Tag Archives: Ron Turcotte

Ron and Secretariat

Last weekend, my dog and I went to Grand Falls/Grand-Sault in secretariat-and-ron-photo-d-stewartnorthern New Brunswick to see a statue unveiled. It is Ron Turcotte and Secretariat crossing the finish line at the Belmont Stakes in 1973 and thereby winning the Triple Crown.

As you cross the falls on the Ron Turcotte Bridge heading to the town’s centre, the statue is the first thing you see in the middle of the beautiful Broadway Boulevard. New Brunswick artist Yves Thériault made it, and it is magnificent.

In an article I read, M. Thériault said he wanted to convey the sense of turcotte-statue photo dorothy stewartthe race itself, that moment of victory. How can you do that in bronze, I wondered. He did it. The long narrow dirt-filled base is the track, with M. Turcotte’s career wins and awards engraved on the sides. Beside Secretariat, the finish line tower shows the time (2:24). Crouched over his neck, Ron Turcotte looks back to unseen horses, way way back.

The monument was under wraps of course, and the wrap was Secretariat’s blue and white checkerboard. The statue was unveiled secretariat-unveiling-photo-d-stewartby little kids dressed in The Meadow’s silks, complete with boots and helmets. During the removal of the cover, the actual race call played over loudspeakers. That was a truly inspired moment of theatre.

After unveiling the statue

Ron Turcotte, his wife Gaétane, children and grandchildren and his brothers and sisters were all there. Horse racing dignitaries were there, fans from all over Canada and the US and hometown people ron-and-leo-photo-d-stewartcelebrating their own local hero. A lovely message of congratulations from Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery was read out.

It was a party, with cake and plush-toy Secretariats. Everyone wanted to talk with M. Turcotte and have their picture taken with him. As he headed to the tent from the statue, he kindly stopped to allow me to take a photo of him with my dog.

In the tent, he signed autographs on small cards and large posters. He turcotte-signs-3-triple-crown-printsigned the glass of large framed prints. For me, he signed a photograph of another dog of ours standing beside the Secretariat statue at the Kentucky Horse Park. That made the day complete for me.

I stopped at the Falls on my way out of town. I couldn’t quite see the statue from there. Probably in winter, when there are no leaves on the trees, you’ll be able to. I didn’t stop at the town’s museum across the road, but I wish I had. M. Turcotte’s riding boots and goggles are on display.

motel-leo-photo-d-stewartLeo and I enjoyed our stay at the Motel Leo. Lovely people and a fine room. Merci, thank you.

See my Secretariat movie for the picture I had autographed and thoughts on the movie.

Also see my Turcotte, the movie for more on the excellent 2013 NFB film Secretariat’s Jockey about Ron Turcotte’s life and horse racing career.

Northern Dancer

There are some athletes so well known that, fan or not, you can place the name without thinking. Gordie Howe, Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan, Northern Dancer.

Northern Dancer wins Preakness, great athletes50 years ago, the little Canadian Thoroughbred Northern Dancer won the Preakness. Two weeks earlier he’d won the Kentucky Derby, setting a record at 2 minutes broken only by Secretariat (1:59.40) in 1973 and Monarchos (1:59.97) in 2001. Three weeks after the Preakness, he finished third at the Belmont so his name is not on that very short list of Triple Crown winners. But his performance on the track made him famous, and a Canadian hero.

He won 14 of his 18 starts, had two seconds and two thirds. After winning the 1964 Queen’s Plate, he retired due to injury. He then went on to make his real mark in history, as a sire. His name is in the pedigree of three-quarters of all Thoroughbreds alive today. Of the 635 foals he sired, 80% made it to the track, and 80% of those became Northern Dancer statue at Woodbine wikicommons 2008winners. His progeny also were impressive as sires and dams of great racehorses around the world.

His own breeding was excellent, sired by Neartic with Natalma, but he was a small horse, too small it seemed to be successful on the track. No bidders were interested when he was up for auction as a yearling. So owner and breeder E. P. Taylor, of Windfields Farm and founder of Argus Corporation, kept him. After he had made his abilities clear, Taylor turned down all offers to buy even a part interest in him. Northern Dancer repaid that loyalty, literally, with a stud fee of $1 million and plenty of takers. Northern Dancer lived at Windfields Farms in Oshawa and Maryland, where he died in 1990 at the age of 29. His body was returned to the Oshawa farm for burial.

click for Amazon link to Northern Dancer by Kevin Chong
Click for Amazon link

There are a lot of wonderful books about Northern Dancer and there’s a new one out. Written by Kevin Chong, Northern Dancer: The legendary horse that inspired a nation puts the horse’s story in the context of Canadian culture and collective consciousness in the 1960s. The country was finding its way as a nation, trying to form an identity separate from Great Britain and from the elephant beside us, as Pierre Trudeau called the US. Northern Dancer wasn’t just a phenomenal horse running in the most prestigious races in world, he was our phenomenal horse. And, looking at it the other way around, he wasn’t just a great Canadian horse, he was a great horse among the best of America’s horses.

Throughout Northern Dancer’s two-year-old season, New Brunswicker Ron Turcotte had Northern Dancer photo wikicommonsridden him. But when he went to the US, the horse’s connections wanted a known (read American) jockey. Bill Shoemaker first rode him, then switched to Hill Rise for the Triple Crown races. Newcomer Bill Hartack took over on Northern Dancer, beating Shoemaker and Hill Rise by a neck in the Kentucky Derby. Hartack remained the Dancer’s jockey. Ron Turcotte rode him one more time, for his retirement appearance at Woodbine.  Turcotte went on to become a household name himself. He rode Riva Ridge to victory in 1972’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and, a year later, Secretariat to a Triple Crown.

National pride in equine athletes

Northern Dancer created “own the podium” decades before the slogan was test-marketed. His win in the Kentucky Derby was a moment of national pride and self-Northern Dancer Canada Post stamp 1999definition that lasted much longer than the two minutes he took to run the race.

Tomorrow, at Pimlico in Maryland, California Chrome will be trying to match what his great-great (and great)-granddaddy Northern Dancer did in 1964. All Californians, I’m sure, are proud of their home-bred Kentucky Derby winner. So too is this Canadian Northern Dancer fan.

Click to hear a great interview with Ron Turcotte and Kevin Chong on CBC’s The Current.  There is also an excellent post about Northern Dancer’s history and effect on Canada at The Vault: Horse racing past and present.

 

Turcotte, the movie

If you live in or are from New Brunswick, if you’re Canadian, if you like horseracing, the dvd cover Secretariat's Jockey Ron TurcotteNFB 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 sports illustrated cover 1973 with Secretariat and Ron Turcotteelse.  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 secretariat running the belmont stakes(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.

Ron Turcotte at Ron Turcotte Bridge Grand Falls NBWe 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 Harness racing driver Dale Duftybuying 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.

Click for Amazon link to The Will to Win book
If you want to learn more about Mr. Turcotte, he and Bill Heller wrote his life story in The Will to Win.  It is an excellent read. (click cover for Amazon link)