Meet Jockey Jerry La Sala!
Meet Jockey Jerry La Sala!
By M. Scott McMannis
Jerry La Sala has always been an athlete. He lettered as a baseball centerfielder all four years of high school, and was a decent ice hockey center, as well. “The great Dennis Savard occasionally played in my circle of friends,” offered La Sala. “One time he put on the goalie equipment and I scored a goal on him, which is a pretty neat memory.”
La Sala is a product of Fenton High School in Bensenville, Illinois, Class of ’78. His family moved to Bensenville from Chicago, where Jerry was born, when he was four years old. He continues to reside there with Nancy, his wife of 23 years, and their 17-year-old daughter, Dina.
After graduating from Fenton, La Sala would visit friends working at the racetrack. In time he met trainers Joe “Spanky” Broussard and Jim Fedor. One thing led to another and La Sala became an exercise rider for Broussard and Fedor.
“For two years, galloping horses was actually my second job,” clarified La Sala. “I was working for Flying Tigers, the air freight company, on the midnight shift, loading pallets of freight. When I finished my shift I would go to the track and gallop.
“I took out my jockey license in 1980, and on September 14 Spanky put me on Stiletto for my first race ride,” La Sala continued. “Soon after, at Hawthorne, Jim Fedor put me on my first career winner, Not Noble Enough.”
La Sala continued riding in Chicago then added Detroit Race Course (DRC) to his circuit. “I would go there every summer in the late 80’s,” explained La Sala. “I rode a lot for James Jackson who was often referred to as the King of DRC.” One year La Sala finished third in the jockey standings at DRC.
La Sala has ridden for a number of high-profile trainers in Chicago, as well, such as Richard Hazelton, Carl Nafzger, J. J. “Buddy” Sarner, and J. D. Frederickson.
Perhaps the most effective partnership has been with Team Calabrese/Catalano, certainly in quality if not in quantity. In 2004 La Sala had six wins from 10 mounts for that Team. In 2005 the win rate edged up from 60% to 64% when La Sala had seven wins from 11 Calabrese/Catalano mounts. Said Team Calabrese/Catalano Racing Manager Steve Leving, “Jerry La Sala is the consummate professional. He can be relied upon to do the job you want done in the morning, and in the afternoon.”
La Sala’s career took an unexpected twist last November when fellow jockey Randy Meier nominated La Sala for the interim board of directors of the Jockey Guild. “It’s an honor to serve and do my part to see the Guild come together as a unified group,” stated La Sala, proudly. La Sala serves with Alex Solis, John Velasquez, Jon Court, Jeff Johnson, Mike Luzzi, and Mark Guidry.
“But, it’s a lot of work,” La Sala quickly added. “My wife and I have also served on the Disabled Jockeys Committee for a year and a half. On most Mondays and Tuesdays there are conference calls or meetings in Kentucky or Florida that I must attend. Our time commitment has been great, but we believe strongly in the Guild and they work they do for members.
“However, the downside is, I’ve lost business by missing so many Monday and Tuesday race days,” explained La Sala. “Therefore, I’ll conclude my tenure on the board when my term is up in July.”
Then centerfielder-turned-jockey La Sala can get back to shagging mounts.