Friday, February 19, 2010
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.
Statemaster.com, 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.
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