Hailey Bell, 9, and Ximena Morales, 11, have been joined at the hip for much of the meet. They often appear in tandem in front of the jockeys’ lounge, departing after receiving their freezie pops from one dad or the other, followed always by the requisite thank you and hug.
Often those appearances take place in the winner’s circle, as one did after Sunday’s seventh race when scratches reduced a seven-horse field to three starters and Bell was on I’ve Heard Rumors, the winner.
The two girls were joined by Brandy Bell, Derek’s wife and Hailey’s mother, for this one.
Hugs and kisses followed from Bell’s family members.
It is occasions such as these that sustain Bell at times during the vicissitudes of a sport that has more ups and downs than most.
Frequently, Paul Allen will announce that it’s Hailey Bell in the winner’s circle after her father wins a race, as he did Sunday. Precocious, outgoing and full of personality, she can brighten an otherwise cloudy day for her jockey father, and there have been several of those this meet.
One month ago, the only jockey to win six riding titles in Shakopee was struggling to get mounts. He had only six at that point and a 3-0-2 record to show for it.
Those numbers had improved markedly in the last month. Bell had ridden 104 horses for the meet, producing 20 winners, 19 seconds and 18 thirds at the start of Sunday’s card.
Still, the Canterbury Park Hall of Famer is struggling to get mounts this summer, something he can ill afford since Canterbury Park might be the only place he rides until next summer.
It all depends, on so many things.
He wants to ride a number of places but is prohibited still, years after accusations of riding irregularities, never proven or even publicly explained. Even the legal conclusion of matters after all those years, shortly before the Canterbury Park meet began, has not changed much for the local Hall of Fame rider.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “I thought this was America.”
Frustrated and bitter, he is giving consideration to leaving the sport without a change in conditions as they exist now.
What would he do, if he didn’t ride?
Carpentry, perhaps. He roofed houses with his father for 12 years, starting at age 10, and also did siding and overhang and gutter work.
Still, he is not quite willing to leave the work he loves best.
He rode at Hoosier Park in his home state after the 2011 Canterbury meet and did OK, but “I mostly deer hunted,” he said. Later, Brandy quit her job at Hoosier Park and the family returned to Florida where Bell’s problems started originally.
Bell called Florida home for 10 years before Tampa Bay Downs expelled him and six other riders while an unspecified investigation took place. He has been completely exonerated of any wrongdoing but is still prohibited from riding at the Florida track, at Delaware or Oaklawn Park, places he would dearly love to compete.
Bell has ridden at Canterbury Park since 1996 and was inducted into the track’s Hall of Fame last summer. At the start of the 2012 meet he was still the historic leader in a number of riding categories including all-time earnings, all time wins, all time win percentage, most earnings in a season, win percentage in a season and in-the-money percentage for a season.
Bell believes, and observers support the belief, that he is at the top of his game right now. Few riders can judge a finish and time it any better than he. He has an innate sense of how much a horse still has in its tank and can adjust accordingly.
Yet, he isn’t getting the mounts he once did, aside from those in the Mac Robertson barn. “It’s a good thing for him or I would be out pounding nails,” Bell added.
About an hour later, Bell was standing in the winner’s circle accepting kisses from Hailey and Brandy Bell.
Perhaps these occasions will sustain him another month, when the picture might improve for him as much as it did in the last four weeks.