At the virtual Kentucky Derby, Secretariat and Ron Turcotte are set to ride again – The Globe and Mail

At the virtual Kentucky Derby, Secretariat and Ron Turcotte are set to ride again – The Globe and Mail

Ron Turcotte, seen here on June 9, 1973, lives on a farm in the little village of Drummond with Gaetane, his wife of 54 years. From their back deck, they enjoy a sensational view of the Appalachians.


It has been almost a half-century because Secretariat roared through the Triple Crown, but the strapping chestnut colt’s Canadian jockey, Ron Turcotte, still gets thousands of requests for autographs. Pictures, programs, old racing forms and newspaper clippings jam his post-office box in Van Buren, Me., across the border from where he resides in northern New Brunswick.

” I still get as lots of as I did when I was riding,” said Turcotte, who is 78 and remembers details from 1973 as though they occurred the other day. “I look at some things people send me and wonder where they got them.

” Some packages don’t even have an address on them. They compose ‘Ron Turcotte’ on the front and somehow it reaches me.”

Secretariat’s unrivaled sweep of horse racing’s most distinguished events started on the first Saturday in May 47 years ago. No thoroughbred has ever run faster than Secretariat performed in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and Belmont Stakes that followed. Because of that, both the horse and the male in the saddle will never be forgotten.

This year’s annual Run for the Roses was postponed since of the COVID-19 pandemic and has been rescheduled for Sept. 5. In its location, NBC telecasted a computer-generated virtual race amongst 13 Triple Crown winners on Saturday.

Secretariat, who was beaten just four times in 21 starts, was noted as the favourite in a field that included Seattle Variety, American Pharoah, Affirmed, Justify, War Admiral and Sir Barton, among others. At sometimes without sports the simulation was almost as amazing as a real race. Secretariat won, finishing ahead of Citation and Seattle Multitude.

” Any person who chooses versus Secretariat does not understand anything about horses,” Turcotte states over the phone.

Turcotte lives on a farm in the little village of Drummond with Gaetane, his other half of 54 years. From their back deck, they enjoy a spectacular view of the Appalachians.

Left a paraplegic in a racing accident in 1978, he used to enjoy gabbing over coffee at the nearby Tim Hortons.

” It was like a routine for me,” he says. “I’m the type of man who likes to hang around with old friends.”

However due to the fact that of the spread of the coronavirus, he spends days and nights reading his computer system.

” I resemble everybody else, in a cage now,” he says good-naturedly. “My medical professional locked me in. He informed Gaetane to weld the wheels shut on my [wheel] chair.”

Over a riding career that covered 17 years, he landed in the winner’s circle 3,032 times. He won almost every significant stakes race that exists– some numerous times– however is finest kept in mind for his and Secretariat’s supremacy in 1973.

For years, fans brought roses to the reproducing farm in Kentucky where Secretariat passed away in 1989 of laminitis, an uncomfortable foot illness. Many made trips to his grave in the bluegrass during derby week each year.

Seth Hancock, the veteran operator of Claiborne Farm, where Secretariat lived out his retirement as a breeding horse, when said that if you would like to know who Secretariat is in human terms, “Just envision the greatest professional athlete worldwide. Now make him 6-foot-3, the ideal height. Make him intelligent and kind. And on top of that, make him the best-lookin’ guy ever to come down the pike. He was all those things as a horse.”

In Turcotte, Secretariat also had among the greatest riders in the world.

” I get requests from fans as far as Australia, and from nations I have actually never ever heard of,” he states. “If people can put in the time to send me things, I ought to sign and send them back.”

In 1972-73, he ended up being the first jockey to win five of the six races consecutively in the Triple Crown. When he won the Kentucky Derby in 1973, he was the first to do it in back-to-back years since Jimmy Winkfield in 1902.

Racing fans would await him at the end of every day at the track, and follow him into the car park to request for an autograph. Some riders didn’t like it, however it never troubled Turcotte.

