Ron Turcotte and Big Red

May 9th, 2007

A favorite memento of mine is a photo of Secretariat in the stretch of the Belmont with Ron Turcotte peering over his shoulder wondering what happened to the rest of the field.

Secretariat is on the rail, in the lower left-hand corner of the photo, and 31 lengths back, in the upper right-hand corner, are the stragglers. Along the rail, Turcotte has inscribed: “To Sally with my best wishes and thanks for the great job. Ron Turcotte”

The “job” Turcotte referred to was an article I had written about him in 1998, on the occasion of the All-Star Jockey Championships, where Turcotte was the guest of honor. I had interviewed him via phone at his home in Canada and later met him at Lone Star Park.

In the midst of Triple Crown season, I thought it would be interesting to revisit my interview with Turcotte. Between now and the Belmont, on June 9, I’ll post more segments and quotes, as well as some from another interview and article that I wrote about the late Bill Shoemaker.

Ron Turcotte: Page 1
by Sally Harrison

When asked to name his favorite mount, Hall of Fame Rider Ron Turcotte doesn’t miss a beat, “Riva Ridge,” he’ll tell you.”

Riva Ridge? What about Secretariat, the first horse since Citation to win the Triple Crown, while shattering records from Louisville to Belmont? The brilliant juvenile, one of an elite few to earn Horse of the Year honors at two? Secretariat – the legend, the hero, the dream?

“Riva Ridge was my favorite because I felt like I had done something to enhance his racing,” said Turcotte of the 1972 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner. “Secretariat, he had it all. He was everything.”

The big red colt and the wiry young man had a lot in common. Both were natural athletes with calm self-assurance and tremendous drive. But the colt was born with wealthy connections and a blue-blooded pedigree. The young man, born in 1941, was one of twelve children raised on a farm in the Canadian province of New Brunswick.

As a boy, Turcotte loved to sneak off and race the family work horses, but he never imagined it was possible to make a living on the back of a horse. His father earned his livelihood behind a team of draft horses, and when he was 14, Ron quit school to work as a lumberjack in the woods west of Quebec.

At five-foot-one, Turcotte was not exactly Paul Bunyan, but what he lacked in size, he made up for in drive. And while he didn’t have Babe the Blue Ox, he did have Bess, and in his eyes, she was better.

“She was as good as those horses get,” he said. “I could cut a log and send it to the lumber yard and she’d take it there alone and come back and find me in the woods. It was amazing. She was a very, very smart horse.”

When he was 18, Turcotte struck out for the city, where he wound up collecting worms for a bait company, until his landlord asked if he had ever considered becoming a jockey.

“I didn’t know anything about racing,” Turcotte admitted. “When I was eight, my uncle took me to a movie. It was a western and in my mind, cowboys racing down Main Street was the only race there was.” But spurred on by his landlord’s suggestion, Turcotte hitched a ride to nearby Woodbine racetrack, where he landed a job as a hot walker for Winfields Farm.

To be continued…