'Working' Then And Now: A 'Lucky' Jockey Walks Away From Racing | KERA News

'Working' Then And Now: A 'Lucky' Jockey Walks Away From Racing

Oct 1, 2016

When he was first interviewed by Studs Terkel in 1971, jockey Eddie Arroyo had been racing for 6 years. He said it was the hardest and most dangerous job he'd ever had.

This interview and others that Terkel recorded for his 1974 book, Working, were boxed away in his house until recently, when Radio Diaries and Project& combed through them and produced a series of audio stories, Working Then And Now. Thanks to the WFMT Studs Terkel Archive and the Chicago History Museum. More stories from the series are also available on The Radio Diaries Podcast.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STUDS TERKEL: How would you describe your work?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm a processing plant.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I'm a carpenter from South Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Boring, monotonous...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Your mouth gets tired - tired of talking.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I started working when I was about 12 years old. I mean, you got to work - nothing wrong with it. People have been doing it for years.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Those voices of working people talking about their jobs were recorded by Studs Terkel. They were interviews for his best-selling book "Working." We've been hearing them on NPR all of this week. No one has heard the raw interviews for decades.

They were packed away in Studs' home office. But our partners, Radio Diaries along with Project &, combed through Studs Terkel's tapes to produce our series "Working" Then And Now. Today, the story of a jockey.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TERKEL: I'm talking to Eddie Arroyo. Eddie, I say to you, your work - a jockey. This is a sport that most people in America follow. Most do.

EDDIE ARROYO: Right.

TERKEL: Everybody plays horses. Tracks are filled.

ARROYO: Right.

TERKEL: So what led you to being a jockey?

ARROYO: Well, I read about it. And I read how much jockeys made. So I figured, why not me? I'll give it a try.

TERKEL: Because you were small in stature.

ARROYO: Because I was small.

TERKEL: You're 5...

ARROYO: Five-foot tall - almost 5'1". Right now, I weigh 106 pounds stripped naked. I mean, I can, with the saddle and all, do 110.

TERKEL: You have to watch every ounce almost like a model.

ARROYO: You would think that you would have to watch every ounce. But see, I waste so much energy riding that I eat like a horse.

TERKEL: (Laughter) So how old were you when you became a jockey?

ARROYO: Well, I was considered very, very late. I was 22 years old.

TERKEL: That's unusually late.

ARROYO: Unusually, right. They start at 16.

TERKEL: Is that so?

ARROYO: Sixteen - you don't have the fear of danger.

TERKEL: Yeah. This is something that's hardly talked about, this matter of the dangers, the perils of being a jockey. What are the dangers?

ARROYO: The most common accident in a race is what we call clipping of another horse's heels. Your horse trips with the other horse's heels, and he'll automatically go down. What helps us there is that the horse is moving at such a momentum that when he falls, they fall so quick that we just sail in the air and land 15 feet away from the horse. You know, he just drops from us. And we just keep going.

TERKEL: So sometimes, you're in a race, and everybody is out to win it.

ARROYO: Right.

TERKEL: In our society, it's the way it is. You get more money if you win - second, third and then nothing. But is there an understanding among jockeys - the matter of safety?

ARROYO: Yes. If a jockey's in trouble, that rider has to do everything in his power to help that other rider, whether it's going to cost him the race or not.

TERKEL: When another jockey is in trouble, how can you tell?

ARROYO: He hollers, I'm in trouble. I can't hold my horse. And if there's any possibility of you helping him move out so he can take his horse out wide, you do it.

TERKEL: This is a key question. Do most jockeys do this, even though it may cost them the race?

ARROYO: I would say most jockeys will do this. Most - not all.

TERKEL: Since you've become a jockey, has this, in any way, altered your feelings about non-humans, you know, about an animal like a horse?

ARROYO: Yes, it has. What I have learned is that by understanding the horse - his different moves, his personalities - that he's an individual, you know? And you have to accept them for what they are.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: The horses are approaching the starting gate.

ARROYO: OK. We're out at the park racetrack overlooking the finish line. My name's Eddie Arroyo. When Studs Terkel interviewed me, I was a jockey. And I'm one of the lucky ones. I walked away.

It was the last race of the day. The horse - he fell. And I went down with the horse. The ambulance picked me up, took me to the emergency room. I had fractured a couple of vertebrae in my lower back. And four months later, when I started to ride, I didn't have that drive anymore. Just didn't - wasn't there.

When you ride a racehorse, and you are not mentally aggressive, that horse picks up on that. And they don't run. They don't really run hard for you. So I decided, that's it. I'm not going to ride anymore. When I walked away, I was ready. I didn't look back.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: They're at the gate. And they're off. The (unintelligible) comes trudging out there...

SIMON: Eddie Arroyo retired as jockey. In 1978, he was inducted into the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame. He's now the chief steward for the Illinois Racing Board. "Working" Then and Now comes to us from the Radio Diaries podcast, with help from Project &. Coming up this afternoon on weekend ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Studs' interview with a gravedigger. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.