Jessica Pyfer provided the perfect apprentice rider graduation program to herself: pilot a 50/1 long shot to victory in your final victory as an apprentice.
Pyfer took Primer Dimer and his 50/1 odds to the Del Mar winner’s circle on Saturday afternoon. It was her final victory as an apprentice jockey. Her year-long stint ended Saturday with her 74th victory in 648 career mounts. She earned $3.2 million.
Apprentice jockeys traditionally get a five-pound weight allowance during their apprenticeship on handicap races. Pyfer won 56 times in 535 starts with that weight break, earning $2.7 million.
Win No. 74 came aboard a 3-year-old California-bred in a $20,000 maiden claimer. And it came aboard a horse who hadn’t finished better than fifth in his two previous starts. That included his last trip, finishing 30 lengths back — eighth of 11 — in a Santa Anita Park maiden claimer that came complete with a glacial 31 Equibase Speed Figure.
Pyfer lets the horse do the work
On Primer Dimer, Pyfer displayed one of her best traits as a rider: the ability to get her mounts to relax. The 23-year-old Azusa Pacific University graduate and law school candidate put trainer Tom Bell II’s advice to good use with that skill.
“He told me before the race the horse has trouble breathing and I needed to get him to relax, so he would take his big breath,” Pyfer told Del Mar. “He actually broke better than I expected and we were in a good position (sixth, six lengths back) down the backstretch. Down the backside, I felt him take this huge breath and relax, and it was the best feeling.”
Primer Dimer entered the stretch four lengths back of leader Inesperado, who wound up third. Pyfer took him wide coming around the turn and by the final 16th, passed all three horses in front: Inesperado, Try to Capture, and 2/1 favorite Funkenstein.
Fight the good, plucky fight
“He started grinding, but I didn’t think we were going to get there,” Pyfer said. “Then Flavien (Prat, riding Funkenstein) came up on my inside and my horse was like ‘Oh, we’re supposed to run.’ Once he saw that other horse, he kind of did it himself and then, at the end, I just tried to make him fight a little bit more.”
Doing that paid a lot more for bettors holding Primer Dimer tickets. He paid $103.40, $28.60 and $11.20 for a $2 bet. Those winning bettors didn’t include Bell, who said he was the only connection not to bet on Primer Dimer.
He is, however, betting on Pyfer to enjoy a successful riding career. Making the transition from apprentice to journeyman jockey has its pitfalls. You lose that weight allowance and you’re forced to compete on equal terms with more experienced riders for mounts.
Pyfer has a horse whisperer’s touch
Even so, Bell doesn’t see many obstacles for Pyfer to overcome. In May at Santa Anita, she became the first Southern California female apprentice to win four races in one day.
“Before the race, I wished her luck after losing the bug (a term for an apprentice), the five pounds,” Bell said. “I said she’d probably be just fine because people like her and people like the way she rides. She’s got great hands. She doesn’t fight a horse, she stays out of their way and keeps them calm and relaxed. She can get them to settle and then finish with a run. That’s what she did today and it worked out very well.”