Legendary Jockey Ron Turcotte

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By Margaret Evans

Ron Turcotte is a celebrated Thoroughbred jockey renowned for riding the superstar racehorse Secretariat to win the US Triple Crown in 1973.

Ronald Joseph Morel Turcotte was born in July 1941 in Drummond, New Brunswick, the second eldest of 12 children. At age 14 he left school to work with his father cutting lumber, and was responsible for the family mare, Bess, who would drag logs through the bush. At 18 he headed to Toronto looking for construction work. After construction was halted by a strike, his life took a turn when he went looking for a job at Woodbine racetrack. He began by mucking stalls and soon was hot-walking Thoroughbreds at E.P. Taylor’s Windfields Farm in 1959. This led to breaking and galloping colts, and before long, he was wearing jockey silks. As an apprentice jockey, on August 2, 1963, he rode Taylor’s little Thoroughbred, Northern Dancer, to his first win when he made his debut at the Fort Erie Race Track in a five-and-a-half furlong maiden race for Canadian foaled horses. Northern Dancer exploded down the track, beating seven two-year-olds for a $2,100 purse.

 

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Ron Turcotte and Secretariat set a track record in the 1973 Belmont Stakes that still stands today. Photo: Charles LeBlanc/Flickr

By the end of 1962, Turcotte was the leading rider in Canada with 180 wins. In September 1963, Turcotte left Canada to ride in Maryland, New York, and Delaware, riding most of the top horses of that era and becoming the leading rider at almost every track he competed at.

By 1965, Turcotte had gained more prominence with a victory win aboard Tom Rolfe in the Preakness Stakes. He began working with Canadian trainer Lucien Laurin at the track in Laurel, Maryland and, in 1972, rode Riva Ridge to wins in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.

But it was in 1973 that Turcotte and Secretariat would be immortalized. With Turcotte on board, Secretariat won the first Triple Crown in 25 years, setting records in each of the three races (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes). The race for the finish in the Belmont Stakes wasn’t even a race as the colt finished 31 lengths ahead of the field, setting a track record that still stands today. A famous race photo shows Turcotte peeking over his shoulder to find the rest of the field far behind.

ts Hall of Fame.

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Today Ron Turcotte is a fundraiser for disability programs and for fellow injured riders

In 1972 and 1973, Turcotte was North America’s leading stakes-winning jockey. He became the first jockey to win back-to-back Kentucky Derbies since 1902 (with Riva Ridge in 1972 and Secretariat in 1973), and the first jockey to ever have won five of six consecutive Triple Crown races, matched in 2015 by Victor Espinoza. In 1974, he was the first person from the Thoroughbred racing industry to be appointed a member of the Order of Canada.

Turcotte’s racing career ended suddenly in 1978 when he fell from his horse, Flag of Leyte Gulf, at the start of a race at Belmont Park. His fall resulted in injuries that led to him being a paraplegic.

Turcotte was voted the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1979, three years after Canadian jockey Sandy Hawley received the honour, both being recognized for their career achievements and personal conduct, which exemplified the very best in the sport of Thoroughbred racing. That same year he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, and in 1980 he was voted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame and into Canada’s Spo

In 1984, he was the first-ever recipient of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award given annually to a Canadian-born, Canadian-raised jockey who has made significant contributions to the sport of racing. In 2015, a statue of Secretariat and Turcotte crossing the finish line at the Belmont Stakes was unveiled in his hometown of Grand Falls, New Brunswick.
Today, Turcotte is an advocate for the disabled. He raises funds for disability programs, including the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, which provides assistance to fellow injured riders.

Crediting much of his success to outstanding mounts, of Secretariat Turcotte said, “I’ve ridden many good horses, but Secretariat was the best by far. He did the same thing that any horse does, but did it better and faster.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.

Margaret Evans

Main Photo: Michael Burns Photography

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