Ron Morel Turcotte was born on July 22, 1941 in Drummond, New Brunswick, Canada. As part of a twelve member French Canadian logging family, Turcotte was introduced early on to the forests of Grand Falls and northern Maine. Ron followed both his father and grandfather into the profession, but his 5’ 1”, 128 pound frame wasn’t ideal for forest work and he was assigned to the logging horses in the field. The experience handling different work horses combined with his father’s influence taught Turcotte patience and the value of building a trusting relationship between man and horse.
Carrying these lessons with him after discovering that lumberjacking did not meet his financial expectation, Turcotte left home and in May 1960 went to Toronto, where he was hired as a hot walker for E.P. Taylor’s Windfield Farm. Learning the racing game from the ground up, he utilized his work ethic to become an exercise rider and eventually an apprentice jockey, winning his first race on April 9, 1962.
From there his career took off, leading him to higher quality mounts such as Crafty Lace who Turcotte rode from the claiming ranks to Canadian Horse of the Year, and champion Northern Dancer during his juvenile season. Ron’s masterful riding earned him the prestigious awards of leading apprentice jockey in 1962 and leading jockey in Canada for 1962 and 1963.
Turcotte moved his tack to New York and, after gaining national attention riding Tom Rolfe to a 1965 Preakness Stakes win, caught the eye of Meadow Stable Racing trainer, fellow Canadian Lucien Laurin, who made Turcotte his “first call” rider. In 1971, he put the jockey up on a skittish two-year-old named Riva Ridge, who won a championship that year, then followed with wins at three in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
Turcotte was a significant influence in Riva Ridge’s success, as he worked tirelessly to make the colt relax and run in close quarters with other horses in a field. While he remained a confirmed front runner, Riva Ridge was able to carry his speed in distance races – a testament to the skills Turcotte had first honed in the forests of New Brunswick.
In the course of racing history, few jockeys ever have had the opportunity to repeat wins in a classic race and riding for the same owner but Turcotte was the exception. In 1972, after guiding Riva Ridge to dual classic wins, he was offered the mount on a two year old named Secretariat.
It was with the Meadow’s “Big Red” that Turcotte rode history into legend, guiding the chestnut colt to a Horse of the Year award at two – the first horse ever so honored - and then transcending that accomplishment with a three year old campaign that still inspires wonder in racing fans' hearts.
Secretariat’s 1973 Triple Crown remains the ultimate standard, and over thirty-five years later his track record times in the Derby and the Belmont races still stand. The vision of Turcotte nearing the Belmont finish 31 lengths in front of the rest of the field remains the iconic image in Secretariat’s legacy. It is Turcotte’s pinnacle moment as a rider as well as one of the greatest single athletic performances ever seen anywhere in sport.
Turcotte continued as one of the top riders in New York after that golden summer of Secretariat, and his reputation as a talented – and honest - rider flourished. In a sport that has been the target of shady betting schemes, fixed races and other illegal activities associated with organized crime, Turcotte (along with Darrel McHargue and British journeyman Michael Hole) was named as an "Untouchables” – three jockeys who would never be coerced into rigging races. It was a moniker made all the more impressive when Mafia member-turned-state witness Anthony Ciulla testified in 1980 to the widespread criminal element in New York’s jockey colony and how Turcotte was an incorruptible in an easily corrupted game. This unimpeachable integrity may be Turcotte’s most defining and notable distinction.
Turcotte’s stellar career came to an abrupt and catastrophic end when, in 1978 while riding in an allowance race, his mount, Flag of Leyte Gulf, clipped heels with another horse and fell. While it seemed a routine spill to spectators in the stands, Turcotte knew the instant he hit the ground that something had gone horribly wrong. His spine had been smashed, leaving the downed jockey a paraplegic.
New challenges, new goals and a forced retirement were his only option, but again Turcotte applied the lessons of his life to his future and forged ahead. In a career cut short by injury, Turcotte’s resume remains enviable: leading jockey nationwide in stakes winners two years in a row; the only jockey since Jimmy Winkfield in 1902 to win two consecutive Kentucky Derbys; George Woolf Memorial Award winner and the first jockey ever to be appointed a member of the prestigious Order of Canada. He became a Racing Hall of Fame member in 1979 and gained entry to both the New Brunswick and Canadian Sport Hall of Fame rosters in 1980.
In 1979, Ron and his family moved back to Grand Falls, the source of his roots. Currently he has became the voice of disabled riders worldwide – a cause he embraces vigorously, traveling in support of other disabled members of his profession and making appearances at charitable functions nationwide. Above all else – he rode Secretariat. For Ron Turcotte– it doesn’t get better than that.
Major Racing Wins
Breeders' Stakes (1962)
Coronation Futurity Stakes (1963)
Toronto Autumn Cup (1963)
Canadian International Stakes (1964, 1971)
Kentucky Oaks (1965)
Sport Page Handicap (1966)
Suburban Handicap (1966)
Bernard Baruch Handicap (1967)
Tremont Stakes (1967)
Beldame Stakes (1970)
Diana Handicap (1970, 1971, 1976)
Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (1970, 1979)
Jockey Club Gold Cup (1970)
Withers Stakes (1970)
Alabama Stakes (1971)
Flash Stakes (1971)
Belmont Futurity Stakes (1971, 1972)
Champagne Stakes (1971)
Gotham Stakes (1971, 1973)
Laurel Futurity (1971, 1972)
Blue Grass Stakes (1972)
Coaching Club American Oaks (1972)
Florida Derby (1972)
Hopeful Stakes (1972)
Hollywood Derby (1972)
Manhattan Handicap (1972)
Monmouth Oaks (1972)
Sanford Stakes (1972)
Wood Memorial Stakes (1972)
Brooklyn Handicap (1973)
Excelsior Breeders’ Cup Handicap (1973)
Man O' War Stakes (1973, 1974)
Matron Stakes (1973)
Travers Stakes (1973)
Dwyer Stakes (1974)
Edgemere Handicap (1974, 1976)
Santa Anita Handicap (1974)
Cornhusker Handicap (1975)
Queens County Handicap (1975)
American Derby (1976)
Aqueduct Handicap (1976)
Alcibiades Stakes (1977)
Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes (1977)
Adirondack Stakes (1977)
Cup and Saucer Stakes (1977)
Schuylerville Stakes (1977)
Stars and Stripes Turf Handicap (1978)
American Classic Race wins:
Kentucky Derby (1972, 1973)
Preakness Stakes (1965, 1973)
Belmont Stakes (1972, 1973)
United States Triple Crown (1973)
Leading jockey at Woodbine Racetrack (1962, 1963)
Canadian Racing's Man-of-the-Year (1978)
Big Sport of Turfdom Award (1978)
George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award (1979)
Avelino Gomez Memorial Award (1984)
New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame (1973)
Order of Canada (1974)
National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (1979)
New York Sports Hall of Fame
Canada's Sports Hall of Fame (1980)
Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame (1980)
Hawthorne Racing Hall of Fame (1986)
Paul Harris Fellowship
Long Island Sports Hall of Fame (1990)
Northern Dancer, Tom Rolfe, Arts and Letters
Fort Marcy, Damascus, Fanfreluche, Dahlia
Shuvee, Dark Mirage, Riva Ridge, Secretariat