For a jockey, losing one's bug is kind of like where the hooves hit the dirt, in respect to their thoroughbred horse racing career. No longer an apprentice, the jockey's special allowances disappear along with the asterisk beside their name in the racing form. Now they're one of the boys (or girls).
Apprentice jockeys begin with a 10-pound weight allowance, meaning their horses carry 10 pounds less than the others, until they win their fifth race. At that time, the weight allowance is lowered to five pounds to a year beyond, or 40 races (whichever comes first). When they win enough races, they lose their bug, as well as their weight allowance.
Chavion Chow, born in Kingston, but raised in Spanish Town, Jamaica, nearly 23 years ago, lost his bug almost two weeks ago. Heading into today and Saturday's programs he has won 13 of his 121 starts for a win percentage of 11. In 2009 he had 16 wins (10 per cent), and in 2010 he had 13 (five per cent).
There's been plenty of seconds and thirds since he began his professional racing career at Assiniboia Downs in 2008, but in his own words, "Winning is everything. Seconds and thirds are good, but in this business you have to win to survive."
Racing without the bug now, is definitely a challenge, but Chow says he is up to it. "The five pounds means a lot when you have it, because we take the weight off the horses. But losing it now, means I made a step up and it should be tougher, so my game has to step up."
His father, Victor Chow, had the greatest influence in his choice to become a jockey. "My first step, I think, was about age 16 or 17," he recalled. "I used to go to school, but on weekends I started riding horses. Once I finished Grade 11 I went full time at the track.
"My dad was not a jockey, but he was in the business as a gallop boy. He always said to me, 'I believe in you, and I think you can do it' and he said he saw something in me. I believed him."
Don't look for Chow, who is tied for ninth in the standings with Christopher Husbands, to win any awards this year, or even next. However, until this year all he could get to ride were horses with next-to-impossible odds. This year, he's starting to get some decent rides. Since losing his bug, he has won two races. On Aug. 10 he won on a (2-1) gelding named Seekingacareer and on Aug. 13 he was on Bear In Control (7-1), when he and they made a trip to the winner's circle.
Now that he is a journeyman, Chow's options have become more plentiful. Until now, if he rode competitively in Jamaica during the winter, he stood the chance of losing his bug, so he would work only as a gallop boy. Now, if he chooses, he can ride at other tracks, including Jamaica.
He has yet to win a stakes race, and this weekend won't be any different as he was passed over for Friday's $25,000 Debutante for two-year-old fillies and the $50,000 Agassiz Stakes for three-year-old colts and geldings. He's also on the outside looking in as far as the $25,000 Osiris Stakes for two-year-olds, which runs Saturday.
In the three stakes races he has ridden in, he finished fourth, seventh and fourth.
Chow says trainers are a lot more choosy when it comes to who they put on a stakes horse. "You have to show them, and make them believe, that you can get the job done. Nothing in this game is easy, but when you win races it does make it a bit easier. But to win, you need the good horses. In this game, I think as a rider, the difference the rider makes may be about five per cent. The horse does most of the work. Once you have good horses you just have to go out there and make your best effort."
Post time today and Saturday is 7:05 p.m.