Arcaro and Hartack: Jockey Kings of the Derby

May 4th 2010 11:18 pm |

Bill Hartack and Eddie Arcaro at Delaware Park in 1957 | Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society

It was hard not to scream “Go Calvin!” as Super Saver jumped to the lead in the stretch of the 2010 Derby. Calvin Borel seems to have figured out a few things about winning the big race on the first Saturday in May. He has won three out of the last four Derbies, two of them on colts who were not, by any means, stand outs on paper. No jockey has ever won three of four and he became the first to win back-to-back Derbies since Eddie Delahoussaye in 1982-1983.

With three wins, Borel joins a list of esteemed riders who own a Derby trifecta. That list includes Isaac Murphy, Earl Sande, Angel Cordero, Gary Stevens, and Kent Desormeaux. Bill Shoemaker won the race four times but had to wait twenty-one years to notch his fourth (Lucky Debonair in 1965 and Fedinand in 1986). Borel will need two more Derby winners before he joins Eddie Aracaro and Bill Hartack, the reigning kings of the Derby, who each have five wins.

From 1938, when Aracro won his first Derby aboard Lawrin, to 1969, when Hartack won his last on Majestic Prince, the duo won ten of thirty-two editions of the big race. Arcaro won aboard Lawrin (1938), Whirlaway (1941), Hoop Jr. (1945), Citation (1948), and Hill Gail (1952). Whirlaway and Citation went on to win the Triple Crown, a rare jockey double and a feat unlikely to be repeated. In addition to five Derbies, Arcaro also won six Preakness and six Belmont Stakes. Bill Hartack won the Derby with Iron Liege (1957), Venetian Way (1960), Decidedly (1962), Northern Dancer (1964), and Majestic Prince (1969) — also on Hartack’s career resume: three Preakness Stakes and one Belmont.

Eddie Arcaro on the cover of Time Magazine, 1948 May 17

In Arcaro’s hey-day he was, in many ways, the face of racing, appearing on the covers of major magazines and making appearances on network television. (Watch him here with the chain smoking Mike Wallace in 1957).

A 1948 cover story in Time Magazine had this about Arcaro:

“In Jockey Eddie Arcaro they have the best known, most respected and most hated jockey in the land….In his jockey costume, he looks deceptively thin. Most of his 112 pounds are padded about muscular shoulders, which taper to a slim waist and toothpick legs. In the jockeys’ room, where he is cock of the walk, he is by turns charming and churlish, chatty and mum (he likes to read between races — usually bestselling novels). Sometimes, when another rider has done something in a race he doesn’t like, his dander rises and he tosses equipment around the room. He can swear as proficiently as any jockey, but when the occasion calls he can speak perfect parlor English.” Read the full article

Bill Hartack on the cover of Time Magazine, 1958 February 10

Ten years after the cover story on Arcaro, Bill Hartack had his turn on Time in 1958 where he was described this way:

In the profession that gives the little man the reins, Jockey Hartack is now the biggest shrimp on the track. A dynamic, nicely proportioned (5 ft. 4 in., 111 lbs.) young man (25), Hartack works daily wonders with his extraordinarily sensitive hands and his uncanny communication with the reflexes of a running horse. His parlay of talents has already paid him with a jockey’s dream: a swank new house in Miami Springs (midway between Tropical Park and Hialeah), an air-conditioned Cadillac, a speedboat, a big farm (in West Virginia). The calculating look of his eyes, the short forehead sloping away from a long brown pompadour, the narrow, impatient face and snappy, little-boyish swagger convey the presence of a winner…

…Hartack may not always win, but he always tries. From flag-fall to finish, he pumps and slashes. He scratches all over his mount as if it were a case of hives, endlessly intent on keeping the animal’s mind on the work at hand. He comes down the stretch as though leading a Hollywood cavalry charge…” Read the full story

Calvin Borel wins his 3rd Kentucky Derby | Photo by Jamie Newell

While Calvin Borel is a longshot to make the cover of Time, he will have an opportunity to join Hartack and Arcaro in the elite class of Derby winning jockeys.  It would be nice to see him get anywhere near the ‘celebrity’ status that Arcaro achieved in the 1940s and 1950s.  With his down-to-earth demeanor and infectious enthusiasm, Calvin makes a good representative for racing.  Let’s be thankful that the current face of our sport is one of the most honest, hard working people in the business. One thing I know, for as many more Derbies that he may ride in, I will be screaming “Go Calvin” as they turn into the stretch.


The image of Calvin Borel is from photographer Jamie Newell who is kind enough to share her wonderful images via Flickr. Jamie does great work and I thank her for letting me use one of her shots here. Be sure to check out all her great Derby photos!

“Man on a Horse”, Time Magazine, 1948 May 17

Eddie Arcaro interview with Mike Wallace, 1957. Available in full from the Henry Ransom Center

“Bully and the Beast”, Time Magazine, 1958 February 10

“A Hard Ride All the Way”, Sports Illustrated, 1967 March 27

Hope everyone had a great Derby — it was a perfect day at Delaware Park with a large and enthusiastic crowd. Looking forward to round two in the Triple Crown series.  As always, I will be rooting for the Derby winner. If running over the soup at Churchill Downs didn’t take too much out of Super Saver, I think he has a shot in Baltimore. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the new shooters in the Preakness spoil this year’s Triple Crown try.


Filed in thoroughbred racing history

One Response to “Arcaro and Hartack: Jockey Kings of the Derby”

  1. RG says:

    Today’s race fans who wonder what racing was like in it’s heyday only have to look at old issues of Time(and Colin’s Ghost). The articles like the ones on Arcaro and Hartack most likely will never appear again although if Calvin keeps it up maybe…
    My alltime favorite from Time was May 31, 1954 with Native Dancer on the cover and a very lengthy article inside.