It takes more than racing's ups, downs to unseat Seefeldt

Jack Mann

February 07, 1991|By Jack Mann

LAUREL FOOTBALL PLAYERS become folk heroes for "playing hurt," but do jockeys ride hurt?

They do if they're Andrea Seefeldt. Having battled nine years' worth of the "adversity" Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs says makes you a better person, she wasn't about to let a little thing like a battered kidney stop her now.

The pretty young woman's face masks a toughness that has gained Seefeldt recognition as one of the better players in her league, male or female, on a playing field that has never been level.

"Sure you ride hurt," Seefeldt said, inadvertently stating the classic Vince Lombardi distinction between pain and injury. "A horse goes down and the jock takes a hard fall. But the report is that he 'wasn't injured and came back to ride the next race.'

"The fact is he was bruised and sore and the average person would have needed two weeks off to get over it. But you ride if you can."

Andrea Seefeldt, 27, is not the average person. She proved that once more last Dec. 14, when a filly named Little Bit o' Love did a sort of back-flip in the post parade. "I almost got out of the way," Seefeldt said, "but her head hit me in the lower back as she came down."

The outriders rounded up the filly as Andrea brushed herself off. She re-mounted and finished second in the race. She rode her other three mounts that day, then won a stake at Philadelphia on Reputed Testamony the next day, a Saturday. She rode four more at Laurel Sunday.

By Monday, a day off, Seefeldt realized she was running a low-grade temperature. She rode two horses Tuesday but she felt sick. A masseuse and a physical therapist gave some relief. It was a bruised kidney, a pain that would pass, Andrea was told, so she rode four on Thursday, three on Friday.

"But I couldn't sleep," Andrea recalled. "The pain was bad." In the emergency room they told her she had blood in the kidney, but it would heal. She was given muscle-relaxing medicine.

"But the pain became unbearable," Seefeldt said. Back at the hospital, a scan revealed "microscopic tears" in the tissue. The kidney being the organ it is, there was literally salt in the wounds. "It felt like a continual punch in the back," Andrea said.

She did not ride again for a month, until last Monday, when she mounted trainer Dick Small's pony and galloped him twice around. She worked a horse for John Salzman Tuesday morning, and galloped another.

The pain was gone, but Seefeldt's body felt like a Redskin after the first two-a-day workout at Carlisle in July. She was not nearly ready, but she recalled, and recited, the truism: "The only way to get fit to ride races is to ride races."

She would ride Treasured in the eighth on Sunday, Andrea decided, "but I won't get in her way at the end. That means I won't be a hindrance to her because I know I won't be as strong a finisher as I was."

Appropriately she would be riding for Dickie Small, a distinguished horseman and a man of strong beliefs who has believed in Andrea Seefeldt. "She's a good rider," he said. "She's also dependable, honest and intelligent, which counts almost as much as ability."

Seefeldt rode Treasured in the two sprints she won last year and was "excited about riding her long" (1 1/16 miles). There was no chance after they "walked" the first half-mile in :48 4/5. "That killed us," Small said, and told Andrea he would see her Tuesday.

Monday Andrea rode Dans Les Bois for her brother, Paul. The filly, 12-1, never got in the hunt, but Andrea kept riding and got home third. That was worth $660 to the owner.

"They pay down to fourth," Small says. "Andrea's always riding long shots, but she finishes the job. A handful of checks for third and fourth can be the difference between staying in or going out of business."

Andrea has ridden very long shots. In the summer of '88, when she came back after a shattered pelvis, the 59 mounts she got averaged 46.5 to 1.

All riders after injury, or even a "no-injury" fall, are suspect: "I'll ride him again, sure. After somebody else does." But Seefeldt had the gender problem, usually insurmountable in Maryland racing.

"There are trainers here who simply do not ride female jockeys," said agent Bob Suggs, who gave up after six months with Andrea's "book" in that dry year. Julie Krone, he pointed out, had to leave this state to attain her now accepted prominence.

"That's why Andrea is amazing," Suggs said. "She's had to be twice as good to get half the respect."

Seefeldt was the fifth-leading female rider in 1989, with $1,027,723 in earnings. Last year she cracked the top 10 of all riders in Maryland and her horses earned more than $1 million again.

To hear her tell it, the most grievous of Seefeldt's ordeals was not the pain, or the terror of a half-ton horse's weight on a 108-pounder's pelvis, or the demeaning rejections and snubs. It was the boredom!

It was being in a cast, on a couch, waiting to heal, waiting to get ready to ride again. "I hope I never see a sewing machine again," she said after the pelvis mended. Killing time, she had sewed 16 blue-on-blue gonfalons to decorate brother Paul's barn.

This time she faced the machine long enough to make pillows of the saddle cloths that were souvenirs of riding the swift Diamond Donnie in New York. "I cleaned the house," she said, "adjusted light bulbs, all that stuff."

The horse Seefeldt rode for Small on Wednesday was Catfish Row. He was 12-1, but he came from far off the pace to finish third. The $1,020 was the first check he had brought back in five starts.

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