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Interviews

Interview with Kenny Desormeaux, Horse Owner

Interviewed by Tricia Psarreas on February 9, 2008

Kenny Desormeaux grew up with Shane Sellers in Louisiana and continues to be close friends with him today. As Shane’s close friend and as a horse owner, Kenny is very familiar with what goes on behind the scenes at racetracks all over the world.   

Tricia:             How did you and Shane first meet?

Kenny:            I’ve known Shane for a long time. We met when we were five years old. He moved from another town and I remember meeting him in first grade. We played baseball together and we played football together. We went to the horse races together in Erath. We grew up together and when I was 15 I moved away. When he was old enough to ride at recognized tracks, he rode some horses for my dad and we became friends again.

 

Tricia:             What did you think about the causes Shane fought for?

Kenny:            I think they were all valid issues. They were all issues to champion. They were really important issues that needed to be addressed. I think his actions made a positive difference.

 

Tricia:             A large part of Freedom’s Rein focuses on jockey weight issues. What are your thoughts on jockey weights?

Kenny:            The whole issue where all of this started, I’m the one who brought it up to a documentary reporter in New Orleans with Shane and Randy Romero. I was drinking and told a lady that if she wants to do a story, she should do a real story. The depression and the sickness and the passing out … I said why don’t you do a real story. The lady ended up doing a documentary and I was completely left out. This was a hidden black secret that nobody wanted to talk about. I can still see both of their faces at that table when I said why don’t you tell them about the flipping bowls. If you had a gymnast and found out the Olympic committee put out puking bowls, what kind of outcry do you think would come out of the public for that?

Why isn’t OSHA involved in it? Why isn’t workman’s comp involved in it? If workman’s comp was being paid, different insurances would have lobbied for safer guidelines. Trying to correct things from the past is not going to help anybody. People need to try to work from the present and the future. The jockeys who are on the horses should have certain guidelines. I suggested that jocks rooms should put up post weights after races. I suggested that jockeys should be tested by their strength to see if they can handle getting on a 1,200 pound horse. Those are things that OSHA would implement. Not to mention eliminating heaving bowls.

 

Tricia:             Have you ever seen people cheat the scales?

Kenny:            Everybody does it. Well, not everyone. There are some naturally small guys who don’t have to. But I would say about 60 percent of riders cheat the scales. I’ve heard some unbelievable stories about how people have done it. One jockey tied like a wedge to a piece of string and the string was behind the door. When he would put his hand, he would pull the string and pull the wedge. The door has to go down. He would push the door, the door would pull the string, and the weight went down. There was another one who put his elbow and forearm on the wall and push his body weight on the wall. These were guys who didn’t have connections. Other guys could pay the clerk of scales. Basically it was payouts. They were paying the clerk of scales to overlook the way the issues were.

Being a clerk of scales is one of the hardest jobs. You see what everyone is going through, some men who have been sweating for so long they can’t pick their heads up off the bench. And the clerk of scales has to make the call for whether the jock worked hard enough to ride or not.

In Hong Kong, when a jockey finishes a race, he has to sit in a chair where his weight is displayed on an LCD screen for the whole audience to see his real weight. If they did something like that in America, that would be much more effective than having one clerk do it.

There’s no validity to handicapping at all in American racing. If I’m looking at ten horses, Trish, and they’re all at 110 pounds and one is at 117, my choice is obvious. People used to say that one pound was one horse length. So if you’re looking at that and at the handicapping, what the people are gambling on and what the track is getting is wrong from the get go. People are being misled.

 

Tricia:             Considering the fact that a lot of the top jockeys are not really all that light, would you say that the weight limits matter for anything other than handicapping?

Kenny:            I don’t think it really matters at all. I don’t think it matters if every horse had 140 pounds on him. The point is for handicapping to become what it was meant to be again. If you look into the archives in history, some horses raced against 145 pounds while others rode with 110. The only thing I can see is tradition. I can’t see it hurting the horse or otherwise they wouldn’t be breezing them in the mornings with 160 pounds on them.

Tricia:             On another note, do you know why was Shane called down to Churchill Downs to help with the fight for better insurance and then nobody was really willing to help him?

Kenny:            I think it did go that way, but they didn’t expect it to go that way. They wanted change and someone who was strong. But the way it came out, all the other jocks backed off of it. They all wanted to partner on the issue, but when it came to a fight between the people who made these guys livings and the other guys, it was a tough call. Guys who are at the top of the food chain are not going to cut their nose to spite their face. These guys are treated like icons and they begin to believe it themselves. Take Britney Spears for instance. It’s the same way in a lot of industries and horse racing is not much different.

 

Tricia:             What do you think about Shane writing a book?

Kenny:            I have mixed emotions about that. For me, I wish he would have let go of the past and used all of that positive energy to become something else great. Applying that energy would have made him great at whatever he did. I think now he’s trying to find salvation for his life’s career to maybe redeem himself via the disclosure of all this information. Or maybe he’s trying to make something that’s bigger than him; bigger than any of us. I don’t really know.

Deception is rampant and a lack of safety guidelines is as well. So I hope the book will take one route towards the message rather than shot gunning all these different issues because it’s a large issues and it has a lot of problems with it.

Tricia:             Thank you, Kenny. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Kenny:            I’d like to add that I’m a very avid horse racing fan. Riders are particularly my hobby. Everybody should note that Shane Sellers was probably the greatest rider or among the greatest riders of this century for several issues. One was that he had a clock in his head that nobody else had. That’s information I got from the best trainers in the world. Despite his psychological condition, despite some of the things that have ever happened in his life, he’s among the greatest that I’ve ever been aware of. And that’s not because he’s my friend. It’s because I’ve witnessed it personally.

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