It starts with a father talking about his son. It ends with a son talking about his father. In between, well, it’s the story of a struggle, a mistake, a lesson, an opportunity, an escape and a whole lot of faith.
It happened Sunday.
Kendrick Carmouche upset the Caress with Mominou. The Louisiana Kid put a Louisiana ride on the outsider in the turf sprint, hustling to the lead, ripping around the turn like a bush-track runaway, clinching the win long before the finish line, enough time for Carmouche to salute the crowd like Tony Hawk landing a 2.5-revolution airborne spin. Carmouche came right back to win the next. A double at Saratoga is always sweet. A double at Saratoga with your parents, especially your dad, your hero, watching for the first time. Well, that’ll make your heart sing, for father and son.
“You could take my heart and I would still live,” Sylvester Carmouche Jr. said.
“If you felt my heart right now, I could make everybody’s heart skip a beat,” Kendrick Carmouche said.
Sylvester Carmouche won 1,348 races through a star-crossed career that began in 1978 and finished in 2013. And stayed in Louisiana. He rode Hallowed Dreams, a Louisiana jet from 1999 to 2000. That was the highlight. The lowlight was a 10-year suspension. See, Sylvester Carmouche Jr. is The Fog Jockey. He was convicted of holding Landing Officer, a longshot $2,500 claimer in the chute on a foggy night at Delta Downs and waiting for the field to come around the second time. It didn’t work smoothly, the horse won by 24 lengths, just off the track record, bandages still clean. Yeah, it was sketchy.
Twenty-eight years later, you have to ask right?
“Hey, look, I don’t regret it. I’m glad I’m living. What they say, nobody know. They didn’t have no proof, no nothing. When we came out to ride, you couldn’t see nothing. I had my goggles on, you couldn’t see nothing. It happened just like this, I backed my horse up, the outriders said I rode the race, they come out, they didn’t have no film, they couldn’t prove nothing,” Carmouche, 60, said. “God was too good to me so I went up to the commission and told them the truth. They like to fall out. They said, ‘Sylvester, you’re the first man to tell us the truth.’ I said, ‘God told me the truth is going to set you free.’ ”
And, no, I’m not sure if he’s saying he did it or he didn’t do it, but you can be the judge on that. As for Carmouche, he looks at the suspension positively. See, he’s a positive guy. The suspension allowed Carmouche to spend time with his kids, drilling a hard-work ethic, a positive attitude, a respect for God and a love for racing. Some kids have teachers and classrooms, Kendrick had his dad and the bush tracks of Louisiana. And, besides, God had it all under control.
Shortly after the suspension lifted, Carmouche was riding a horse up the horse path at Evangeline Downs, the horse stopped on his own accord, just waited. Billy Patin guided a horse off the track for Lloyd Romero. The trainer interrogated the jockey. And Carmouche heard it all.
“Why you let her go so fast?” Romero asked.
“What do you mean?” Patin asked.
“She went three-eighths in :33,” Romero said.
Romero called Carmouche at the end of the morning and asked him if he wanted to ride a filly in the D. S. “Shine” Young Memorial Futurity. Yeah, Hallowed Dreams, who had just gone three-eighths in :33.
“That was the morning I seen her. God just stopped me right there,” Carmouche said. “She set a track record and I win 26 on her. I thank God so much, he give me so much, that just shows you how he runs things, I thank him so much.”
And here’s Carmouche, 20 years after riding Hallowed Dreams, watching his son win two at Saratoga. He’s still thanking the jocks’ agent in the sky.
“I love it, man. I love it. I thank God so much,” Carmouche said. “I always tell Kendrick, be respectful, keep your ears and eyes open and that will take you all the way. Good kid. Humble. We were close. It was my future.”
Fathers’ and sons’ pasts and futures intertwine, a mixing bowl of mentorship and hardship. Fathers, like everyone, squander opportunities, some more than others. The good ones try to keep their kids from squandering theirs. Sylvester Carmouche Jr., The Fog Jockey, never got out of Louisiana. He’s 60 years old, weighs 105 pounds, still gallops a few to stay fit, works in the silks room at Evangeline Downs, a scar runs down the back of his neck like a lightning strike. He’s OK with all that, as long as his son is chasing his dream, being his future.
“Put a smile on your face every day, thank God that you wake up and go from there. Not every day going to be a good day but a good day is when we’re living,” Kendrick said. “It’s for my dad. My dad deserves this. My mom do too, but I know where my dad could have been if he had the shot that I had to explore the world. I’m doing it for him, I’m doing it for him.
Sylvester Carmouche Jr. smiled, a proud dad. Kendrick Carmouche, cried, a humble son.