Ask any racing fan who is the best jockey of all time and you will get a variety of answers: Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Eddie Arcaro, George Woolf. But one name that probably wouldn't be named as often as those because he rode so long ago is Earl Sande. In his twenty-second book, Triple Crown Winner: The Earl Sande Saga, Wyoming-based biography specialist Richard Maturi set out to ensure that this great jockey is not forgotten by contemporary fans of racing. Maturi traveled extensively, interviewing dozens of people connected to Sande and sifting through small community newspapers at the various towns the Sande family lived, in order to paint as accurate a picture as possible of his family life and his life on the track. Also included are 100 vintage photographs and a useful appendix including all the relevant statistics of Sande's career.
Maturi portrays Earl Sande's life as the adventure that it was, with many interesting characters which add spice to what is already an exciting, gripping read. Burr Scott and Doc Pardee were cowboys who initially took the young Sande under their wings and gave him the chance to ride. And throughout the book's text, Maturi includes poetry from the always entertaining Damon Runyon, one of Sande's biggest supporters. One of his rival jockeys commented that it was bad enough getting beaten by Sande all the time, but Runyon made it worse mocking them in his poetry the following day in the paper. The poems usually ended with the lines "Give me a handy / Guy like Sande / Booting them winners home."
In a story reminiscent of that of Red Pollard in Seabiscuit, Sande left home at a young age to take up a career as a jockey. Using his natural ability to "talk" to the horses, rarely having to go to the whip, he quickly graduated from the cheapest of bush track racing in Idaho and Arizona to the major tracks of the East Coast. In his first sanctioned Thoroughbred race, at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans in January 1918, he finished a fast-closing second aboard a huge longshot, but, being so accustomed to winning, he thought the trainer would fire him and his career would be over. That first season, he won 158 out of 707 mounts, giving him a 22% win rate and almost 51% in the money.
He won many stakes races in Louisiana, Kentucky, Maryland, and New York, including three Kentucky Derbies, five Belmonts, and five Jockey Club Gold Cups, but it was the Preakness Stakes that was his nemesis. Finally, in 1930 aboard Gallant Fox he won the historic race at Pimlico and then went on to sweep the Triple Crown. He also rode Kentucky Derby winner Zev to victory against English Derby winner Papyrus in their "Race of the Century" match race in 1923. Despite his riding skills, the stewards did not like his aggressive style and served him with numerous suspensions, including one by the state of Maryland that had him suspended for the remainder of a racing season.
In those days, jockeys were locked into contracts with owners and trainers. Sande initially rode for Commander J.K.L. Ross, owner of the first Triple Crown winner Sir Barton, then later went to Harry Sinclair's Rancocas Stables, and finally to William Woodward's Belair Stable, owner of Gallant Fox. In the first two cases, he ended those contracts on less than amicable terms. Ross favored the other contract riders over him and had Sande ride the weaker horses in the stable. In the case of his split with Sinclair, we see history repeat itself today. Sande was badly injured in a spill at Saratoga, and Sinclair offered to pay his medical expenses. When Sinclair's insurance company refused to cover him, Sande was furious. Then as today, most jockeys do not have ample insurance to cover them for catastrophic injuries such as this.
This is one of the best biographies of a human participant in horse racing we have ever seen. Maturi's meticulous research on the life and times of the great jockey allowed him to release this historically accurate yet exciting to read account. The Earl Sande Saga belongs on the bookshelf of every racing history buff's bookshelf, as it is an amazing look back not just on the life of one of racing's all time greatest riders, but also on the racing world in the 1920's and early 1930's. A collaboration for a movie script is currently in the works, so with luck you may get to see this story on the big screen someday.
Triple Crown Winner has a list price of $29.95 and is available from Amazon.com or direct from the publisher.
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