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Natalie in New Orleans: Public Defender and Placing Judge

Headlines for Friday, November 28, 2008

  • Natalie in New Orleans: Public Defender AND Placing Judge
  • Owner Seelig, FG Host Pre-Thanksgiving Backstretch BBQ
  • Mark Guidry Transitions from Jockey to Trainer
  • Early Bird Louisiana Derby Nominations Close Saturday

Natalie in New Orleans:  Public Defender AND Placing Judge

NEW ORLEANS, La. - You can take the girl out of the racetrack - but apparently you can't take the racetrack out of the girl.

Maybe that's why Natalie Brocklebank, the daughter of a former jockey who has become an internationally renowned bloodstock agent, is taking a leave of absence from her own promising career as a public defender to reinvent herself as a racing official at Fair Grounds - at least for this winter.

"I've been asked the same question ever since I got here on opening day," said the 31-year-old Brocklebank, who came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to serve as a public defender for some of the indigent victims of that disaster.  "That is, why would I go through the process of earning a law degree and then suddenly back away from it to take a seasonal job as a placing judge?

"It's not such an easy question to answer," said the daughter of Joseph Brocklebank, the Irish-born but East Coast-based jockey who began his American riding career in the 1960s.  "I never wanted to be a corporate lawyer - I always wanted to be in a position to defend those that couldn't afford an attorney - and after Hurricane Katrina, I thought that by coming to New Orleans I'd be in a perfect position to do that.

"I had a friend who was coming down to New Orleans to help in the rebuilding process, and at the same time I knew that the Louisiana Supreme Court was allowing out-of-state lawyers to come here to practice because the backlog of cases was so huge," said Brocklebank.

"And while everyone wants to see a reduction in the crime rate down here," she added, "I think that sometimes local jurors are so anxious to convict they don't apply ‘reasonable doubt.'  Not long ago, I lost a case where the judge told me that had the defendant waived a trial by jury - the judge might have been inclined to find the defendant ‘not guilty' in a bench trial.

"Also, I obviously grew up in horse racing with my father being a jockey," Brocklebank said, "and I served as a publicity assistant in the press box of the NYRA tracks while I was going to school.  My mother Antoinette's family owned an Italian restaurant near Monmouth Park, and that's how she met my Dad when he was riding there.  Her sister (Anna Marie) met and married (former jockey and present-day trainer) Mike Miceli the same way.  My mother and my aunt have had a company (Thoroughbred Racing Silks) that has made racing silks for a number of years.  My brother (Gerry) was also a jockey for five years.

"Racing gets in your blood, and you can't just get rid of it," added Brocklebank.  "When I heard that the racing office down here at Fair Grounds might be looking for some help, I came out and introduced myself to (Fair Grounds racing secretary) Jason Boulet and he hired me the next day."

Boulet, serving in his first season in his present capacity at Fair Grounds, feels fortunate to have found her in time to put her on his staff.

"She came into my office and introduced herself to me," Boulet said, "and I was very impressed with her credentials.  She was in a perfect situation to be the right person to fill out the last spot on my staff."

What does Brocklebank have in mind for herself after the Fair Grounds season ends March 29?

"I haven't even had time to think about that," said Fair Grounds' newest placing judge.  "I'm just very grateful to be back on the track with the opportunity to have this job until the end of the season.  I'm really enjoying myself and have been ever since I've got here.  That's all I'm thinking about right now."

Owner Seelig, FG Host Pre-Thanksgiving Backstretch BBQ

Stanley Seelig has been prominent in Fair Grounds' owner standings in recent seasons, but his commitment to the Thoroughbred racing community in his native New Orleans goes beyond trips to the local winner's circle.

Two years ago, he was the driving force behind a Thanksgiving week barbecue for backstretch workers at Fair Grounds, and on the day before Thanksgiving this year, Seelig and Fair Grounds management combined their resources to host another festive holiday-flavored barbecue.

"For some reason, the barbecue idea fell through the cracks last season," Seelig said Wednesday. "So before this season got underway, I went to (Fair Grounds president) Austin Miller and asked if we could partner up again this year, and he was all for the idea.  That's why we're able to do this today - Austin Miller and Fair Grounds should get a lot of the credit - and to tell you the truth once they got involved I was able to pawn off all of the work on (horsemen's relations liaison) Sandra Salmen.

As is usual in matters like this, Salmen does deserve a lot of credit for her organizational skills and long hours invested.

However, Seelig's contributions were supplemented by those of his family who served all those in the long lines assembled.  They included Seelig's wife Sandee, step-son Bryan Poppler, daughter Avery Seelig and her friend Megan Giacone.

Mark Guidry Transitions from Jockey to Trainer

In an ultra-successful riding career, it's doubtful that Mark Guidry the jockey ever went six months between wins. But Mark Guidry the trainer did exactly that.

Six months to the day after saddling his first horse as a trainer - and winning, Guidry, 49, returned to the winner's circle in Sunday's 10th race at Fair Grounds when Harry Lee Patin's Bumda Que Brilha was awarded the win via disqualification.

Guidry, who ranks 22nd all-time with 5,043 career wins as a jockey, retired from the saddle on Nov. 10, 2007, posting his final win that afternoon at Churchill Downs.

His biggest career win came in Louisville, when he booted home 47-1 longshot Lemons Forever in the 2006 Kentucky Oaks, and a year later on Kentucky Oaks Day, he became the third Louisiana-born jockey to join the exclusive 5,000-win club. Kent Desormeaux has since joined Guidry, Eddie Delahoussaye and Ronald Ardoin as Louisiana natives to reach 5,000 wins.

The original plan for Guidry upon retirement was to pursue a career as a steward, but it hasn't panned out yet, Guidry said, so he's taken to training.

"I've got 13 head, mostly for Harry Lee, Larry Bell and Kenny Desormeaux," said Guidry.

The Lafayette native became known as the "King of Chicago" during his riding career, winning 18 titles on the Chicago circuit - two at Arlington Park, seven at Hawthorne and nine at Sportsman's Park. His highest honor came in 2006, when he received the George Woolf Award.

Early Bird Louisiana Derby Nominations Close Saturday

Racing secretary Jason Boulet reminds horsemen that early bird nominations to the 96th running of the Grade II $600,000 Louisiana Derby close Saturday.

Early bird nominations to the annual centerpiece of the Fair Grounds meeting are $500 and also include automatic nominations to the Grade III Lecomte Stakes for 3-year-olds on Jan. 10 as well as the Grade III Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 7.

Nominations forms are available on Fair Grounds website and at racing offices around the country.