Secret Agent Man
By Mike Valiante
If I were to ask an average fan what a jockey agent does, I would more than likely get an overly succinct answer. The truth, as often is the case, is a bit more complex. A successful agent has to be a good PR man, a businessman, a politician, a confidant and someone who has an eye for the horses. As in all professions work ethic is important but in addition you have to have a thick skin. After reading the above you may correctly conclude that it takes a unique individual to do the job. John Weilbacher is one of those individuals.
John represented Angel Suarez and Jose Garcia last year at Delaware Park. Both jocks are talented and had good meets (Suarez was number two in wins) so you might think that the old joke about an agent, “to be one all you need is a pen and a lobotomy”, illustrates that with the right jockeys the job is easy. John is proof that the job is much more than that.
John is not some Johnny-come-lately to the track but like many individuals in the business he took a long and circuitous route to where he is today. His original stint at the track included experiences as a hot walker, groom, assistant trainer and trainer before he transitioned to being an agent. About 20 years ago he was working with veteran trainer Sam Cronk who connected him with jockey Juan Umana at Delaware Park. Juan was in need of an agent at that time. John loved the job and ultimately ended up representing Joe Rocco Jr. and Sean Jones after his stint with Juan. Subsequently, family ties and the responsibilities of raising three children took him out of the business for a long time. He returned to his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio to co-own and run a pizzeria. He did miss the track however and once his daughters were grown he returned to the game at Delaware Park and represented Scott Spieth and Daniel Centeno. Scott won the jockey title at Delaware Park with John as his agent in 2017.
John hits the barns every morning talking with trainers and his connections bore fruit again last year. He feels that trainers respect the fact that he is pitching his clients in a positive upbeat way. His style is low key but he has been able to find work for his clients with named trainers like Jamie Ness, Gerald Bennett, Andy Simoff, John Rigattieri and Tim Ritchie. He also encourages his clients to form relationships with trainers and the grooms. According to John, Angel Suarez in particular is a jock who has followed that advice and built a good vibe in the barns with agents and grooms. Like John, both Suarez and Garcia are hard workers. John organizes his client’s morning work schedule and studies the horses and their numbers so that he can counsel his jockeys. His wife Sara is a part of the team and is like a momma bear with his clients. She sometimes cooks for the jocks and like John is really concerned about their careers.
The day is a long one as John follows up his daily morning barn work with attendance at the track. Sometimes that may include shuttling a client to an evening track so there are some plus 6-hour days. John is happy and content in the role. You know the old secret he says, “If you love what you do it is not work.”
A Day in the Life
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