If you live in or are from New Brunswick, if you’re Canadian, if you like horseracing, the NFB has a film for you: Secretariat’s Jockey: Ron Turcotte (2013). In 1973 Mr. Turcotte, already well known in racing circles, became famous world wide as the man who rode Secretariat.
The Triple Crown has been won only eleven times since it was established as the pinnacle of Thoroughbred racing in America. Never has a horse won it in such jaw-dropping style as Secretariat did. And Ron Turcotte was on his back for all three rides.
As a young man in northern New Brunswick, Mr. Turcotte worked in the woods with his father and brothers. With a downturn in that industry, he moved to Toronto in search of a job. He had worked with horses at home and knew them well, and he was a small man. Still, working as a jockey was a suggestion that came from someone else. He tried it, liked it and found he was good at it. Eventually he went to the big leagues, Kentucky. He met Penny Chenery and her horses and the rest is wonderful horseracing history.
His riding career ended horribly in 1978 with a race accident that paralyzed him. But he stayed associated with horseracing, not as the trainer that many said he would have been so good at, but as an ambassador for the sport and for jockeys. He knows firsthand the physical, psychological and financial costs of such a risky occupation. He knows the hard work of training, and the thrill of race days and wins.
He takes us on a road trip to Kentucky. There we meet the other two jockeys of those five years of three Triple Crowns, Jean Cruguet (Seattle Slew 1977) and Steve Cauthen (1978 Affirmed). We go with him to Churchill Downs on Derby Day 2012. We go on to Maryland, where Triple Crown talk is in the air when I’ll Have Another wins the second leg. Then to New York and the dashing of hopes when I’ll Have Another is pulled from the Belmont Stakes due to the threat of laminitis. The Triple Crown wait continues, a much longer dry stretch than even the 25 year one after Citation in 1948 that Secretariat and Ron Turcotte broke.
We go back home to Grand Falls, NB, driving over the magnificent falls on the “Ron Turcotte Bridge.” We meet his family and friends and go to his home. Seeing the photographs, trophies and statues in his living room, I thought of the house of a man similar in many ways to Mr. Turcotte.
It is a small house near St. Thomas where the late Dale Dufty, a retired harness racing driver, lived. I had the good fortune of buying a saddle from him. Good fortune both because I really like the saddle and because I got to meet him. His house was filled with awards, photos and memorabilia of his favourite horses. He repaired and made tack and racing harness, usually while watching races on a specialty channel. Like Mr. Turcotte, his love of horses and the sport of horse racing never disappeared. He too was happy to share his great knowledge of horses and tracks, owners and fellow drivers, great risks and great joy.