Sports Outside the Beltway

Hall of Fame Jockey Bill Hartack dead at age 74

He was a thoroughbred racing legend. RIP.

(Bill) Hartack, the Hall of Famer and five-time Kentucky Derby winner, was found dead in a cabin while on a hunting vacation in Freer, Texas. He was 74. He died Monday night from natural causes due to heart disease, said Dr. Corinne Stern, the chief medical examiner in south Texas’ Webb County.

Stern said Tuesday that Hartack’s family has been notified, and funeral arrangements were being made.

Hartack and fellow Hall of Fame rider Eddie Arcaro are the only jockeys to win the Kentucky Derby five times. Known for his burning desire to win every race, Hartack won his first Derby with Iron Liege in 1957. He then won with Venetian Way in 1960, Decidedly in 1962, Northern Dancer in 1964 and Majestic Prince in 1969.

Hartack, considered among the fiercest riders in the game, rode until 1974 and had 4,272 wins from 21,535 mounts, winning nearly 20 percent of his races. He won the Preakness aboard Fabius in 1956, Northern Dancer in 1964 and Majestic Prince in 1969. He won the Belmont Stakes once, with Celtic Ash in 1960.

He later rode in Hong Kong from 1978-80.

He remained in racing as a steward, working the past few years in that role at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La.

Born Dec. 9, 1932 in Ebensburg, Pa., William John Hartack Jr. was raised by his coal-mining father on a farm. He took a job as an exercise and stable boy at the age of 17 with trainer Junie Corbin at Charles Town Race Course in West Virginia. He began riding in at West Virginia’s Waterford Park in 1952. By the end of the following year, Hartack became a star.

Arcaro, Hartack and Shoemaker ruled the racing world in the 1950s. Hartack was the top rider by earnings in 1956 and 1957, and the leader in victories four times — 1955-57 and 1960. He was the second jockey to ride as many as 400 winners in a single year when he won 417 races in 1955.

In 1959, Hartack was elected to thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame at the age of 26, the youngest person ever elected to the hall.

In the ’57 Derby, Gallant Man was gaining on Iron Liege as the two horses dueled in the stretch. But as they passed the sixteenth pole, Shoemaker inexplicably stood up in the irons, misjudging the finish.

The mistake happened so quickly it was hardly noticed. Shoemaker sat back down in the saddle, but Gallant Man couldn’t overtake Iron Liege.

“I was a little amazed he beat those horses,” Jimmy Jones once said. He helped his father, Ben, train Iron Liege. Hartack, Jones added, “just plain finished better than the other riders.”

The regular rider for famed Calumet Farms in the 1950s, Hartack was fired in 1958 because he argued with management and trainers over the horses’ handling. Hartack preferred to take his mounts right to the lead, while trainers wanted him to race off the lead and win with a stretch run.

“I do remember he wasn’t the easiest guy to get along with,” Cordero said.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who was just coming on the thoroughbred scene as Hartack was leaving, saluted Hartack’s need to win each and every time out.

“He had a strong, competitive spirit, and he took no prisoners,” Lukas said. “I admire any of those guys who can accomplish what he did.”

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