Canadian Racing Greats: 5 Jockeys Who Dominated the Track

Canadians have made waves in North American racing, leaving a lasting mark on the sport. They’ve broken records, been inducted into halls of fame, and have had such a significant mark that some have even had awards shaped in their memory. 

Of the many jockeys that have competed beyond their home country of Canada, these five have dominated the track, impressing and awing spectators, trainers, and other jockeys.

1. Ron Turcotte

Ron Turcotte’s career brought him many victories and awards; to this day, he’s regarded as one of Canada’s and the United States’s horse racing greats. He’s won multiple Kentucky Derbies, a Belmont Grand Prix, and a Triple Crown.

But that’s a far cry from where his career started. Turcotte hails from Drummond, New Brunswick, and worked there as a lumberjack. When he was 18, he moved out to Toronto, sought work where he could get it, and fell into the world of horse racing.

His career brought with it opportunities to ride multiple legendary horses in the horse racing scene, including Northern Dancer, Secretariat, Riva Ridge, and Dark Mirage. He’s been inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. He was also dubbed the best jockey in Canada for two years running.

Unfortunately, Turcotte had a career- and life-altering accident in 1978. He fell from his horse, permanently damaging his spinal cord, and was left paralyzed from the waist down. Today, he is the co-president of the Spinal Cord Injury Society of Canada.

2. Don MacBeth

Don MacBeth was born in Red Deer, Alberta, and became a racehorse big shot who won over 2,700 races and placed second and third in thousands. He learned to ride in Canada’s West and raced throughout the country and the US. He made millions from racing and was highly honored for his work, even receiving the prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. The award is given to jockeys who have earned respect for their work and character. This award was particularly meaningful for MacBeth, who considered Woolf his riding idol.

MacBeth’s life was cut short at the age of 37 after a battle with lung cancer. After his death, his reputation and skillful riding continued to be honored and awarded. He was awarded the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award just a few months after his passing and has since been inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame

3. Sanford “Sandy” Hawley

In 1973, Sandy Hawley made a lasting name by setting the record for the most wins in a single year by winning 515 races. While that was undoubtedly a highlight of Hawley’s career, the now-retired jockey had plenty of big moments to complement it. These include winning the Queen’s Plate four times, being awarded the George Woolf Memorial Award, winning the Lou Marsh Trophy Twice, and receiving the Order of Canada.

Hawley was born in Oshawa, Ontario, and started his career as a groom for the Canadian trainer Duke Campbell. Campbell helped Hawley begin in the sport and quickly ascend to horse racing fame. 

By his retirement, Hawley had won 6,449 races, and in a one-time reappearance race a decade later, he made that number a round 6,450 wins by winning the Living Legends Race at Santa Anita. From these thousands of wins and sponsorships, he also earned millions.

4. George “The Iceman” Woolf

George Woolf, for whom the George Woolf Memorial Award was named, is another famed and skilled Canadian jockey. He died at the age of 35 during a race. It’s generally considered that his Type 1 diabetes caused him to lose consciousness and fall from his horse, leading to a fatal head injury. During his lifetime, using insulin to manage diabetes was a relatively new concept that had yet to be perfected. As a result, he struggled with the many side effects of the illness. 

Before his death, he’d developed a reputation for being an honest person with exceptional timing and strategic skill in competing. He was born into the world of horses, having a stagecoach driver for a father and an acrobat mother who performed on horseback, and he credited this to his affinity for horses.

He earned the nickname “The Iceman” for his calm and cool demeanor when dealing with obstacles and challenges on the track. 

5. John “Red” Pollard

Born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Red — nicknamed for his bright red hair — took to horses from a young age since he had a horse named Forest Dawn as a child. In his early days of racing, he struggled and rarely won, but things started to change when he met Tom Smith, a trainer of a temperamental horse who would later become a household name, thanks in part to Red. 

That horse was Seabiscuit. Red had developed a calm and careful demeanor around horses that helped him bond with the horse from the get-go. Together, they won multiple races, including the Santa Anita Handicap, and inspired the film Seabiscuit starring Tobey Maguire. Though Red was Seabiscuit’s jockey, he wasn’t the rider when Seabiscuit had his most victorious win as he was healing from a leg injury that prevented him from riding. 

After Seabiscuit retired, Red’s career was never quite the same, and he eventually left the sport. He was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in the 1980s.

Conclusion

Canada has produced legendary jockeys who have made a lasting mark on North American racing, and these five stand out for their achievements. They’re so skilled that if these jockeys were still active racers, you’d have difficulty choosing who to back at the track or at no-wagering online casinos in Canada that offer sportsbook options. And whether you’re a Canadian or not, these jockeys’ success throughout their careers is something to admire.