Obituary: Eddie Arcaro
Thursday 20 November 1997
Riding for 31 seasons (1931-61), when horse-racing in America was at the height of its popularity, the jockey Eddie Arcaro stood out as the sport's most famous and popular participant. Known as "The Master" for his riding ability, Arcaro was as tough as they come in a day when the sport, void of today's technological advances, was most unforgiving. At the time of his death, he still held the record for career earnings (of $30m) and was second only to Johnny Longden in the number of his victories.
Arcaro was a record-setter. He is the only American rider to have riden two winners of the Triple Crown - the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes - Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948). His five Kentucky Derby victories have been matched only by Bill Hartack. He also rode a record six Preakness winners and a co-record five runnings of the Belmont Stakes.
A powerful rider, he was fearless as well and would not hesitate to put his rivals in a tight spot. He was ruled off the racecourse for a year for nearly putting another rider, Vincent Nodarse, over the rail, in a race in New York in 1942. Asked by the stewards about the incident, Arcaro replied: "Are you blind? I was trying to kill the Cuban son of a bitch."
Only at the request of the powerful owner of Greentree Stables, Mrs Harry Payne Whitney, was he allowed to ride again. Mrs Whitney, very ill at the time, wrote to the US Jockey Club chairman William Woodward and told him she wanted to see Arcaro ride again in her colours before her death. It was a request that Woodward, a member of America's social elite along with Mrs Whitney, could not deny.
Arcaro was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1916, the son of an Italian immigrant cab driver. His father eventually became a bookmaker, which gave Arcaro his first introduction to horse-racing. The family moved when he was 11 to northern Kentucky, near the old Latonia race-track, and soon young Eddie was knocking on racing's door.
He was a stablehand before being hired as an apprentice rider by the trainer Odie Clelland, developer of many successful jockeys. He then joined the trainer Alvin Booker's stable and went to Ohio where he began his riding career in 1931. His first victory was recorded at Agua Caliente race-track in Mexico on 14 January 1932. His victory total would eventually reach 4,779.
These were the days when trainers virtually owned riders, and while Arcaro's contract remained with Booker, his career was going nowhere. But another trainer, Clarence Davison, saw great potential in him and afer buying his contract, took him to Chicago, where he immediately doubled his win total the following season, in 1933. The Calumet Farm stable bought Arcaro's contract a year later for $6,000 and his future was assured.
When he retired, Eddie Arcaro spent most of his time playing golf, perhaps his greatest love. He also worked for a time as part of a presenting crew for ABC television, and was always a great representative to the general public for the sport.
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