For Florida Virtual School student Chris Creel, the Gulfstream Park backside is his classroom.
At just 18 years old, Creel is enrolled in an online curriculum so that he can fully pursue a career as a jockey’s agent. The Chelsea, Mass. native currently represents apprentice Brandon Boulanger and spends his days watching races, researching, and seeking out mounts for his client, with a daily midday break for school work.
“I start at about 4:30 in the morning and get out [to Gulfstream] at around 5:00 or 5:15,” Creel said. “I walk around and start seeing all the trainers. I’ve got my riders, and I schedule for them to get on horses, breezers. Some days I’ll work at Palm Meadows or Gulfstream [Park] West. I’ll travel around. My schoolwork I’ll get done after training. I take a break before the draw and I do that, and when I go home I’ll do that.”
Creel was born into the horse racing industry, as both of his parents were agents at different points in their careers. His father Tom was also a racing secretary at Suffolk Downs. With their examples to follow, Creel was drawn to follow in their footsteps; he first got involved in the thoroughbred industry through ownership. He applied for his agent’s license last fall and passed the test on his first try. He first began representing riders during the winter race meet at Tampa Bay Downs.
“I started last November, and I won my first race as an agent at Tampa with one start on opening day,” Creel recalled.
Among the riders Creel represented was Gary Boulanger, father of Brandon Boulanger and a multiple graded stakes winning jockey currently riding at Woodbine in Rexdale, Ontario. Before traveling north, the longtime journeyman set Creel up with his son.
“I had [Brandon’s] father Gary at Tampa, and Gary was leaving to go to Canada,” Creel explained.“He told me his son was riding, and he was going to tell him to come to Tampa to pick up his business. I had no other rider after Gary left, so I said, ‘Alright, I’ll take him.’ So he comes, and the first day he rode at Tampa, he won, the second day, he won, and then he won again. He won the late double at Tampa on the last day of the meet. And he was only there for about three weeks.”
Following their short stint together in Tampa, Creel and Boulanger decided to continue their partnership. After seeing fellow apprentices Tyler Gaffalione and Harry Hernandez excelling during the Gulfstream Park spring meeting, the two elected to travel south and take up residence in Hallandale.
“After the Tampa meet ended, I weighed my options. I could have gone to Delaware, Monmouth, Philadelphia, or down here,” Creel said.“I talked it over with Brandon to see what he wanted to do, and I said, ‘Let’s come down [to Gulfstream].’ Bugs are doing well here, and a lot of our business was coming down here. I thought we’d try it out and see how we do.”
Creel plans to remain in Hallandale for the summer before returning to Tampa in the winter, where he has his own place of residence and has acquired most of his business contacts. Undaunted by his age, the ambitious Creel has both short-term and long-term goals set for his career.
“One is to win a stakes race before the end of the year, which we came close [recently]. We were third (in the Amelia Island Handicap on May 29 with Weekend Appeal),” Creel said.“Then I’d like to have a ride in at least a graded stakes, try to win a Grade 1 and make it to the Breeders’ Cup and the Derby.”
“It’s different [being a youth in the business],” he added.“It’s hard on me, because [people] will try to walk over me, but once I get going, I just ignore it and try to become friendly with everyone. They think, ‘Oh, a new guy, let’s teach him something. He’s young.’ But once I get going, they see me, they know how I am, and we all work together.”
As Creel, a senior, readies to complete his high school education, he is faced with questions about his future. Although he is unsure of the area in which he’d like to study, he does plan to pursue a college degree, most likely in an online program so he can continue working and spending as much time as possible at the racetrack. Creel is intent on continuing his career as an agent, but down the road he would also like to try his hand at other jobs within the industry.
“I’d like to be a racing official or maybe even a steward,” he said.“Right now I like the agent thing, but if something else pops up, I’ll try it.”
“I like watching the races and getting to root for my jocks,” he added.“As an owner, I always liked rooting for my horses, so I like to root for my jocks. You get to ride more, and hopefully win more races. It’s different, but I always wanted to try it and see what it’s like, and I like it so far.”