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Cruguet to get back in the saddle at Arlington

Legendary jockey Jean Cruguet, who etched his name into Thoroughbred racing history by riding Seattle Slew to a sweep of the Triple Crown in 1977, will come out of retirement briefly to ride at Arlington Park on August 12, one day prior to the 29th running of the Arlington Million (G1) -- centerpiece race of the 2011 Arlington Park season.

Cruguet, 72, a native of France, rode extensively on both sides of the Atlantic throughout his career but has not ridden competitively since retiring from the saddle in 1996. He will journey from his summer headquarters in Saratoga to ride in a special jockey legends-versus-active riders race designed as part of Arlington Park's festivities during the week of its annually showcased International Festival of Racing.

"Physically, I'm in pretty good shape," said Cruguet midweek, speaking over the phone from Saratoga. "I was in Ocala (Florida) last winter and got on some horses, and I got on one or two in Kentucky this spring for five-furlong breezes. Also, I run a mile and a half every morning so I'm feeling fit enough to get a horse around the track."

The challenge race, featuring five retired jockeys against five of Arlington's top riders, will be run for the second consecutive year as part of Arlington's "Dining with the Dynasty" gathering, now in its third season.

"Dining with the Dynasty" is ticketed charity event that brings legendary jockeys from all over the country to raise funds for The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America. Ticketholders get to spend the afternoon in Mr. D.'s Sports Bar with the legendary riders as they reminisce about their experiences including their rides aboard some of the most famous horses in Thoroughbred racing history.

Scheduled to join Cruguet among the retired jockeys returning to the saddle for the race against Arlington's active riders are Hall of Fame jockeys Chris McCarron and Earlie Fires (Arlington's all-time leading jockey), as well as two-time Arlington champion Mark Guidry and Patti Cooksey, at one time the world's all-time leading female jockey.

Other Hall of Fame jockeys scheduled to attend "Dining with the Dynasty" -- but not slated to ride -- include Laffit Pincay Jr., Pat Day, Angel Cordero Jr., Walter Blum, Sandy Hawley, John Rotz, Bobby Ussery and Randy Romero.

As for Cruguet, who lost his wife Denise early in 2010 and will be riding in honor of her memory, his reminisces over the phone offer a sampling of the type of stories ticketholders will hear at "Dining with the Dynasty."

"She was the greatest horsewoman I've ever known," Cruguet said. "We came to this country together in 1965, and if it hadn't have been for her, no one would even know me today. Not long after we got to this country, she was helpful in getting me the mount on Hoist the Flag, who was trained by her friend (and future Hall of Fame trainer) Sidney Watters Jr.

"Hoist the Flag was the best horse I ever rode, by far," Cruguet added. "It wasn't Seattle Slew. The first time I ever got on Hoist the Flag (as a two-year-old), I told everyone I knew that I was going to win the Kentucky Derby with this horse. The only reason I didn't say 'the Triple Crown' was because I was so new in this county I didn't even know what the Triple Crown was. I'd never even heard of it. If he hadn't broke down (early in his three-year-old season but eventually saved for stud duties), Hoist the Flag would have been 1-9 to win the Triple Crown.

"Seattle Slew was a top miler, and because he was so much better than everyone else that year he was able to win the Triple Crown, but Hoist the Flag would have beat everyone else going any distance at any time. He was just that much better than everyone else."


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