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Bill Hartack, 1932 - 2007

Jockey won the Kentucky Derby five times, was member of horse racing's Hall of Fame

November 28, 2007|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

Bill Hartack, one of only two jockeys to have won the Kentucky Derby five times and a member of horse racing's Hall of Fame since 1959, was found dead Monday. He was 74.

Hartack, who would have turned 75 on Dec. 9, was discovered in a cabin at a camp near Freer, Texas, where he was to have joined others for an annual hunting trip, according to the Daily Racing Form.

Dr. Corinne Stern, chief medical examiner in Webb County, said his death was related to heart disease.

A fierce competitor who wasn't afraid to speak his mind, Hartack led the nation in victories for three consecutive years (1955-57) and, in 1957, became the first rider to pass the $3-million mark in purse earnings.

His mounts collected $3,060,501, a record that stood for 10 years. He led the country in wins again in 1960.

The first of Hartack's Kentucky Derby victories came with Iron Liege in 1957. He also won the race with Venetian Way in 1960, Decidedly in 1962, Northern Dancer in 1964 and Majestic Prince in 1969.

The only other rider with five Kentucky Derby wins is the late Eddie Arcaro, who did it with 21 mounts while Hartack did it with 12.

Hartack won his first Derby with a little help from Bill Shoemaker, the jockey riding Gallant Man. Shoemaker, who was leading down the stretch, misjudged the finish line and stood up in the saddle in an early celebration, allowing Hartack and Iron Liege to slip past and win by a nose.

In other Triple Crown races, Hartack won the Preakness three times -- with Fabius in 1956, Northern Dancer in 1964 and Majestic Prince in 1969 -- and the Belmont Stakes once, with Celtic Ash in 1960.

Hartack rode until 1974 in the United States, winning 4,272 races. He later rode in Hong Kong before retiring in 1981.

"One of the reasons I left the U.S. was that I knew once I could get away from the American press, I would be very, very happy because they are so stupid," he was quoted as saying shortly after he arrived in Hong Kong.

After his retirement, Hartack worked on network television as a racing analyst, then later was a racing official in California, Illinois and Louisiana and spent some time as a jockey agent. He had recently worked as a steward at Harrah's Louisiana Downs racetrack in Bossier City, La.

William J. Hartack was born in Pennsylvania in 1932, the son of a coal miner. Called Willie at first, a nickname he despised, he began his career as an exercise rider and stable boy in West Virginia in 1952. He won his first race that year at Waterford Park in Chester, W.Va.

Earlier this year, Hartack returned to Toronto for the first time since he won the Queen's Plate with Northern Dancer in 1964. Hartack was at Woodbine Racetrack in July to help with the post position draw for the Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf Stakes.

"I've got great memories of that horse," Hartack told the Toronto Star. "I remember every one of his races. He was always the underdog. I don't know if that's because he was from Canada or because of his small size. But I liked underdogs. He would be in my top five all time."

In the interview with the Star, Hartack also talked about his riding personality. A magazine article once said he got along better with horses than with people.

"It's easy to be friendly with somebody as the years go by, but I treated my profession as an individual contractor," Hartack said. "While I was racing, I didn't have any friendship with any jockey.

"When the races were over, I had my few friends, people I got along with, but I find that buddy-buddy system doesn't work for me. I didn't congratulate anybody that beat me, and I didn't expect anybody to congratulate me. That was the way I treated my business."

Funeral arrangements for Hartack, who was single, are pending.

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bob.mieszerski@latimes.com

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