Racing in the New York Turf Writers Cup was the second-to-last thing on Ricky Hendriks’ mind Aug. 26, 1982 — riding on a powerful thoroughbred named Zaccio was the first.
The 18-year-old exercise rider didn’t even expect to race that day until Zaccio’s usual rider suffered a broken arm during an earlier race. Famed trainer Burley Cocks entered Hendriks as a replacement at the last minute, allowing hardly any time for the young jockey to wrap his mind around racing a horse he’d never even exercised before.
“I couldn’t gallop him in the morning because I was too weak,” recalled Hendriks Thursday. “He was too much horse for me.”
Moments later, Hendriks was galloping Zaccio over the finish line. The race was Zaccio’s third consecutive Writers Cup win and enough to etch both the chestnut thoroughbred and his rider into Saratoga history.
“It was like a dream,” said Hendriks, now 50, standing by a bronze plaque dedicated to Zaccio at the historic track.
Zaccio joined Gallorette — a mare that also dominated at Saratoga — among 30 other thoroughbreds honored on the Hoofprints Walk of Fame. The first of the plaques were installed in the walkway leading up to the clubhouse entrance last year, during the celebration of the historic track’s 150th anniversary.
Originally granite markers, all 32 plaques are now cast in bronze. The swap was made this spring after it became clear the names etched into the granite were difficult to read.
“These plaques are more than just markers,” said John Hendrickson, a member of the New York Racing Association’s Board of Directors and the honorary chairman of the Saratoga 150 Committee. “They symbolize the history of Saratoga.”
The granite markers won’t go to waste, Hendrickson said. There is talk now of NYRA using them at the backstretch barns where the famous horses were boarded.
Inducted into the museum’s Racing Hall of Fame in 1962, Gallorette was a champion mare that raced against male thoroughbreds more than 50 times during her career. She won the Wilson Handicap twice and the Whitney Handicap once.
“I’m tremendously honored to be here today on behalf of my father to see Gallorette make even more history at the Saratoga Race Course,” said Edward Christmas, the son of the mare’s trainer, E.A. Christmas.
Also a member of the Racing Hall of Fame, Zaccio won 22 of 42 races and three consecutive Eclipse Awards as the top steeplechase horse from 1980 to 1982. The chestnut gelding also launched Hendriks in thoroughbred racing — he’s now training horses that race at Saratoga.
“It started my racing career,” he said.