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The Lucky Charm

Everybody has heard of Ukranian comedian Yakov Smirnoff. One of his famous quotes is about this country and what it has to offer. He's often heard saying, "America - what a country". I know someone, right here at the Fair Grounds, that most defintely feels the same way. Jockey James Graham is not from the Ukraine, but he is from another country far, far away. Graham is from Singlas, Ireland and the 30 year-old is taking advantage of everything this country's racing industry has to offer. But first and foremost, let me point this out, he's gained his success the old-fashioned way - he's worked for it and earned it.

Graham, nicknamed "The Lucky Charm", wanted to be a jockey since he was a young lad and he wasted no time putting his plan into motion by attending the Irish Apprentice School in Kildare, Ireland for 10 months. It was there the work ethics that have served him so well were formed. "When I was growing up we didn't get to watch American racing, so my jockey role models were Lester Piggott, Mick Kinane, and Frankie Dettori. I also remember watching Cash Asmussen (brother of Steve Asmsussen) win the Irish Derby. Watching Cash, even though he was riding primarily in France, was the extent of my association with American race riding.

I came to the United States in 2003 and all I had was $1000 dollars in my pocket and a dream. I knew I had to try to adapt to the American way of race riding and prove that I wanted this real bad. One thing I'm not afraid of is work. I pull me boots on each morning and I'm ready to go. Point me in the right direction and I'll do whatever it takes to help a trainer get a horse to where they need to be."

Graham quickly realized that It wasn't going to be easy to break-in when he first got here. "I was walking the barn area in Kentucky and wasn't getting many chances, but I knew all I had to do was get a couple of breaks. My first win actually came in Ohio at River Downs and slowly but surely things started to happen. Since then, I've ridden somewhere between 800-900 winners at a number of different tracks."

Jockey Agent Britt McGehee is the man that points Graham in the right direction every morning. The pair have been working together for six years and their success has been a team effort. "There is no one, and I mean no one, that outworks James. He will work horses from the time the track opens till it closes, and he never complains. He knows that to maintain our business at this level we've got to work a lot of horses, especially here in New Orleans. Most of the top jocks here work as many as 5-7 horses each morning. It is a pleasure to work for a jockey that will do whatever it takes to get the job done. Nothing is a problem to James."

Graham and McGehee's biggest career win came at the recently concluded Keeneland Fall Meet aboard the Phil Sims trained filly Hot Cha Cha when she won the Grade I QE II Stakes on the turf. Prior to that race, Hot Cha Cha and Graham won the Grade II Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington Park. Graham travelled back to Kentucky last week to ride Hot Cha Cha to a 4th place finish in the Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Talk about finding a pot of gold, well Graham's luck has also carried over to the marriage department. Graham convinced girlfriend Lisa Caverley of County Cork, Ireland to come to the United States with him. After dating for a couple of years, they were married in 2005 and now have two children. Hannah will be two-years-old in December and new arrival Christopher is only four-weeks-old. "Like I said before, I, or now I better say we, came to this country with $1000 and not much else. Now I have a beautiful wife, two great children, two houses, two cars and a great career. What more could a guy ask for?

Anybody that knows James Graham knows that he's just hitting his stride in his young career. They also know that there's nothing magical in this "Lucky Charm's" rise to the top. It's just plain old-fashioned hard work and determination that's getting him there.

Just a reminder that next week (beginning with the Thanksgiving race card on Thursday) we'll offer four days of live racing on Thursdsay, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Starting on Thursday, December 3rd live racing will go to a five-day schedule with racing Thursday thru Monday for the month of December.