BALTIMORE – Ten years after going to the Kentucky Derby (G1) with one of Hamilton Smith’s best colts, James ‘Bo-Bo’ Brigmon finds himself at historic Pimlico Race Course for Preakness weekend with one of the trainer’s best fillies.
Brigmon is the regular exercise rider for Luna Belle, Smith’s stable star that takes a five-race win streak – all in stakes – into Friday’s $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2), where she is second choice in a field of 13 at morning line odds of 9-2.
From the 3-year-old filly, Brigmon gets a similar feeling that he had riding Grade 3 winner Done Talking, who brought the team to the 2012 Derby.
“It’s nice. I like it, especially with the nice horses when they walk out there and you can feel the horses and they know it’s something good for them,” Brigmon said. “Luna Belle walking out this morning, she swelled up a little bit and she was looking at the people and got her ears pricked and I was like, ‘She knows something’s going on.’ It feels good getting on them like that, the feeling that they give you walking out there and galloping around.”
Owned by Deborah Greene and Smith and bred in Maryland by Smith, Greene and her late father, Fred Greene Jr., Luna Belle galloped over the main track Wednesday, her first morning at Pimlico after making the short trip from Laurel Park where Smith is based. She went out shortly after the break, around 8:45, and Smith plans to do the same on Thursday.
“When they went on the track he backed her up to the backside and then they galloped around past the wire. She was pretty aggressive the first time and kind of had her head up wanting to do a little more than she had to,” Smith said. “She settled back in and the rest of the way she went fine. She’s always been aggressive in her gallops. She doesn’t try to run off so much, but he takes a pretty decent hold of her. That’s why I keep him on her all the time.”
In fact, Brigmon has been Smith’s go-to exercise rider almost since they first began working together 22 years ago. Brigmon, now 45, grew up near the Elloree Training Center in South Carolina, owned and operated by Smith’s older brother Frank, known as Goree.
“He started with my brother down there, born and raised right outside the training center. He’d go out there and weekends and after school and stuff and piddle around and pick up trash and whatever little kids might do, and then he got interested in the horses,” Smith said. “When he got big enough, when he started working as one of the grooms, he kind of took to the boys galloping. He thought they were having more fun than him. He wanted to learn how to gallop, so my brother taught him how to gallop.
“He does it all. He’s a great groom, good exercise rider – he can do everything. He could train on his own if he wanted to,” he added. “I can trust him with anything.”
“I started working on the farm for Mr. Goree when I was 13 or 14. My school bus used to go by his brother’s farm,” Brigmon said. “One day me and my cousin said, ‘We ought to go there and ask for a job.’ It was the summer coming up so we went in and asked for a job and they said, ‘Come on out.’ We started helping them out in the summertime and then we started going out after school and it went from there. He started sending me up the road with Hammy and his son Greg, and then I came to Maryland and stayed with Hambone.”
Brigmon embraces the racetrack life, so much so that after he spends the morning exercising horses for Smith he works as a valet during live race afternoons at Laurel and Pimlico for jockeys Feargal Lynch, Charlie Marquez, Bryson Butterfly and the injured Sheldon Russell. He’ll pick up Luis Saez and two-time Eclipse Award winner Julien Leparoux over Preakness weekend.
“Love it,” he said.
Jockey Denis Araujo has been aboard Luna Belle throughout her streak and will get a leg up again Friday. Brigmon will watch from trackside, knowing the foundation he put into her each morning has been instrumental in her success.
“It’s just nice getting on her. She’s a nice filly,” he said. “She’s cool. She’s a smart horse, and she’s laid back. She doesn’t care about anything. She’s just professional.”
Maryland Jockey Club Press Release
Photo of James “Bo-Bo” Brigmon riding Done Talking before the 2012 Kentucky Derby by Scott Wykoff.