Horseracing is a beautiful, majestic sport. For all of its grace and pageantry, however, horseracing carries inherent risks for the horses and the men and women who ride them in races. It is never a happy sight to see a terrible spill on the racetrack, and these accidents should remind us of the price that is sometimes paid for our entertainment.
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EZ Horse Betting has compiled a list of the top five tragic accidents in horseracing. We do not present these to trivialize or sensationalize racehorse injuries or rider injuries but to honor the athletes, both human and equine, who suffered for their chosen sport. Our hope is that this list will help those who love horse betting to be mindful of the safety of those jockeys and horses who risk life and limb to bring us this exciting sport.
George Woolf Dies at Santa Anita
George Woolf was known as the “Iceman” for his cool demeanor and calmness under pressure. Woolf weighed no more than 112 pounds for most of his legendary career piloting racehorses that often weighed more than 1,000. It has been said that to experience what a jockey must do in a race one would need to crouch on the hood of a car that is traveling at 45 miles per hour. With only their strong legs to support them, jockeys are essentially riding a catapult that can eject them at any time.
Woolf gained popularity for his ride of Seabiscuit in the famous match race with War Admiral, but it was an unheralded race at Santa Anita which would end the jockey’s life. Woolf was aboard Please Me on January 3, 1946. As the talented rider steered Please Me into the final turn, Woolf fell from the horse’s back. Woolf was taken to a local hospital with a concussion but did not recover. He died the following day.
Woolf’s fellow riders speculated that the jockey had lost consciousness during the race due to his ongoing battle with diabetes. The illness would be hard to manage for any jockey because of the restrictions placed on their body weight. Woolf was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery where iconic country and film star Gene Autry offered a tribute in song during the service.
The Death of Eight Belles
Trainer Larry Jones was on a roll as he made his way to Churchill Downs for the running of the 134th Kentucky Derby. The day before, Jones had won the Kentucky Oaks in stunning fashion with Proud Spell. In the Derby, Jones was attempting to win the race with a filly, the talented Eight Belles. Only 39 fillies had attempted the race in the past, and Eight Belles had perhaps the best chance of them all to win against the bigger, stronger colts. To do so, she would have to defeat the tremendously talented Big Brown who was favored by many to win the Triple Crown.
Eight Belles raced valiantly, finishing second to Big Brown and validating Jones’ choice to enter her in the race. No one could have known, however, that tragedy was waiting to strike. As Eight Belles galloped out after the finish line she took a bad step and stumbled. Both ankles suffered compound fractures. Her condition was so dire that she could not be removed from the track and had to be euthanized beneath the famed Twin Spires.
Jones was distraught. The accident would ultimately cause him to briefly retire from thoroughbred racing. Eight Belles was honored with burial at Churchill Downs, and a race in her memory is now ran on Kentucky Derby day as a prelude to the big race.
Ron Turcotte is Paralyzed
The legendary jockey who rode Secretariat, possibly the greatest horse of all time, and captured the Triple Crown, is a tough Canadian that was known for his competitiveness and will to win. Turcotte wasn’t afraid of anything, something that the greatest jockeys share. After his amazing time with Secretariat, however, Turcotte found himself back among the rank and file of horseracing’s journeymen jockeys. He was compelled to ride average horses in claiming races in order to ply his trade.
Five short years after Secretariat’s Triple Crown sweep, Ron Turcotte was boosted into the saddle aboard Flag of Leyte Gulf at Belmont Park. During the race, Turcotte was thrown. His injuries left him a paraplegic. The legendary rider of Secretariat was fated to spend his remaining days in a wheelchair.
Today, Turcotte is frequently seen at big racing events like the Kentucky Derby where he signs autographs and gives advice to the young jockeys. His smile is as big as ever, and he is happy to speak about the time when he sat atop the best racehorse to ever compete.
Go For Wand Breaks Down
Go For Wand was undoubtedly one of the most talented fillies of the early 1990’s. Her accomplishments included wins in the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the 1989 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Three-Year-Old Filly. The stage was set for perhaps her greatest victory when Go For Wand arrived at the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Distaff to challenge the talented Bayakoa.
As the race proceeded at Belmont Park, jockey Randy Romero pushed Go For Wand ahead of Bayakoa as the fillies came into the home stretch. With little more than 1/16 of a mile to cover before the finish line, Go For Wand fractured her cannon bone and plunged headfirst to the track. Romero was thrown violently to the ground. Laffit Pincay, Jr. took Bayakoa past and to the win, but it was clear after the race that Pincay considered it a hollow victory. Go For Wand was humanely euthanized on the track.
Go For Wand was later buried at Saratoga, and a race was renamed in her honor. In a strange twist of fate, jockey Randy Romero also suffered his own tragedy years earlier when he was horrifically burned at Oaklawn Park while trying to lose weight before a race in a sauna. Romero had rubbed himself down with alcohol before entering the sauna. The alcohol ignited and burned Romero over two-thirds of his body.
Without question, the worst tragedy in horseracing was the loss of the undefeated filly Ruffian at Belmont Park. Ruffian had utterly defeated the best fillies in the world and her owners believed she had but one challenge left to conquer. They compelled trainer Frank Whitely, Jr. to pit the horse against champion colt Foolish Pleasure in a Battle of the Sexes match race. Whitely was unhappy about the owner’s choice, but agreed to race anyway. It was a decision that would become his greatest regret.
Ruffian dueled with Foolish Pleasure up the back stretch of the famous Belmont track on July 7, 1975. As she switched her lead foot in the early stages of the race, Ruffian’s right ankle snapped in two places. The competitive filly continued to run despite the efforts of her jockey to pull her up. Following the race, a three-hour surgery was conducted to repair the bones. The surgery went well but as Ruffian awoke from anesthesia, she began to spin circles on the floor. Her thrashing caused her to fracture other bones and left doctors with no other choice than to euthanize her.
Ruffian was honored with burial in the Belmont Park infield. According to those present, her nose was pointed toward the track’s finish line.
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