Jean Cruguet was born March 8, 1939 in Agen, Lot-et-Garonne, France. Abandoned at age five, the young Cruguet was placed in an orphanage. From ten to sixteen, he boarded at a Catholic school, then worked for two years at a local thoroughbred race track, launching his fledgling career as a jockey. Called to duty at eighteen, he fulfilled a mandatory stint in the French Army, resulting in his service during the Algerian War. Upon completion of his military obligation, Cruguet returned to the track and began riding for prominent trainer Francois Mathet. He also met and married his wife Denise Pendanx, one of the groundbreaking female trainers in Europe, and in 1965 the young couple decided to try their luck abroad with a move to the United States.

Settling in Florida and riding primarily at the historic Hialeah Park outside of Miami, Cruguet’s career advanced when he was hired by the legendary trainer Horatio Luro. In 1969 his fortune improved when called upon to ride Arts and Letters in the Metropolitan Handicap. Cruguet’s victorious ride on the future Hall of Fame champion led to more business and better horses until, in 1970, he was given the mount on the brilliant two-year-old colt  Hoist the Flag, guiding him to an undefeated two-year-old season. Cruguet’s first run at Triple Crown glory was fleeting, however, when the colt suffered a career-ending injury in March of the following year, while training for the Kentucky Derby.

Jean Cruguet - Chantilly, France

Cruguet then returned to France, where he expanded his international resume by winning important French Group I races including the Prix Vermeille and Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, as well as the Champion Stakes in Great Britain. An opportunity to work with yet another top trainer – Angel Penna Sr. – led to his riding champion filly San San in all but one of her victories. Injury, this time Cruguet’s, forced him to watch the filly carry jockey Freddie Head in the 1972 Arc de Triomphe to an easy win. Although missing the Arc, Cruguet finished the year second in the French jockey standings. Having proven himself as one of the premiere riders in Europe, he and his family returned once again to his adopted home across the Atlantic.

The opportunity that had eluded him when Hoist the Flag was injured reappeared in 1976 in the figure of a dark brown two-year-old colt named Seattle Slew. Nicknamed “Baby Huey” due to his early awkwardness and size, “Slew” soon grew into his frame and talent and Cruguet was selected to pilot the Billy Turner trained budding superstar. This time, injuries and bad luck disappeared, and horse and rider teamed to sweep the Triple Crown – the first and thus far only undefeated horse to do so. Highlighting that incredible moment was Cruguet’s grand gesture in the Belmont stretch-twenty yards from the finish line, arm raised and whip held high over horse and head, he offered a victory salute to the jubilant crowd. That one moment, captured in photos and still written about today, embodied all the drama, excitement, and supreme achievement of Cruguet’s and “Slew’s” championship run.

Cruguet initially retired from racing in July 1980  to join his wife as a full-time trainer at their small, private stable. Two years later he was back, having missed the competition and the camaraderie of the jockey community. His last major Grade 1 victory came aboard Hodges Bay in the 1989 Canadian International Stakes at Woodbine in Ontario, Canada. Currently, Cruguet divides his time between his home in Versailles, Kentucky, and travel, acting as a spokesman supporting various charitable organizations and endorsements within the racing industry. His piquant charm and vivid anecdotal storytelling continue to delight fans and make him a favorite guest at equine-related events.

Major Racing Wins

United States Triple Crown (1977)
Travers Stakes (1968)
Lawrence Realization Stakes (1969, 1970, 1975, 1978)
Metropolitan Handicap (1969)
Toboggan Handicap (1969)
Cowdin Stakes (1970)
Laurel Futurity (1970)
Manhattan Handicap (1974)
Stuyvesant Handicap (1974)
Alabama Stakes (1975, 1983)
Hopeful Stakes (1975, 1976)
Champagne Stakes (1976)
Mother Goose Stakes (1976, 1977)
Flamingo Stakes (1977)
Wood Memorial Stakes (1977, 1984)
Futurity Stakes (1978)
Washington, D.C. International (1978, 1993)
Jerome Handicap (1979)
Ladies Handicap (1979)
Saranac Handicap (1979)
Withers Stakes (1979)
Blue Grass Stakes (1983)
Tremont Stakes (1983)
Coaching Club American Oaks (1984)
Dwyer Stakes (1984)
Knickerbocker Handicap (1985, 1986, 1988, 1992)
Matron Stakes (1986)

American Classic Race wins:

Kentucky Derby (1977)
Preakness Stakes (1977)
Belmont Stakes (1977)

International Race wins

Prix Vermeille (1972)
Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (1972)
Champion Stakes (1973)
Canadian International Stakes (1978, 1989)

Significant Horses

Arts and Letters, Hoist The Flag, San San, Bold Reason, Seattle Slew


©DERBY LEGENDS. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Statement. Website Developed by Equus Media.