” Graham said Thursday morning outside the stable area racing office. “If we like it, we’ll stay, if we don’t we’ll go back. The family’s all here, so what does that tell you?”
Making inroads at a new track in a new region is never easy for any rider. But Graham has been making steady progress. He won his first race here on Sunday, July 26 in the third race on Far Out Kailee ($22.20) for Richard Baltas. He notched his first Del Mar stakes victory, in the Grade I $300,000 Del Mar Oaks last Saturday aboard Sharla Rae for trainer Doug O’Neill.
“It’s coming along nicely, outdone my expectations, and I just keep working away,” Graham said. “They (horsemen) like my agent (Brad Pegram), which is a big plus. He’s put me into all the good spots, so it’s been good, you know.”
Through Wednesday, Graham had six wins from 77 mounts with earnings of $632,568 to rank in the Top 10 for money at the meeting. He was No. 16 in the Del Mar jockey standings for victories. Nationally, he’s No. 23 for earnings with $4,251,773. Graham has ranked in the Top 30 nationally for wins and earnings each of the last four years with a high of ninth in wins last year. He got career win No. 2,000 on 22-1 shot Call Me George in the Grade II $400,000 New Orleans Handicap in March and has added 39 to the total since.
Graham has the call on Bailoutbobby (20-1) for O’Neill in Saturday’s Pacific Classic. Graham is one-for-one on the 5-year-old gelded son of Mizzen Mast. They combined for a two-length win in a 1 ¼-mile allowance at Keeneland in October of 2013. And even if it’s been awhile, Graham said the experience will be valuable.
“Oh yeah, he’s the same horse,” Graham said. “Smart, clever, all class horse. Let’s see what we can do?”