Black is rarely without a kind word and always takes the time to sign autographs, shake hands or discuss any aspect of horseracing. Well spoken and quick-witted, Black is using his personal skills to spread the good word about racing.
Black wears several hats these days. He's a high-profile and well-liked racing expert on TVG. He leads the Seabiscuit backstretch tours several days a week at Santa Anita. And he's the work rider for the sometimes-troubled John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) favorite Storming Home.
"I was involved with TVG since its inception, doing things here and there," Black said. "I always considered it to be something I could fall back on, but never really a career choice back then."
When Black -- who was the nation's leading apprentice in 1986 -- retired in 2000 because of his losing battle against weight with 1,524 victories and career purses of more than $54 million, he believed his calling in the game to be as a jockey agent. He spent several months handling engagements for Gary Stevens and Brice Blanc before burnout sent him to the sidelines and a short-lived career in real estate. The 34-year-old said he was leaving the sport "for good" when he left. Count him among the many whose fortunes turned with Seabiscuit.
"Last year Chris McCarron called me and asked if I was interested in being a part of Seabiscuit," Black explained. "And after giving it some thought for a few weeks I called Chris back and told him I'd do it, if they wanted me. At the time I was very out of shape and about 150 pounds, so I started working out immediately. It didn't take me long to get back into shape."
Black said it felt good to be back in the saddle. For a while after giving up race riding, he had worked sporadically exercising horses for several trainers, chiefly Richard Mandella. He didn't realize how much he missed it until his stunt double duties for Seabiscuit began.
It was during the late stages of filming that Black was given the opportunity to ride Storming Home by trainer Neil Drysdale in workouts. Though Best Pal will always hold a special place in Black's heart as the best horse he's ever ridden, he says Storming Home inches ever close to that mark with each breeze. Black now refers to the son of Machiavellian as the "best turf horse I've ever ridden."
After this summer's Arlington Million (gr. IT) finish, when Storming Home's apparent victory was ruined by his frightening spook at a photographer and subsequent disqualification, the 5-year-old has developed a somewhat unfounded reputation for being headstrong, quirky and even downright nuts. That's not the horse Black says he has come to know since he first started getting on his back in March.
"He's never done anything while I've been on him," Black said. "Was I surprised? Yes. Shocked? No. I will say, though, that I think (the Arlington Million) was an isolated case. He's so good that when he beats horses he does it so easily and without using 100%, he doesn't have to focus much. So he's very good at multi-tasking.
"Will he win the Breeders' Cup? Yes, I think he will."
Black misses his days as a jockey, he admits. He doesn't miss the great amount of reducing he did every day just to make weight assignments. He's also growing accustomed to his new life in front of the camera, being an active participant in racing without having to abuse his body, especially the "couple" of mornings he spends a week getting on horses for some old friends."I trained 20 years for this job," Black said, referring to his TVG color role. "I had no idea that all that time I was preparing myself to do what I do know. I enjoy the business and spreading the word. I kind of consider myself an ambassador of racing. I'm not necessarily an entertainer; I'm more of a schoolteacher. I enjoy sharing my experiences and use them with my angles to help educate people about this business, whether it be on TVG or the Seabiscuit tours or whatever."
On Saturday, as the field for the Breeders' Cup Turf heads to the gate, Black will be on the air in the TVG studio, giving his expert analysis of the race and no doubt crossing his fingers under the anchor desk.
"I live with absolutely no stress," Black said. "I spend a lot of time helping out at my daughters' school (he has twin 7-year-olds, Victoria and Alexis) and being a part of their lives. "(I'm) also figuring out how to get more involved in racing. But the bottom line is that I get to be in a sport I love. I have a good life."
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