Mention ‘Team Hayes’ in the grandstand at Tampa Bay Downs and you’re almost certain to draw a blank look. But on the backside of the Oldsmar Thoroughbred track, horsemen know what you’re talking about.
Team Hayes consists of agent Steve Hayes and jockey Scott Spieth, who have been a team the past 10 years at tracks in West Virginia, Thistledown in Ohio and, since it opened in 2007, Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa. This is Spieth’s first full season at Tampa Bay Downs.
“We call it ‘Team Hayes’ because he likes to be the leader,” said Spieth, recipient of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Jockey of the Month Award after posting 11 victories over the past 10 racing days, including No. 4,000 for his career on April 6.
For a jockey-agent relationship to thrive, there has to be a strong level of understanding. Both parties realize there will be slumps and disappointments mixed in with the thrills of winning, as well as injuries that curtail both partners’ earning power.
Spieth says their shared values are the secret to their 10-year run together. “He puts family first, like I do, and he treats people with respect. That is how we run our business and why we work so well together,” Spieth said.
Hayes – who also handled the book this season at Tampa Bay Downs for Rosemary Homeister, Jr. before she went to Keeneland – says communication is the biggest factor in his success with Spieth.
“I don’t know of anyone else who has stuck together for 10 years, although I’m sure there are a few,” Hayes said. “Scott and I talk every day about everything going on in our lives, from work to family. On a personal level, we are friends who would do anything for each other.
“Scott puts his heart and soul into riding races, he wants to win and he expects as much from me as I do from him,” Hayes said. “But he also understands the game and knows what my job consists of.
“You don’t always get to ride the best horse – sometimes you have to ride a lesser caliber horse to keep your connections happy – but some riders don’t get that and burn bridges that way.”
Spieth is married to a jockey, Rhonda Swan Spieth, and daughter Kirsten Swan is also a jockey. The Spieths, who have three girls and two boys, live on a farm in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where they have about 15 horses.
Hayes and his wife Nadine have been married 24 years and have two adult sons: Cody, a city employee in Solon, Ohio, and Cory, who plays football at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. That is also where Steve and Nadine met as undergraduates.
“Family comes first for me, as it does for Scott,” Hayes said. “My children were very active in sports, and it wasn’t a big deal for Scott if I wasn’t always at the track. His kids are active in 4-H, and if they had something going on he might take a day off from riding to take his daughters to a show.”
Spieth’s perspective and priorities have changed over the years. From 2000-2008, he spent most of his waking hours at racetracks or on highways. From March through November, he worked horses in the morning at Thistledown near Cleveland, rode the full card and then drove an hour-and-a-half to West Virginia to compete at Mountaineer the same night.
The hectic schedule took its toll, as it had to, but the opening of Presque Isle Downs was a blessing. “I still have to commute an hour-and-a-half from home, but the purses are high enough that I can make the same amount of money as before and only race at one track (in the summer),” Spieth said.
Career victory No. 4,000 aboard Reid Nagle’s maiden filly Ula meant a lot, but Spieth says his biggest win probably came in the fall of 2009 West Virginia Cavada Breeders Classic at Charles Town for trainer Wayne Mogge. Spieth got My Sister Margaret up at the wire to win by a nose on a sloppy track – in a downpour – and take top prize in the $500,000 event.
The 45-year-old Spieth wants to reach the 5,000-victory mark before he retires. It probably will take at least five more years, but he feels up to the quest. Hayes plans to accompany him on the journey, beginning anew with the upcoming Presque Isle Downs meeting.
“He and I were together when he hit 3,000, so I don’t see why not,” Hayes said. “He is physically fit and mentally sound. Scott’s strong point is his ability to see what is going to happen a sixteenth-of-a-mile down the track. It’s a gift he has to know what is going on around him, and he has good trips the majority of the time.”
Spieth had a victory, three seconds and a third Wednesday at Tampa Bay Downs and is up to 4,005 for his career. He won the fifth race on 5-year-old mare Mecca’s Gold for owner Lorelie Nixon and trainer John E. Pinnock.
Erik Barbaran, a 20-year-old jockey from Peru, moved a step closer to clinching top apprentice honors for the 2011-12 meeting by riding a pair of winners on Wednesday’s card.
Barbaran won the third race, a 5 ½-furlong claiming event, on 4-year-old gelding Put to the Test for owner-trainer Lynne Scace. He had ridden the horse in its previous victory Oct. 12 at Suffolk in Massachusetts. Put to the Test paid $18.60 to win.
In the seventh race, Barbaran scored with 19-10 second choice Gabbywitha G for owner-trainer Jorge Navarro. The race was at a mile-and-a-sixteenth for claiming-level fillies and mares.
Barbaran has 18 victories, nine more than Eddie Jurado, who has already moved his tack to Pimlico.
Danny Coa also notched two victories Wednesday. Coa won the second race, a seven-furlong maiden claiming affair, on Rojothemagnifico for owner Patrick Logue and trainer Rory Miller. In the fourth race, a maiden claiming event at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf, Coa won aboard 1-2 favorite Swinging Cruise for owners Leslie Martin and Steven Dye, who trains the 5-year-old mare.
Live racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Friday with an 11-race card. Post time for the first race is 12:27 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcasting, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at the Downs Golf Practice Facility.
The inaugural Danny Glover Foundation Celebrity Poker Tournament will be held at 7 p.m. on April 26 at Tampa Bay Downs in The Silks Poker Room. The event benefits Support The Troops, Inc. A meet-and-greet session at 6 p.m. will precede the tournament.
There is an $80 buy-in for players, with a re-buy cost of $20. Invited celebrity players include actor Quinton “Big Mike” Aaron from the Academy Award-nominated movie The Blind Side; Hell’s Kitchen reality show winner Danny Veltri; former Tampa Bay Buccaneers punter Mark Royals; plus many others.
Door prizes and free raffles are included in the event. Sponsors include The Danny Glover Foundation; Wesley Chapel Toyota; 13 Guys Named Ed; Pro Series Celebrity Poker; Ante Up; and Tampa Bay Downs.