The Legendary Jockey, Sandy Hawley
By Margaret Evans
Desmond Sanford “Sandy” Hawley was born in April 1949 in Oshawa, Ontario. While hot-walking horses at a Toronto racetrack when he was just 17 years old, the future Hall of Fame jockey decided to abandon thoughts of being a plumber and follow a career as a jockey. According to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame website, Hawley was employed as a groom and hot walker for trainer Duke Campbell who coached him along carefully. Sandy still credits Campbell as one of his greatest sporting influences. In those days he earned just $73 a week. In just a few years he would be earning $250,000 a year.
By the time he was 19, Hawley was catching attention. His first win came on October 14, 1968 on Fly Alone, owned by Tom Hays and trained by Campbell. That fall he won another three races which set the stage for him to become North America’s leading apprentice in 1969 when, just 20 years old, he rode 230 winners. He was the leading jockey in the number of races won in 1970, 1972, 1973 and 1976. In 1973, he was the first jockey to ever win 500 races in one season, breaking Bill Shoemaker’s “unbeatable” record of 485 victories.
Hawley was one of only three riders to win the Queen’s Plate four times on Almoner (1970), Kennedy Road (1971), L’Enjoleur (1975) and on Regal Embrace (1978). He won the premier race for fillies, the Canadian Oaks, eight times, five of them in a row. He won the prestigious Washington International at Laurel, Maryland in 1975 and 1976, and twice won the Canadian International in 1976 and 1979.
Sandy Hawley winning the Queen’s Plate in 1970 aboard Almoner. Photo courtesy of SandyHawley.com
With every year of his career an outstanding success, perhaps 1976 was his greatest when he won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in the US after he broke Thoroughbred racing’s all-time money-winning record for a single year. In addition, he earned the George Woolf Memorial Award and was awarded his second Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete (the first was in 1973).
In 1978, he won a Sovereign Award as Canada’s most outstanding jockey. He then raced for ten years in California before returning permanently to Canada in 1988 to race at Woodbine.
To top it all, he received the Order of Canada for outstanding accomplishments by a Canadian citizen.
Throughout his amazing career of literally thousands of race wins, Hawley was honoured and admired by people everywhere in the racing industry. In 1992, he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing at Saratoga, New York. The Award Committee chair, Joe Hirsch said “…Sandy Hawley is more than a rider of winners. He had conducted himself in a gentlemanly fashion since his first day at the racetrack. He personifies the highest standards of his profession… he exemplifies grace under pressure and has the admiration of the entire racing community.”
Sandy Hawley has career earnings of over $88.6 million and was one of the most successful jockeys of his generation. He retired on July 1, 1998, and his final riding stats showed that he had won 6,449 races from 31,455 mounts.
In 2008 at age 59, Sandy Hawley came out of retirement to capture his 6,450th racing win aboard Tribal Chief. Photo: Jack Kendall/Flickr
But being stuck on 6,449 races kind of grated on him. Why not make it an even number? Ten years later, Hawley made a one-time comeback and decided to race in the Living Legends race at California’s Santa Anita Park. This unique race featured big-name retired Hall of Famers and among Hawley’s peers were Angel Cordero Jr., Jacinto Vasquez, Julie Krone, Pat Day, Chris McCarron, Jerry Bailey and Gary Stevens. Between them, they had won over 49,000 races and more than $2 billion in purse money.
On October 18, 2008, 59-year-old Hawley rode the favoured Tribal Chief, owned by musician/record producer Herb Alpert and his brother David Alpert, to a six-and-a-half length victory, allowing Hawley to top out his wins at an even 6,450.
In 1986, Hawley was voted Woodbine’s Avelino Gomez Memorial Award and he was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. In 1992, he was inducted into the US National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and, in 1998, Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 1999, he was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, and every year the organization gives the Sandy Hawley Award to an individual who best exemplifies dedication to the community.
But perhaps his greatest win was against cancer. In 1987, he was diagnosed with an aggressive skin cancer. He fought back against the melanoma with experimental drugs, a high-fibre diet, and the sheer determination that defines his personality.
Today Hawley is a racing ambassador for the Woodbine Entertainment Group and he has worked as a racing analyst for The Score and CKXT-TV’s horse racing coverage.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.
Photo: Michael Burns Photography