Friday, February 19, 2010

Remembering Jockey Jack Robinson

Jack Robinson Memorial, Pleasanton, Calif.

When I last visited the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, Calif., I was intrigued by a statue just outside the jockeys' room. It was marked "Jack Robinson, 1926-1973, Memorial Award." Being the curious sort, as soon as I returned home I did a online search on Jockey Jack Robinson. I was somewhat puzzled by the search results. There wasn't much information to be found, and one site actually listed Robinson as a mythical person., which provides a long list of current and past jockeys, had this to say about Robinson: "Jack Robinson is a make-believe or mythical person who is invoked in English language conversation to indicate a very short amount of time.... The normal usage is, '(something is done) faster than you can say Jack Robinson' or otherwise '... before you can say Jack Robinson.'"

With a little more digging, plus some help from my friend Jeanne Wasserman, Satellite Manager at Pleasanton, I discovered a truly remarkable story. Jack Robinson was definitely much more than make believe.

Robinson, who won races at every track in California in his 30-year career, died at the age of 46 during a race at the Solano County Fair in Vallejo on June 20, 1973. By all accounts, he put himself in jeopardy atttempting to assist a young rider in serious trouble. Robinson was thrown during a quarter horse claiming race and trampled to death an instant after reaching out to keep jockey Jorge Cruz from falling from his mount. He died 45 minutes later at Vallejo General Hospital. He left his wife, Betty, a son and five daughters.

Robinson was known as much for being a fearless rider as for his kindness and generosity. News articles written after his death are filled with testimonials to Robinson's care and concern for his fellow horsemen, especially anyone he knew was in need. Even 18 years after his death, racing journalist Darryl Hove wrote in a glowing memorial piece about Robinson, "Jack Robinson was not a saint, but you'd be hard pressed to find a person to tell you otherwise."

A native of Philadelphia, Robinson rode thoroughbreds, quarter horses and appalosas in California and across the nation. He rode 11,079 thoroughbred races for 1,369 wins and earnings of $2,548.444. One of his biggest victories was aboard Jungle Road in the La Jolla Mile at Del Mar. He won his first race at Caliente in 1944, but was best known for riding in Northern California, especially on the fair circuit.

In December 1974, a year after Robinson's death, a statue of him was unveiled at Bay Meadows Racetrack and the Jack Robinson Memorial Award inaugurated. It was presented annually to an outstanding jockey in Northern California. The initial recipient was Mel Lewis, and in subsequent years the award would be presented to such riders as Merlin Volzke, Bill Mahorney, Russell Baze, Tom Chapman and Ron Warren Jr.

When Bay Meadows closed down, Jeanne Wasserman decided she wanted to give the statue a worthy home. She was able to obtain permission to move it to the Pleasanton Satellite Wagering facility, where it now resides in a lovely garden patio. Thanks to Jeanne for preserving an important part of California racing history and for helping educate race fans about a truly remarkable man.


zraces said...

That is an amazing story about an amazing man. I wonder how many jocks today are anything like him?

Anonymous said...

ZR: Yes, there's at least one.

Edgar Prado saved Jose Castellano's life during a race not long ago, (instinctively) doing exactly what cost Robinson his life.

My recollection of some facts is hazy; I do believe it was Castellano; it might have been Belmont; and it might have been 2009.

Prado, incidently, had the best horse in the race. An informed obserever made the reliable estimate that heroism cost Prado the victory (I believe he ended up finishing 3rd).

Deanna Sparks said...

I know Jack's son and most of his daughters and his widow very well. Jack's daughter Dee Dee works as an assistant racing secretary during the fairs and she worked at Bay Meadows in the racing office. She still might work at Golden Gate. I'm not sure. His son-in-law Eddie Figuero is an assistant starter at Santa Anita (he was, I think he still is). His son Jay is a valet on the fair circuit last I heard. He was a jockey agent for many years at Los Alamitos. Betty his widow passed away about 2 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Prado story from from the year he was inducted into the HOF:
"And while Edgar Prado has a long list of achievements that warrant his Hall of Fame induction, it is his actions on the track, as seen once again on Monday, 28 July 2008, that leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind, that he belongs with the greats.

