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Book Review

Ride of a Lifetime
by Sandy Hawley and Perry Lefko
H.B. Fenn Publishing, June 2005, 210 pages hardcover

Canada is known for its international sporting heroes, including Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve in auto racing, Mike Weir in golf, Elvis Stojko in figure skating, and of course Wayne Gretzky in hockey. In horse racing, jockey Sandy Hawley has elevated himself to legendary status, from his exploits in both his native country and the United States. Together with Toronto Sun sportswriter Perry Lefko, Hawley reflects on a truly amazing career in Ride of a Lifetime.

In a very riveting text, Hawley talks about growing up in his native Oshawa, Ontario, a city famous in racing circles as the birthplace of Northern Dancer. He wanted to be a professional athlete in a number of team sports including baseball and hockey, but because of his size, pursuing those sports as a career would be impossible. Eventually, he found his way to Woodbine Racetrack to work in the stables and the rest is history. Riding alongside his idol, the late Avelino Gomez, Hawley mastered the skills needed to be a successful jockey. He smashed the single season record for wins, as well as set records on his home circuit including nine wins in the Canadian Oaks (now called the Woodbine Oaks) and a record-tying four in the Queen's Plate. Having conquered Canada, he moved his tack to Southern California to take on such superstars as Bill Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay Jr. He more than held his own, continuing to set records and earning an Eclipse Award for champion jockey in North America in the process. He was also awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy for Canada's top athlete twice and received the Order of Canada. In a riding career that spanned 32 years, he won 6,449 times with his mounts earning over $88 million.

However, with all this success on the track life off the track was far from perfect. Two failed marriages, caused by constantly being away from home for extended periods, along with tax problems, drained his income. Difficulties with his agent contracts threatened to slow down or stop his career early on. But a momentary lapse in judgment, frequenting tanning salons in Minnesota while he was riding at Canterbury Park, almost killed him. He contracted malignant melanoma and doctors did not expect him to live. Frequent surgeries to remove tumors kept him off the track for months, but he was determined to survive. Experimental treatments from an oncologist in California proved successful and Hawley beat the disease. He finished out his career on his terms, on Canada Day in 1998, and was hired on by Woodbine to work in public relations and as a television host, where he has performed admirably.

The well-written text is interspersed with interview quotes by some of the important people in Hawley's life, including his father Des, his long-time agent Colin Wick, fellow jockeys Laffit Pincay Jr, and Chris McCarron, his first wife Sherrie, and his current wife Lisa. Their words demonstrate how much he was loved and respected in the racing community, and still is to this day.

Sandy Hawley had a reputation as "the gentleman jockey," and through his autobiography you see that this title is most fitting. Despite many successes, he never seems to be bragging about his accomplishments. He always sounds humbled by his "ride of a lifetime", always crediting the many people who helped make him into a champion. This is an excellent book about a man who is not only one of racing's greatest riders, but also one of the sport's greatest ambassadors.

Rice of a Lifetime has a list price of $34.95 and is available from Amazon.ca for $23.42.

Rating:     5/5

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