Happy 74th birthday to the man who rode the greatest racehorse of all time to a Triple Crown.
Ronald Joseph Morel Turcotte was born in Drummand, New Brunswick, Canada on this date in 1941. One of twelve children, he spent his early years as a lumberjack which helped him develop superb strength. When work as a lumberjack evaporated, he moved to Toronto and obtained a job as a hot-walker at E.P. Taylor’s Windfield Farm. There he learned the racing game from the ground up and advanced to become an exercise rider and eventually an apprentice jockey, winning his first race on April 9, 1962. A fast learner, Turcotte rode Crafty Lace to Canadian Horse of the Year and was named Leading Apprentice Jockey in Canada for 1962. In 1963, he was the leading jockey in Canada. The 5’1”, 128 Turcotte moved to New York and in 1965 rode Tom Rolfe to a win in that year’s Preakness Stakes and then met trainer Lucien Lauren, who made Turcotte his “first call” rider and put him aboard Riva Ridge, who won a championship in 1971 as a two year old. Riva Ridge went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes the following year. His success led to being offered the chance to ride a two year old colt named Secretariat in 1972 who went on to be named Horse of the Year.
The greatest season in horse racing history occurred the following year, as Turcotte rode the three year old Secretariat to dominant victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1973, thus becoming the first jockey in 70 years to win back-to-back Kentucky Derbys and the only jockey to win five of six consecutive Triple Crown races. His 1973 performance aboard Secretariat was the first time the Triple Crown title had been accomplished in 25 years. He set track records in each of the Triple Crown races that still stand today, including an unfathomable 31 length win in the Belmont Stakes.
Turcotte continued as one of the top riders in New York and developed a reputation as a talented and honest rider. He won 3,032 races in his career, including six Triple Crown victories and most of the major stakes races in North America. His career came to an abrupt and catastrophic end in 1978 when his mount fell coming out of the starting gate in a race at Belmont Park, leaving him with a crushed spine and a paraplegic. He became an advocate for the disabled and is still involved in raising money and awareness for the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund [PDJF].
Ron Turcotte was awarded the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1979 and has been inducted into the sports halls of fame for Canada, New York, New Brunswick, National Museum of Racing, Long Island and Hawthorne. He was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1974 and has become the voice of disable riders worldwide.