As the starting gates to the Fleet Indian Overnight Stakes swung open, both Edgar Prado, on Ice Cool Kitty, and Javier Castellano, aboard Precise Lady, got off to a rocketing start. Unfortunately, Castellano found himself in a world of trouble, as the right rein to Precise Lady’s bridle snapped off, leaving a small piece flying loose and the filly almost out of control. Castellano tried desperately to lean forward to grab hold of the loose strip that was still attached to the bit, but at the high speed they were travelling, it was impossible to reach. As Prado broke out of the starting gates at the same time, he saw the drama unfold, and immediately turned his attention away from the race, and towards helping Castellano gain control of Precise Lady. Prado brought Ice Cool Kitty in closer to Precise Lady and while encouraging her to maintain speed, he then leaned over and used his whip to flick the rein up for an anxious Castellano to catch. Prado and Ice Cool Kitty finished third in the race and it is actions like these that gain Prado the respect and admiration of the horse racing community."

zraces said...

Wow anon. Thanks for that... what a master Prado must be to be able to do that at race speed. I love this game... I will search for a video of that, it must be on Utube.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mary for a good story remembering one who gave his all (literally) to the game, as most lifers in it do.

Anonymous said...

I went to Bay Meadows often and whenever I saw the bronze of Jack Robinson I would wonder what he was about and why he was honored. Thank you for the story about his life and death. A nice piece of history that should not go forgotten.


Anonymous said...

I am from a racing family and remember hearing that story as a kid. My grandpa and dad knew the Robinsons very well. This is a story my dad would have loved hearing was remembered. Kelly DiLaura Martinez

Dede Robinson said...

THANK YOU, Mary, for your wonderful article on my dad. ( I'm grateful to a trainer here @ Golden Gate Fields, where I work as a Racing Official, who told me about your blog.)
When Bay Meadows was closing, I approached them about what was going to happen to the statue. After some discussion with my siblings, Jay, Jackie, Paula, Julie & Jennifer, and I even asked several horsemen for their input, the majority vote was to see if Pleasanton would like it. That's when I contacted Jeanne, and she was delighted.
We all decided Pleasanton was appropriate, since we had lived there for about 15 years, and Pleasanton is the home of the "Jack Robinson Memorial Handicap", run each year at the Alameda County Fair.
Thanks again, for being inquisitive, and interested, and for writing a very nice tribute to the memory of my dad.

Anonymous said...

i bet he was a good person

Anonymous said...

Jack rode a Quarter Horse for a friend of mine, the horses name was

DO DIRECT GOOD. I met Jack when i was 10 years old, and was always impressed with the way he treated the horses.

He even made time to talk to me as busy as he was. Jack was the type of man who gave Racing a Good Name.

Pamela said...

My grandfather was Mel Lewis, I went to the award dinner with him when he was presented this award. Mel Lewis 9 (my grandfather) was friends with Jack Robinson and was very touched wit this award. My grandfather was a very loved jockey and a very loved father, grandfather, husband and friend. He is truly missed.

Anonymous said...

Jack Robinson is my Grandmothers brother! I was so happy to see this sight! I heard so much about him when I was growing up! I wish I knew him,,,,I met him when I was a little girl, don't really remember him much other than the stories my family tells.

Diane Loeschnig

Anonymous said...

Alexis & Aaren are the great great nieces of Jack, they have heard many stories of there uncle and the heroic effort he made to save his fellow jockey.......God bless you Jack!

Kilokat374 said...

I remember him, he was my grandfather Mel Lewis friend. I went with my grandfather to receive the Jackie Robinson award. He was the first to receive it. I remember how honored he felt to receive this award. I also remember how sad he was to lose a good friend.

Pamela Hammer

Diane Loeschnig said...

I am so proud of my Grand -daughter Haley who is related to Jack (3 times great uncle)( She met her great-great Grandma Loeschnig(Jack's sister) when she was just a baby) She was asked by her teacher to write about a relative, and she chose to write a story about Jack and his brother Buddy Robinson (horse trainer) Haley is only 9 years old and yet chose them for her school essay! She was very interested in their lives and so impressed as well! Haley's story is not yet finished....I cannot wait to see the end!!!!!

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