His day begins at 3:30 a.m. Every day. His name is Jesus Camacho, barn foreman/exercise rider for trainer Bill Spawr by morning and Santa Anita outrider on race day afternoons.
Camacho, along with his horse Justin, a 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding that was re-trained following his racing career, are integral parts of an invaluable front line in Santa Anita’s efforts to maintain the highest standards of equine safety and welfare each morning and afternoon at the Arcadia, Calif., track.
“Justin and I are a team, that’s the best way I can describe it,” said Camacho, 52, who lives in Mira Loma, 40 miles east of The Great Race Place. “He loves his job. When there’s a loose horse in the afternoon, he knows what to do and we get the job done. I’ve trained him to stand still whenever I get off of him and he’s really like what a buoy is to a lifeguard at the beach. We both need each other and he does a fantastic job.”
In a world in which precious Thoroughbreds require 24/7 care and attention, Camacho is a great fit by any measure.
A native of Tijuana, Mexico, Camacho grew up with horses.
“My dad and his dad were jockeys,” he said. “Wherever we were racing, at Caliente or in Mexico City, that’s where we lived. I’ve got four sisters and a brother, Ruben (Camacho, Jr.) and he’s a jockey at Emerald Downs near Seattle. I’ve been getting on horses my whole life and I started getting paid to get on them when I was 13.
“I came here when I was 19 and I went to work right away at the racetrack, Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Pomona. I love my job. People say, ‘How can you work so many hours and so many days?’
“I just tell them that for me, it’s not work. Being with the horses is something I love and being a part of a great team with Bill in the morning and then taking the horses to the gate in the afternoons is an incredible honor and privilege. I work with the stewards on the radio and if Dana (Stead, Track Veterinarian) or any of the jockeys see or feel something with any of the horses, the stewards know about it and these horses are looked at very closely. If there’s any question at all, Dana will recommend they be scratched.”
For his part, Stead views Camacho as an indispensable part of the Santa Anita safety team.
“He’s a vital component to what we do,” said Stead. “Camacho (he’s seemingly never referred to by his first name) is very, very perceptive. He often spots trouble before it happens. He truly has a calming effect on horses and his horsemanship is invaluable to us. When we have difficult situations, he does not hesitate. He’s very courageous and he’s always working to improve any situation, regardless of the circumstances.”
Loose horses from time to time present challenging circumstances, fraught with potential danger.
“I’ve ridden all over the world and Camacho is one of the best outriders we’ve ever had,” said veteran jockey Aaron Gryder. “He’s in-tune with his surroundings and when things happen, he’s quick to diffuse any danger. He’s a great horseman and a great person.”
“My day starts at 3:30 every morning,” Camacho said. “I’ve been with Bill for 29 years now and we think alike. He and I check every single horse before they get tacked up, so we’re ready when the training track opens at 4:45. We take everyone’s temperature and check everyone’s legs, to make sure they’re not carrying any heat in their ankles or knees and to make sure they haven’t hurt themselves in any way overnight.
“I get on about eight or 10 horses every morning and probably breeze about three or four a day, every Sunday and Monday. Bill likes to use the training track a lot and he likes getting everyone out early, before it gets too busy and while things are nice and quiet.”
Although she’s no longer a part of the Spawr barn, Eclipse Award winning Older Dirt Female Midnight Bisou, who has now won five Grade 1 stakes and banked $3.7 million, remains a personal favorite of Camacho’s.
“I’ve been on a bunch of good horses, but she was special,” he said. “We were so sad to see her leave (when transferred to the eastern-based stable of Steve Asmussen following a third place finish in the Kentucky Oaks in May, 2018). She’s the kind of horse you want to stick with. … But I’m proud of what she’s achieved because I know we were a big part of her early development. When she came in, she was very green and had so much to learn. She’s always had a ton of class and I’m rooting for her (in the $20 million Saudi Cup against top males). This will be her last year in training and then we can look forward to seeing her babies run in the future.”
And for all who come to the races or morning training sessions at Santa Anita, be they fans, trainers, owners or jockeys, Jesus Camacho is one of the many people they know they can count on to ensure the well-being of horse and rider, seven days a week.
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