"Little Big Men"
By Jesse Katz
On a cold, wet, winter morning at Santa Anita Park, a chaplain enters the jockeys' room. The first race is still an hour away, but the long, windowless shed is already crackling with bravado: the snap of horsewhips on patent leather boots, the smack of tobacco spit on linoleum tiles, the rat-a-tat of Spanish epithets in accents spanning the Americas. A couple of guys are playing gin, $5 a hand. Nobody ever pays up. A few are hunched over the Daily Racing Form with Hi-Liters, doing homework. There is a girlie calendar from an El Monte smog-check garage hanging on the wall. Some of the biggest names in the history of the sport will be riding today; a class of eighth-grade boys would tower over them all.
The chaplain is not ordained, but he once owned racehorses, gambling on some of the same souls he is now trying to nourish. He slips on reading glasses and unfurls a page of handwritten notes—from the songbook of the Doors, the words of Jim Morrison.
Into this house we're born, the chaplain recites. Into this world we're thrown...
Credit: A shirtless Gary Stevens photographed by Joseph Rodriguez.