A year ago, this week, Forest Boyce had one of her best days ever at the races. She won the Maryland Million Classic aboard Eighttofasttocatch, a victory that meant a lot more to Forest than just picking up a big check. For a Marylander, through and through, there was a source of pride attached to the win and she discusses it in detail in this edition of Jockey Journals. Forest also tells us how she got her start in racing, some of the challenges she’s faced and some of her proudest accomplishments.
Born Into It
I was born and raised in Harford County, Maryland, just north of Baltimore. I grew up riding ponies but remember watching the Derby when I was a kid. My grandfather trained horses and at the time my uncle was still training at Laurel Park. So, from a very early age I knew I wanted to be a jockey.
I remember always wanting to go fast on my pony as a kid, whether it was in the fields around our house or out fox hunting. I enjoyed watching the Maryland Hunt Cup Steeplechase when I was young and thinking I wanted to be a jump jockey too. I just wanted to race.
Taught by Legends
I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by great horsemen that have helped me along the way. I owe my foundation to Mikey Smithwick, who I started working for at his farm. We did the fundamentals there making sure that I understood the whole process from breaking yearlings all the way to galloping. I then went to the track to work for Dickie Small for many years, galloping and learning riding tactics from great riders like Jose Villegas.
Dickie and Alex White gave me my first opportunities in the afternoons riding many of their horses and believing in my riding abilities. I rode my first winner for Alex and my first stake winner for Dickie. Retired jockeys Vincent Briccale and Mario Verge still help me today with much of my race riding and pointing out things to improve on to constantly evolve my riding skills. Maryland is full of accomplished horseman, jockeys, trainers and stewards, who have always been willing to help.
The first six months I rode I didn’t have much support outside of Alex and Dickie. I galloped in the mornings at Laurel and then would make the 3 hour drive to Colonial Downs. At that point I didn’t have an agent and did much of that leg work myself trying to pick up mounts wherever I could. There were a lot of naysayers, but there was no point on focusing on them when I knew that this was what I was put here to do. Fortunately, things picked up once I had a couple winners at Colonial.
I’ve definitely been pigeonholed as a turf rider and much of my bigger success have come on the turf with the two graded stakes fillies but I still have won plenty of races on the dirt including the Maryland Million Classic. I just love to ride, the surface doesn’t matter to me whether it’s turf or dirt.
Boyce was an Eclipse Award Finalist for Top Apprentice Jockey in 2011
It was a lot of fun. I had a roller coaster of a bug year so the idea of becoming a finalist was surreal at the time. They really love bug riders in Maryland and when the momentum picks up you could be riding 9 races a day and be on all live horses. It was great to be able to attend an Eclipse Awards with my family and agent Jay Burtis, who works so hard for me. To actually be one of the finalists with so many wonderful people and animals involved in this amazing sport was incredible.
About six days a week I head out to the track in the morning whether it’s Laurel, Pimlico, Bowie, or Fair Hill. I try to get to each of them at least once a week. After that I like to go for a run before heading to the jocks room to stretch, take a nap, or study the form.
Maryland Million Day
It means a lot being a homegrown Marylander! I grew up following the day and seeing talented Maryland-sired horses ridden by great jocks such as Ramon Dominguez, Mario Pino, Edgar Prado, Kent Desormeaux and many more. I rode Million Day when I had the bug, but I didn’t have any luck. My first MD Million winner was on Pocket Patch in the MD Million Turf in 2011.
Maryland Million is very special to me because it marks the first time my mom came to the races to watch me ride. Although I didn’t have any winners that first year, she was there when I won on Pocket Patch. My whole family comes out that day and really enjoys themselves. That’s what makes it such a wonderful day out, which draws a lot of people that are not regular race goers and introduces them to such a family friendly environment.
On Winning the Maryland Million Classic Aboard Eighttofasttocatch Last Year
It was probably the most memorable day at the races for me. I had picked up the mount on “Catcher” earlier that year and ridden him to win a couple races in the spring. His trainer Tim Keefe and owner, the late Mr. Arnold Heft, had always done what was right by the horse and patiently planned out that years campaign around MD Millions. He was primed for the day and really fired again to win his second MD Million Classic (his first was in 2011). Catcher broke well like he does, pulling a little as he gets himself to the front before settling in to his strong gallop until he was ready to open up on the field. He loves his racing and loves Laurel Park!
It’s great to be able to ride such a talented horse on what is such a huge day in Maryland racing at Laurel Park where we spend the majority of our year racing. It was amazing, the Heft’s have been such big supporters of Maryland racing for so long.
Looking Forward to This Year’s Maryland Million
Obviously, getting back on Catcher in the afternoon, but also the great day out it is for spectators and fans. Maryland Million day brings people out the the track that normally don’t make it out and it’s an incredible environment. If we get a beautiful fall day, it will be the largest crowd all year at Laurel. There is a fun build up to it all week with a 5k run, golf tournament, gala, and then the races.
It’s just a beautiful day at the races in the fall without the craziness of the Preakness. There is no infield concert or space limitations. The grandstand at Laurel is very large but on a nice day everything takes place outside and is very family friendly.
Building A Better Horse Racing Product
The current infrastructure of racetracks around the country on a whole is almost of developing world quality compared to the newest fan friendly stadiums being built every few years around the country for prime time sports. We need to invest more in infrastructure and provide fans with a much friendlier conveniences; fun restaurants, bars and entertainment. Great entertainment in a fun venue on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon outside of football season would be a big hit.
This Jockey Journal was compiled from responses by Forest Boyce to interview questions from DanonymousRacing.com. We thank Forest for taking the time to be a part of Jockey Journals.