Off and running Another Fenwick jockeys to win his place in racing's big leagues

January 17, 1991|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Evening Sun Staff

Not long ago, the kid dressed in silks standing on the porch of the jock's room at Laurel was known just as "Charlie Fenwick's boy."

His dad, scion of a wealthy, old-line Maryland family, had carved a niche for himself in sporting lore, a gentleman jock who beat the odds and won the world's most famous steeplechase, the English Grand National, on a flighty chestnut named Ben Nevis in 1980.

The kid himself, Charlie III, was only 5 at the time, and said he remembers little about his dad's momentous ride. "I remember the little things mostly, like where we went to eat," he said. "I don't remember much about the race itself."

Soon after that, Charlie started riding in pony races at the local point-to-points, trying to beat his sisters, Emily and Beth, on a furry little mount named Ali Baba.

Now Charlie is 16, a 10th-grader in prep school, and he's out to make his own name in horse racing. He's attempting to do it at Maryland's big league flat tracks, quite a different scene than the weekend steeplechases of the horsey set.

If trying to break into the fiercely competitive local jockey colony isn't ambitious enough -- these are, after all, hard-bitten professionals with families and children of their own to support -- Fenwick is trying to ride and go to school at the same time.

He's still taking classes as a sophomore at Gilman School. Simultaneously, he's working to meet his own lofty career goal -- to win an Eclipse Award in 1991 as the nation's leading apprentice jockey.

So far, Fenwick's on schedule. He started riding at Laurel full HTC time on Dec. 1. By Dec. 31, he had ridden five winners, which now gives him a whole year to ride with the 5-pound apprentice allowance and try to beat all the other nation's young riders for the title.

Last weekend he rode two winners on a Saturday card, "a good time to do it," according to his agent, Joe Burdo, "because that's when all the owners come out." Burdo is also agent for Laurel's current leading jockey, Mike Luzzi.

The last Baltimore-born jockey to hit the big time was Ron Franklin, a kid from Dundalk who started out as a hotwalker and won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Spectacular Bid.

So what's an upper crust kid like Charlie Fenwick III, who should be carrying a lacrosse stick instead of a riding bat, doing in the jock's room at Laurel? Shouldn't he be in study hall learning his Latin declensions?

Is this some kind of school project, or a Holden Caulfield fantasy?

For the young Fenwick, it's his time to move center stage.

"I've ridden all my life," he said. "I started riding in pony races when I was 8, probably rode about 80 pony races and won my share. When I turned 16 last January, I started riding jumping races for my dad. I rode in 65 steeplechases last year, and won nine. But riding at the big flat tracks has always been my goal. It's something I've always wanted to do."

Although many parents might balk at such a career move for a teen-age schoolboy with a preppie background, Charlie's parents are enthusiastic. "To not give him all our support would be hypocritical," the elder Fenwick said. "After all, his mother, Ann, and I have spent a good part of our own lives messing with horses. If we didn't let him to do what he wants to do, we might have an unhappy kid on our hands who was also an underachiever in school."

The Fenwicks met with Nick Schloeder, Charlie's adviser at Gilman, and mapped out a schedule that keeps Charlie in school and riding at the same time.

"The school has been super working this program out with us," the elder Fenwick said.

Charlie gets up about 5 a.m. and is at Pimlico to exercise horses at 6 a.m.

"I get on a horse for Dick Small at 6 a.m.," Charlie said of the well-known trainer who is also a Gilman alumnus. "Then at 6:30 I go over to Frannie Campitelli's barn and get on horses for him." Fenwick is doing the bulk of his riding for Campitelli, who is among the 10 leading trainers, although he is presently serving a 15-day suspension.

By 8:20 a.m. Charlie is at Gilman where he is tutored in Spanish for an hour. He then takes a religion class, and has some study time before he's due at Laurel to check into the jock's room at 11:30 a.m.

Schloeder said such flexibility in Fenwick's education "is good, as long as it's monitored and he's held to a standard. He has got to pass these courses. He's on a year-round schedule, which means he also has to take a course during the summer. We know enough about racing to know that he is working hard.

"We're happy to work this program out with him and his family. Charlie loves riding. It's in his blood. He's a good kid, but he's also pretty tough. He wrestled on the JV team last year in the 95-pound weight class and would have been on the varsity team this year. We thought he had the potential to be an MSA champion. He also played football and lacrosse and has a lot of athletic confidence."

So far, Fenwick, who weighs 101 pounds, has been well-received by the trainers that have been using him. "He's level-headed, a hard worker, and everybody seems to like him," said Joe Tuminelli.

"He seems to me to have a lot of experience beyond his years," Dick Small said. "He has some sense of what a race is all about, about judging pace, about riding the rail and about holes opening up. He rides real good. It's just a matter of time before he really starts clicking."

Schloeder said he knows the pressure on Fenwick will mount, "if he starts to get more rides and better mounts. So far, he's holding his own.

"It's two entirely different worlds, school and the racetrack," Schloeder said. "I get a great kick going out to see him ride. After all, I have to support my advisee. So far, though, I have yet to ask him for a horse [to bet]."

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