California Racing Industry Honors Jock Agents

California Racing Industry Honors Jock Agents
Photo: Benoit Photography
Ivan Puhich

The Southern California racing industry honored jockey agents Vince DeGregory, George O'Bryan, and Ivan Puhich at Santa Anita Feb. 23 for their many decades of service to the game. Jockey Gary Stevens, trainers Mel Stute and John Sadler, and Santa Anita Park racing secretary Rick Hammerle were among those who told stories about the three after the completion of the day's race card.

Fellow jockey agent Tom Knust organized the event, emceed by Mike Willman, Santa Anita's director of publicity.

"Remember the number 5,432," said Knust in introducing the three, "because that's how many times these three guys spun a trainer."

But for every spinning and drinking story told, those who spoke remembered times all three helped out those in need. They have often given advice to young jockey agents and jockeys learning the game.

Stevens, for example, whose current agent is O'Bryan's son, Craig, recalled Puhich telling him when he was first starting out, "Jock, you look like a Swiss ski jumper going down that backside. Unless you learn to flatten down at that red and white pole, you ain't going to make it as a jock."

Jon White, Santa Anita's morning linemaker, called the jockey agent profession "one of the most unappreciated jobs we have in racing." He noted that Eclipse Awards don't exist for jockey agents, but if they did, "these three guys would be Eclipse Award-winning jockey agents for sure."

Together, DeGregory, O'Bryan, and Puhich have represented almost every major jockey nationwide, including Laffit Pincay Jr., Manny Ycaza, Angel Cordero Jr., Chris McCarron, Jacinto Vazquez, Darrel McHargue, Joel Rosario, and Tyler Baze. Puhich made headlines in 2012, when at age 85 he had the book of young Mario Gutierrez, who rode I'll Have Another to win the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).

"Ivan Puhich had Paul Revere when he had the bug," joked Sadler.

Jockey agent Tony Matos recalled a time in New York when Puhich decided a boat was a quicker way to get to a downtown bar than driving in traffic. When Matos asked how they would know their way back home, Puhich said they just had to look for the lights in Shea Stadium. The only problem was they were out so late that the stadium's lights were turned off and they had to spend the night on the boat.

Stute said that O'Bryan's nickname of "Blackheart" was originally "Blackheart and White Teeth" because "every time he'd turn you around, he's smile at you." Stute then added, "We're in the greatest business in the world, and these agents here are the guys who make it go."

Trainer Mike Puhich, Ivan's nephew, called the trio the backbone of racing. "If there's a young kid out there who wants to become a jock's agent, look at these three. Have the passion, have the knowledge, and have as much fun as these guys have."

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