Retired jockey “Frankie” Lovato, Jr., is a true horseman with many talents, and he wears many hats.
After spending some time with Frankie, I’d describe him has an ambassador and an educator of horse racing. Frankie was in the saddle from 1979-2004, securing 1,686 wins from 15,604 mounts. Included in those wins were 111 stakes victories at 25 different tracks! And, in 1980, he won the Eclipse Award for Apprentice Jockey.
Frankie is the inventor of a product called the Equicizer, a therapeutic horse riding simulator that can aid in the rehabilitation of injured jockeys. He also founded Jockey World, an educational and training program in the horse racing community in which members learn and share their experiences. He also started Jockey Camp for young, aspiring riders.
So, to say he’s a busy man these days would surely be an understatement. But, still, he found time to speak with me.
Frankie Lovato Jr., well, he isn’t really. Born Shawn Francis Lovato in 1963, son of successful jockey, Frank Lovato, he inherited the incorrect name from his father’s friends who called him “little Frankie.”
But Shawn was so shy, easygoing and mellow, he didn’t see it fitting to correct anybody and the name Frankie stuck. He was the youngest of four children and the only sibling to be interested in horse racing. At age 4, Frankie knew he wanted to be a jockey and told that to anyone who would listen to a 4-year-old. Most thought this was just plain cute but Frankie turned out to be as serious as a heart attack. He was toted around by his dad to morning workouts and afternoon races and caught the fever early from his love of horses and the excitement of racing.
At 14, Frankie went to work on a thoroughbred farm in Ocala, Florida, as a farmhand and rider. A few farms down the road, people would hold unrecognized, backyard-type races. Most of these races were of the quarter horse variety but one day in particular, they held a 6 ½-furlong thoroughbred event. It was only a three-horse field but the other jockeys still tried to intimidate the young rider. Frankie held his ground and won the race.
Even with 1,686 recognized wins, aboard some great horses, Frankie told me he’d never forget that first one.
One bad beat
I asked Frankie about his most memorable ride. He told me it was aboard a horse named Peat Moss. I was familiar with Peat Moss, as I had watched him tote 145 pounds for two miles in a race and win. You don’t forget horses like that.
Peat Moss was notorious for carrying heavy weight, for long distances, and seemed to do it every few weeks. Somehow, the horse that started out as a $10,000 claimer was now facing the great John Henry and Bill Shoemaker in the 1981 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
But Peat Moss also had the great Frankie Lovato Jr. at the helm and Frankie really thought he had a good chance with this longshot. The duo went off at odds of 50-1. As Peat Moss hit the far turn, Frankie felt the horse kick in gear and find his rhythm. One by one, Frankie picked up the other runners. At the 1/16th pole, John Henry drew clear by a couple of lengths and looked like a sure winner. But Frankie guided Peat Moss to an opening on the rail and the pair burst toward the wire.
At the same time, Bill Shoemaker and John Henry were drifting outward and Shoemaker started hitting his mount right-handed to correct the driftage. John Henry now moved inward several paths, making it tight on the rail for Peat Moss. There was just enough room, though, and Frankie knew he could get through and win. But 25 feet before the wire, Peat Moss noticed some rake marks on the track from where the workers had tried to smooth out some tire marks that had been left from moving the starting gate. He didn’t jump the marks like some horses would but did hesitate ever so slightly and John Henry held on by a nose.
To make matters worse, Peat Moss drew off effortlessly right after the wire ahead of John Henry. Frankie and Peat Moss had almost pulled off one of the biggest upsets in history and they should have. Several things had to occur for Frankie and Peat Moss to have lost the race. This was one bad beat and its haunted Frankie for some 30 years.
Break a leg
A short time after Frankie’s devastating loss, he was riding at the Meadowlands and, during a post parade, his mount flipped over on him. His leg was fractured and Frankie was out of action for several months.
It was during his rehabilitation that he came up with the Equicizer. The Equicizer is a non-motorized, mechanical horse used for exercise, therapy and training. It can be used in your home, much like an exercise bike or treadmill, and targets the specific muscle groups used by equestrians.
In 1990, Frankie was contacted by someone who worked at a therapeutic riding program that specialized in helping children with disabilities. Frankie brought over an Equicizer and the results were tremendous. Many other organizations and industries have found creative ways to use the Equicizer, including rehabilitation centers, hospitals, museums and even the movie industry.
In the movie “Seabiscuit,” Tobey Maguire used an Equicizer to prepare for his unfamiliar role of riding racehorses.
I asked Frankie about how Jockey World came about. He stated he always wanted to share his knowledge and experience with others and found horsemen, as well as horseplayers and fans, had a desire for that knowledge. They also had knowledge to share themselves, along with questions and concerns. All this information and interaction needed a singular, intersecting point. Thus, JockeyWorld.com was born.
Two years later, Frankie took Jockey World to the next level and created Jockey Camp, where he guides and educates aspiring, young jockeys toward their ultimate goal of professional race riding. At the conclusion of the course, Frankie gives an evaluation to rider and family. Not all evaluations are positive and not everyone has what it takes to be a jockey.
Frankie has had a tough time since losing his beautiful wife, Sandy, in a car accident three years ago. With faith, family and a stadium full of friends, he continues to heal on a daily basis.
Frankie met Sandy at Hialeah Park in 1979 and they were married in 1982. They had three children together and Frankie now has three beautiful grandchildren.
“Sandy was my rock and my foundation,” he said. “She helped me understand the things I couldn’t understand and lifted me up when I needed it. She was always doing things for everyone; friends, family and community. She left an amazing mark in this world and she is deeply missed by everyone who knew her.”
Frankie’s world is made easier by a great person named Kayla Jarvinen. She runs his office efficiently and is a good friend always eager to help. He said, “I really wouldn’t know what to do without her.”
I felt a special connection with Frankie Lovato Jr. I watched his father ride and I’ve watched him ride Peat Moss and witnessed many other of his fine rides on the New York ovals. We have had a personal relationship for the last couple of years and Frankie has been more than helpful in my quest for horse racing knowledge.
My nickname for him throughout our friendship has been “Mr. Class.” Shawn Frankie Lovato is a positive force in horse racing and he continues to give back and improve our sport.
Thank you, Frankie!