Danny Wright was working in a laundromat on First Street in Brooklyn Park when a stranger with strong horse racing connections walked in and changed his life.
Wright, who lived near Church Street, spent a few hours at the laundromat before and after school sweeping floors, cleaning traps and doing other odd jobs.
One day, a gregarious gentleman walks into the laundromat and is immediately struck by the size of the teenager. “That mop is bigger than you, young man. You should be a jockey. Wright remembers the client proclaiming.
A few days later, the horse racing enthusiast picked up Wright from the laundromat and drove him to Bowie Race Track to meet a well-known trainer named Ray Vogelman.
Vogelman watched Wright for a long time – all 5 feet and 95 pounds from him. “You’re hired,” announced the veteran coach.
Wright was overwhelmed because he knew nothing about riding, let alone high-speed Thoroughbreds. However, the prospect of regular employment and a pay rise working as a laundry attendant was attractive to the 16-year-old.
“My father was a coal miner who died of black lung when I was 11 and left my mother with six children,” Wright said. “I had to find a way to earn a living and help my family.”
Initially, Wright would hitchhike from Brooklyn Park to Bowie Race Track to work the stables and learn the basics of the horse racing industry. On weekends during the summer months, he worked at the Worthington Valley farm where Vogelman trained his horses.
Vogelman asked the manager to teach Wright the fundamentals of mounting, trotting, and cantering racehorses. This was an abbreviated training schedule as Wright was soon dispatched to start racing.
“The only way I learned what I did for a living was to get out on the track and start riding. You couldn’t read that in a book,” he said.
Wright became a professional jockey in 1967 and spent three decades competing at various tracks in Maryland and surrounding states. He retired from riding in 1993 at the age of 48 after riding 2,368 winners which grossed $16 million.
Wright, who had 23,686 total career mounts, will be inducted into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame on Wednesday night. He will be the third dedicated jockey, joining Donnie Miller and Andrea Seefeldt.
“I wouldn’t have chosen to do anything else in life but be a horse racing driver,” Wright said. “Who would have ever thought that someone my size would achieve such a successful career in the sports world?”
Wright was a four-year college wrestler at Brooklyn Park High and won the Anne Arundel County Championship at 95 pounds as a senior. He was named the Bees’ Most Valuable Wrestler in 1966 and mentored a sophomore named Lloyd Keaser.
Keaser became a two-time All-American at the Naval Academy and won a silver medal in freestyle wrestling at the 1986 Summer Olympics in Montreal. The Pumphrey native, who was a member of the inaugural class of the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame in 1991, nominated Wright for the honor.
Wright’s first ride was Precious Coin at Bowie Race Track, while his maiden victory came aboard Benedict C in race eight at Timonium, which was an allowance.
“Winning for the first time was a big moment and confirmed that riding was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he said.
While learning a jockey, they receive weight allowances. After 40 victories, a rider loses the apprentice label and no longer receives compensation. Despite some early setbacks, Wright was successful enough to graduate as an apprentice after just one year.
However, there were plenty of setbacks along the way as Wright learned the ins and outs of horse racing while often being schooled by more experienced jockeys.
“I admit that when I started out, having no training or knowledge of riding, I was a bad rider. I mean, I was a threat to shipping,” Wright told The Washington Post in 1987 after hitting 2,000 kills. “I didn’t know how to evaluate a horse. I couldn’t understand trying less and accomplishing more.
“The School of Hard Knocks was the simple fact of it all.”
At first, Wright lived in dorms on the track that hosted the competition – Pimlico, Laurel, Bowie, Hagerstown, Upper Marlboro and Timonium. Days were spent feeding and watering the horses, then training them.
When Wright’s contract with Vogelman expired, he signed with trainer James P. Simpson III, based in Winchester, Virginia. Thus began the most successful part of the jockey’s career, as the stable was constantly filled with talented Thoroughbreds. Cormorant, Fleming and Toes Knows are just a few of the horses that Wright has regularly brought into the winner’s circle.
“Meeting JP Simpson was a godsend. He was like a second father to me and always had good horses,” said Wright, who rode for the stable for 17 years.
