MANNY CRISOSTOMO / mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Steward Paul Nicolo, watching a post parade at Cal Expo, rode in the 1978 Kentucky Derby. Affirmed won the Triple Crown that year.

Ex-jockey Nicolo stays busy as safety steward

Published: Saturday, Jul. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6C
Last Modified: Sunday, Jul. 28, 2013 - 6:14 pm

The sky box above the grandstand at Cal Expo wobbled slightly as Paul Nicolo, 57, of Redwood City adjusted the temperature Wednesday afternoon between races during the State Fair meet.

"I'll tell ya, when it gets windy, it rocks and rolls up here," said Nicolo, a former jockey and now a safety steward.

Not much bothers Nicolo, as long as he's at a racetrack. After 20 years of riding, he worked as a film analyst, patrol judge and clerk of sales. He became a safety steward in 2006.

"Most of the (employees at) the racetrack, this is all they know," Nicolo said. "As far as riders, there's not a lot that we can do or are able to do. Most of us come around the racetrack when we're young, with limited education.

"So when you stop riding, there's a major void. I was very fortunate to … stay in the game."

As a safety steward, Nicolo is mainly concerned about the horses and riders. The job keeps him busy in the barn area, and there's a lot of office work and hearings.

"The racing is the easy part. That's second nature for all of us who have been around the track," Nicolo said. "But the other things, like hearings, you'll be having financial problems, like someone not paying somebody, medication violations for the horses and the people – we fine or suspend people – everything has to be handled right."

In a sport with gambling and many inspections, a safety steward is responsible for nearly everything – the jockeys, the races and business off the track.

"You've got to draw that line early in a meet," Nicolo said. "The biggest thing is staying consistent.

"Anybody that gets sanctioned or suspended is going to … whine about it. Everybody has been called such and such, but when you're called inconsistent, that's the one that cuts."

Nicolo started riding when he was 17 in Miami, competing at tracks along the East Coast. He said he rode at 52 tracks during his career as a jockey.

Nicolo won 1,222 of his 10,270 starts, according to EquiBase.com, and his mounts won $9,134,368.

In 1978, he rode in the Kentucky Derby that featured the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed. Nicolo, aboard Special Honor, finished last.

"That was my usual meet, Churchill (Downs)," Nicolo said. "Riding (on) Derby days is different than any other place with the amount of people in the infield. It's like a sound tunnel you come into. It's impressive.

"Everybody asks me if I miss riding. I don't miss riding, losing the weight and all the other aggravating stuff. I miss winning."

Call The Bee's Kristopher Rivera, (916) 321-1101 Follow him on Twitter @kgrivera.

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