For Immediate Release, March 26, 2017
Steve Anderson's Article - Cody Ungles
Cody Ungles left Nebraska horse racing at the ripe old age of 30.
He'd already wrung up ten years on the local circuit galloping horses, working as a valet in the jockey's room and assisting with the gate crew.
The year was 2010, and at that point "I felt like me and Nebraska racing were going in opposite directions." So, in Ungles words, "One of the toughest phone calls I ever made was to (Assistant Racing Secretary) Wayne Anderson, telling him I wasn't coming back."
He felt like a traitor at the time, because it was Anderson who offered him his first shot as a valet.
"I wasn't even 20 years old. Shoot, that was like asking if you'd like to take a free lottery ticket," rationalized Ungles. "I was so flattered because in those days you either had to be an ex-jockey, who were always first in line to get that kind of work, or wait a lifetime for someone to die."
For those that don't know what a valet is, or does, Ungles meticulously explained, "I'm an equipment manager for the jockey. We're the ball boy, water boy or bat boy all wrapped into one."
"It's our job to make sure that all a jock has to worry about is riding."
"We're in charge of saddling the horse. We handle the silks and the goggles, plus all the tack. And, if a jock needs water, an aspirin or even smelling salts, I've got it all."
As Ungles puts it, "Just like a trainer takes care of a horse-my job is to take care of my riders. They're my stable of horses. They need to be in the best condition possible, and I supply a comfort zone so they can go out there and ride their best race."
Don't worry. This guy may have left Nebraska, but he's never leaving racing.
It only took a couple of years for Ungles to get established in Iowa and Arkansas. "Cody's Corner" has become a coveted spot for a number of riders both at Prairie Meadows Race Track and Oaklawn Park.
"My first year in Hot Springs, Ark. I only had eight wins, which is nothing," said Ungles. "The second year it jumped to over 100, and last year-between the two tracks-we notched over 300 victories."
"I've hooked up with another ex-jock, Kelly Murray, and together we're taking care of 10 riders. Guys like Alex Birzer, Channing Hill, Floyd Wethey, Shane Laviolette and Marlon St. Julien."
Nothing's etched in stone, but a good valet can receive up to ten percent of a rider's earnings.
"When JR (Velazquez) or Javier Castellano come to town, we take care of them too," explained Ungles, who just cashed in on his biggest payday ever, last weekend, in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes. Castellano rode Malagacy, trained by Todd Pletcher, to victory, garnering a rider's share of $54,000.
Ungles cautioned, "East coast riders don't pay as well as those back here in the midwest," but you do the math. For a five-grand bonus, that half-hour's worth of work was time well spent.
Now 38-years-old, Cody Ungles admits that galloping horses for upwards of three hours every morning is still his favorite time of the day. In fact, he's a contract-gallop-boy for trainer Randy Morse, and just last fall went to Ireland for three months to get on quarter horses.
He once told this writer he'd cut off his right leg, just to make weight as a jockey; he loved to ride that much. "The day they brought me home from the hospital, after I was born, my mom and dad put me on the back of a horse," remembered Ungles. "My parents were good friends with Arlen Hiatt, who had a horse farm outside of Columbus. I grew up in Humphrey so one thing led to another and from my junior year in high school on, horses have been my whole life."
Earlier this week, Cody Ungles returned to the family farm to attend his father's funeral.
Ken Ungles, 76, was a victim of cancer.
In the interim, a lot of memories came gushing back as the youngest Ungles son reminisced about the good old days.
"If I could have one day (at the track) here in Nebraska, I'd want to gallop a set with Gary Houghton and work in the jocks room with him again. I miss that the most, because he taught me the right way, not only in being a good valet, but how to be a good person."