Cormorant was by far the best horse Wright ridden for Simpson, as the black bay won the freshman New Jersey Derby. Wright also led Cormorant to victory in the Grade 2 Gotham Stakes and Grade 3 Bayshore Stakes.
This pedigree prompted Simpson to enter Cormorant in the 1977 Preakness Stakes against eventual Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Wright had an impressive run as Cormorant finished fourth and won $7,500.
“Every jock hopes to ride a horse of Cormorant’s stature,” Wright said. “Winning the New Jersey Derby aboard the Cormorant was probably the highlight of my career.”
Another talented horse from Simpson was Toes Knows, which Wright rode to $311,000 in career earnings.
Wright also had huge success riding for trainer Dicky Small. Wright led Caesar’s Wish to victory in the Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park, the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico and the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aquedect.
King Leatherbury, a renowned coach who was inducted into the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame in 1996, also employed Wright quite often.
“Danny Wright was a total professional and always tried hard. Every time you put Danny on a horse, you knew you would get a solid ride,” Shady Side resident Leatherbury said. “Danny was a rider He was running them out the door and fighting for every inch he could.
Thoroughbred owners also had a great appreciation for Wright. He rode for Jim Ryan of Rye Hill Farms in Mount Airy and also for his son Dan Ryan with Smart Angle Stables.
“Danny was one hell of a jockey and I remember winning many races with him in the saddle,” said Dan Ryan. “Danny hasn’t had any days off. His work ethic and professional approach have produced very consistent results. »
Ryan admitted that Wright might not be as talented as Hall of Fame contemporaries such as Chris McCarron or Bill Passmore, but he made up for it with heart, grit and determination.
“Danny would definitely give you 100% effort on every mount, regardless of the race. He did the same thing in a $100,000 race and in a $5,000 race,” Ryan said.
Ryan remembers a brave horse named Smart and Happy, who was bow-legged and had an awful gait. Ryan never thought he would even bring the horse out the door. Wright consistently rode Smart and Happy, which was painfully slow on fast track and never lost on muddy track.
“Just hearing Danny Wright’s name brings a smile to my face and brings back so many good times,” Ryan said. “As good a jockey as Danny was, he’s an even better human being. He’s one of the most honest and characterful people I’ve ever met.
During the heyday of horse racing in Maryland, Wright regularly competed against outstanding jockeys such as Donnie Miller, Kent Desormeaux, and Edgar Prado, among others. He was considered a respected leader in the jockeys’ room and on the track.
Prado came to Maryland from New York and wanted to establish a winning reputation. He rode aggressively, sometimes too much. He remembers receiving a warning from Wright, who made it clear that such tactics could injure another jockey.
“Danny was very direct and honest as he could be. Anytime I did something wrong Danny would come straight to me and say it straight up. He was always concerned about the safety of all the riders,” Prado said today. 55, still riding in Florida, “Danny was not only a good rider, he was also a real gentleman.”
Wright suffered many crashes on the circuit, some of which were quite serious. He broke every bone in his body and suffered such serious injuries as a broken back and a bruised heart.
“Lloyds of London didn’t even insure sportsmen because they considered the job as dangerous as window washers,” Wright said. “If you’re worried about the injury factor, you don’t belong on a racehorse.”
Wright followed a golden rule on the track: “Don’t give ground, but don’t take ground that isn’t yours,” he said.
Wright met his future wife in an elevator at Pimlico Racecourse in 1970. He asked her out and was rebuffed. A few days later, Wright was riding in the stretch race when his horse clicked heels with another and fell. A trailing runner passed Wright, who suffered a head injury that left him in a coma for 18 days.
When Wright woke up in the hospital, his future wife was watching by his bedside. They have now been married for 49 years.
Wright will always be remembered as being named Parade Grand Marshal of Preakness in 1972 before leading Bing to fourth place.
“I felt like a local boy doing good. The whole week has been like a dream. Being a boy from my hometown, I was invited to many special events. It was just a proud moment in my life,” Wright said.
After retiring from riding, Wright remained in horse racing as a steward. He spent four years as a summer steward at the Atlantic City Racetrack and was a spare steward in Maryland for six years.
Wright served as chief steward of Charles Town Raceway for 20 years, recently stepping down from that position to conclude a 54-year career in the horse racing industry.