On balance, scales job fun

It looks tedious, but Gill and Saumell get their kicks running jockeys' room at Timonium

September 02, 2006|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun reporter

Surrounded on three sides by concrete block walls painted pale yellow, Bruce Gill and Frankie Saumell sit behind two well-worn desks in a corner of the jockeys' room at Timonium Race Course. Light flows in from one square window, where Gill occasionally will stand to smoke a cigarette.

As clerk and assistant clerk of scales, respectively, during the eight-day Maryland Fair meet, Gill's and Saumell's duties include keeping order in the room and weighing the riders before and after each race. They also make sure scratches and jockey changes are recorded, posted on the bulletin board at the room's entrance and communicated to the program editor, the television broadcast truck, the racing office and the track announcer.

"It's a fun job," Gill said.

If a jockey is stuck in traffic, sick or unable to make it to the track in time for a race, Gill and Saumell get the call. Then it is Gill or Saumell who contacts the horse's trainers so a substitute jockey can be found.

The work appears tedious and detailed, but Gill and Saumell say fun is the operative word.

"I guess you'd probably have to do it on a daily basis to understand," said Saumell, who until this year would come to Timonium and work as a valet, taking care of jockeys and their equipment.

Gill works daily during the fall, winter and spring as a valet, but for the past 20 years during the Timonium meet he has worked as clerk of scales.

Saumell, meanwhile, has been the assistant clerk of scales at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course for the past six years. As a change of pace, he would come to Timonium to work as a valet.

But this year, when Adam Campola, the regular clerk at Maryland's two primary thoroughbred tracks, left for a six-month stint as a steward at Great Lakes Race Track in Michigan, Saumell was asked to step into his shoes until he returns this fall.

A valet has various duties. Some, like Gill when he works at Laurel and Pimlico, do any number of jobs, including taking care of jockeys' boots, helmets and saddles and making sure their tack is the correct weight. Last year Gill worked with jockey Jeremy Rose on Preakness Day when Rose won the Triple Crown race on Afleet Alex.

"It was my first Preakness victory," said Gill, 62, who will retire Sept. 11 and move to a condo two blocks from retired Hall of Fame Baltimore Colt Art Donovan in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. "It was a special day and a little bigger payday and I have a photo from the winner's circle."

Other valets simply take care of saddling the horses, a job more hazardous than it sounds, given that the horse is saddled from the right side, whereas people usually approach a horse from the left, where it is less likely to kick.

"To saddle a horse, you work on the dangerous side," Saumell said. "I didn't like it and I was never comfortable with it. I've seen a lot of guys get hurt and nearly every valet in here, they've all got bumps and bruises."

Some don't mind the valet work, though. Sal Cacciatore proves that, having worked for 15 years as a "Color Custodian" coordinating the jockeys' colors in the jockeys' room before he "moved up" to valet.

Cacciatore is one of many "characters" Saumell and Gill look forward to seeing every day.

"You come in here and Sal's dyed his hair a different color every day," Saumell said.

Said Cacciatore, 54, whose hair was black on this day: "Ah, it goes from light to dark, not blue to green or purple, not yet. But I'm also in the music business and you have to keep up with the styles."

Cacciatore dances, plays a little percussion and sings for his band.

"We do everything from originals to country-western to rap to new wave," he said. "We play whatever our audience wants and we've just made a CD."

But being a valet is his main job.

"Until I have a hit record," he said. "Then I'll have to leave."

Gill and Saumell lean back in their red upholstered kitchen-like chairs and laugh.

"Everyone in here is like that," Gill said.

Said Saumell: "They all have their personalities, that's for sure. But we're all like family here. We're all very close." sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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