” I constantly put myself in the place of the fans and the kids that would ask me. If I was rude, they might never pertained to the races again. And without fans, there would be no races.”

Secretariat won 15 of 18 starts with Turcotte at the reins. He ended up 4th in his very first race under a various rider after being bumped at the start, however was never ever even worse than 3rd after that.

Turcotte states Secretariat was sick or unprepared to race the only other times he didn’t win.

” That horse must have never ever been beat other than for his very first race,” he states. “He never ever failed us. We failed him.”

Once, Secretariat completed second in a stakes race while running a fever of 105 F.

” I remember bringing him back to be unsaddled later and I was weeping as I jumped off him,” Turcotte states. “I had never had a horse try that hard that was that sick. How he ended up second is beyond me.”

One of 12 children, Ron Turcotte grew up a bit more than two kilometres from where he lives today. His household’s home had neither running water nor electrical energy, and the kids slept 2 and three to a bed.

At 14, he stopped school to become a lumberjack. He was all of 5-foot-1 and 128 pounds however assisted his daddy by driving a team of horses to carry lumber out of the woods.

At 18, he and a friend went to Toronto trying to find work in building and construction. When that didn’t work out, they got jobs with a bait business getting nightcrawlers on a golf course. They made $3 for every 1,000, which was simply enough to spend for the room they shared in a downtown boarding house.

In 1960 on the first Saturday in Might, Turcotte discovered his property owner viewing the Kentucky Derby. There was more than usual interest that year, thanks to a Canadian-bred entry called Victoria Park.

After the race, in which Victoria Park finished third, Turcotte’s proprietor turned to him and said, “You ever thought of being a jockey?”

” What is that?” the little New Brunswicker asked.

” I had never become aware of horse racing,” Turcotte states. “The only race of any kind I ever saw was in between cowboys challenging one another to see who had the very best horse. I had never even beinged in a saddle.”

After finding out there were race tracks in Toronto, Turcotte hitchhiked to the old Greenwood track and was two times turned away when he attempted to request a task. The 3rd time, at the new Woodbine, a horseman got him a task walking horses after their exercises for Windfields Farm. Very rapidly, a trainer acknowledged that he was proficient at handling horses, and within a year he rode in his very first race. After winning riding titles at Woodbine Racetrack in 1962 and 1963, Turcotte took his skill to the United States and rapidly joined the ranks of the sport’s most elite jockeys.

The list of popular thoroughbreds he piloted consisted of the Canadian icon Northern Dancer– whose 1964 Derby record Secretariat broke– Preakness winner Tom Rolfe and Riva Ridge. He also rode Fanfreluche, a bay mare bred in Canada, which he piloted to triumph in 1970 at the Manitoba Centennial Derby, where the Queen provided Turcotte with the winning trophy.

” She could talk all about horses,” he says. “She discussed Northern Dancer. She is very fantastic for that. If she has anything in common with any person, she can talk at length.”

2 years later on, Turcotte won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes on Riva Ridge. In 1973, he and Secretariat won the Triple Crown.

Turcotte says he knew Secretariat better than anyone, and had schooled him from the time he was a yearling.

” They were anxious to race him, but I didn’t want to hurry,” he states. “I was working to make him a timeless horse. For me, it was love at first trip. He was so lovely.”

Turcotte misses out on the massive colt with a stride almost 8 metres long. Secretariat ate 15 quarts of oats a day during that three-year-old project in1973 Secretariat would press his nose against the jockey’s hand as he unwrapped a mint or sugar cube.

” He wasn’t like a horse,” he says. “He was like a human; I really enjoyed him.”

There will be no Kentucky Derby this weekend because the pandemic made it risky for more than 100,000 people to cram into Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.

” I would have liked to see another derby while I’m still here,” Turcotte says, teasing about his age. “I’m getting up there.”

He will enjoy Saturday’s virtual race with excellent interest.

” It is kind of a no-win circumstance,” he states. “Somebody is going to wind up mad. I hope it’s not me. It doesn’t actually matter. He set records that in 47 years have never been broken.”

Learn More