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Small man with a big heart
Orville Clarke, Freelance Writer
It COULD be said that horse racing has dealt journeyman jockey, Cornal Hall, a losing hand, but he is hell-bent on surviving the game - even at age 58.
On Wednesday, November 21, Hall had the distinction of becoming the oldest jockey to ride a winner at Caymanas Park when booting home the 16-1 outsider ROAD BLOCK in the sixth race for maiden four-year-olds and up over 1300 metres, this confined to jockeys who had not ridden a winner since the start of the year.
At 58 years, seven months and 24 days, he surpassed veteran jockeys David 'Scorcher' McKenzie and the legendary 'Hall of Famer' Arthur 'Daddy' Jones as the oldest to accomplish the feat. McKenzie, who has been riding since the mid-'60s, was 57 years and nine months when riding his most recent winner, IVAN THE TERRIBLE on October 20.
Significantly, ROAD BLOCK was the jockey's first winner in more than 10 years. His previous winner, NAUGHTY PRINCE for trainer Godwin 'Bunny' Bucknor on Saturday, January 25, 1997, stunned the Caymanas crowd into silence, winning by a short head at the fantastic odds of 550-1, paying a record $2,204.60 to win on the then minimum stake of $5.
ROAD BLOCK was only his second ride this season and, to cap it, only his third winner in a career spanning 28 years. Hall rode his first winner, EBONY (6-1) for trainer Adin 'Dreddie' Williams on December 17, 1994.
'Mi love racing'
The questions posed to him were, how does he manage to survive the game with such little returns? Why bother to invest his time and energy in racing?
"Mi agree most jockeys would turn them back on the sport long ago, but mi love racing ... mi love being around the horses," Hall explained. "Although I'm not getting the rides, I exercise horses for several trainers every morning and collect a money, enough to keep me involved inna the sport.
"I don't believe in giving it up at this stage of my life ... I just ha fi continue battering through rain and shine until the body fail to respond. Mi live with mi relatives ... mi nah pay rent and mi nah suffer."
Hall, who hails from Lakes Pen in Spanish Town, says he keeps fit by riding his bicycle to the track every morning except Sundays.
He is up from as early as 4:00 a.m. in an effort to arrive at the track by 5.00 a.m. to continue his daily routine of working horses for a number of trainers.
During the heavy rains which fell in October, Hall braved the elements on his trusty bicycle to reach the track on time every day, never once complaining about the way of life he chose. Few, if any jockey, can match his unswerving dedication.
Grateful for the goodwill
Hall says he is grateful for all the goodwill he received after winning aboard the Fredrick Watson-trained ROAD BLOCK.
He recalled that on his return to the jockeys' room ,everyone was happy for him. It was congratulations all around and he confessed to feeling good with all the attention.
"The owner, Patrick Smellie, tell me him love how mi ride the horse and I received a present (cash) from him as well. Later inna the week, 'Fanna' (leading all-time jockey Winston Griffiths) see mi at the track and extend him congratulations.
"Coming from a jockey like Griffiths, it means a lot to me. It mek mi want to go that extra mile fi ride another winner."
Hall explained that he felt he had a good winning chance with ROAD BLOCK and victory aboard the lightly-raced four-year-old filly was not surprising in a race for struggling jockeys.
"I schooled this horse from she was a two-year-old and knew her very well. This mek the second time I ride her inna a race. The first time was a year ago, but she finish down the track.
"She worked fairly well fi this race though and I rode her to the trainer's instructions ... break her sharply on the outside, hold her inna the pace and send her through approaching the home turn. She win by six lengths and pay $356 and I never even have a ticket pon her."
Hall added that his love for racing transcended gambling. During his long stint as a jockey, he has seldom gambled.
He pointed to a weakness on his part: "Fi get ahead as a jockey in racing, yu haffi assert yuself ... yu haffi go out dey and beg ride in order fi promote yuself or go get a agent. This not my way a doing things," he said.
Still, the ageing rider was quick to point out that he gets on well with everybody in racing and in and around his community as well.
"People in Spanish Town look out for mi because I treat them with respect. It go both ways and I don't have a problem with anyone," he said.
He is optimistic that rides will trickle down to him in the months ahead and is looking forward to a brighter 2008.
YEARS IN FLORIDA
A father of two grown children, Hall, who rides at 50kg, is a past student of Frankfield Primary and Edwin Allen Comprehensive in Frankfield, Clarendon.
On leaving school, the focus was on racing and he hooked up with the 1975 champion trainer, Ossie Lee. as a stable lad in the '70s.
He was taught the rudiments of riding by fellow grooms while at Lee's stable and when the trainer migrated to Florida in 1976, Hall says he moved around quite a bit.
He obtained a one-day jockey's permit in 1979 and was on the way, or so it seemed. But the going was never smooth and it took him 15 years to ride his first winner.
In between scarce rides, he managed to eke out a living by working horses on a regular basis.
Destined to struggle
But unlike the glowing success stories of fellow jockeys Griffiths, Charles Hussey, Trevor Simpson and new kid on the block Omar Walker, Hall was destined to struggle.
He related one really bad experience: "I went to Boston in Portland fi ride in Gymkhana races and a horse bolted wid mi and I fell over a precipice and was badly injured. I woke up two weeks later in the Port Antonio Hospital," he said.
While growing up as a boy in Waterworks near Frankfield, Hall says he enjoyed riding donkeys, swimming, diving and also loved to dance. He never married.
"My life like most people have many mileposts. The breaks no really go my way but I thank God every day fi giving mi the health and the strength fi carry on ... My heart big," he declared.
Even bigger than the one on his chest when he won aboard ROAD BLOCK.