The movie about Secretariat, produced by Walt Disney, is scheduled for release in theaters on October 8, 2010 and brings to mind that only 11 horses in racing history have won the elusive Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, not since the dynamic 70’s with Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. With a few near misses, such as Big Brown in 2008, the horse racing industry is in dire need for inspiration, that is the Triple Crown.
While working at Churchill Downs, I had the extreme pleasure of meeting the three men who hold the last titles as Triple Crown winning jockeys. Let’s take a look.
At 32, Canadian-born Ron Turcotte, already on a fast-track career path, rode Secretariat to Triple Crown victory in 1973 after a 25 year draught. This hall of fame rider and George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award recipient would soon become an advocate for disabled jockeys as his career was cut short in 1978. A fall from his mount at the start of a race at Belmont Park left him to forever maneuver a wheel chair instead of a horse.
Jean Cruguet aboard Seattle Slew was next to win the honors of the Triple Crown in 1977. Growing up hard in France, young Cruguet was orphaned at age 5, served in the French Army in the Algerian War, and then found his place at the racetrack. Cruguet retired from racing in 1980 and trains horses on his small farm near Versailles, Kentucky. Cruguet is a vivacious and generous man who occasionally takes time away as caregiver for his wife who suffered a stroke in 2003 to support causes like Old Friends, a rescue and retirement facility for ex-racehorses in Midway, Kentucky.
Known as “the Kid”, Steve Cauthen was, and is, the youngest Triple Crown winner riding Affirmed to stunning victories in 1978 and, among other awards and accolades, was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year. However, struggling to make weight in the U.S., Cauthen went abroad in 1979 to great success, twice winning Great Britain’s Epsom Derby. This hall of famer currently lives in Northern Kentucky with his family and is an executive with Turfway Park.