12 May 2006

70 years ago today - maybe

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of news about jockeys:

However, one of the most fascinating jockey stories I've come across recently appeared in "Hoofprints in History" at Thoroughbred Times:
May 12, 1936--Jockey Ralph Neves was involved in a racing accident at Bay Meadows Race Course and erroneously pronounced dead. He was later revived at the morgue and he returned to the racetrack the same day. He was ordered to sit out the remainder of the racing card and so missed only a half-day of work because of his "death."
These "Hoofprints" entries (borrowed from NTRA, I think) are always short and sweet, and they often pique my curiosity, leading me to embark on odd little information excavations (not to be confused with NSA data mining operations.)

As Neves, aka "The Portuguese Pepperpot", raced for nearly 3 more decades after his 'resurrection', winning more than 3,000 races, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1960, it's not surprising that I was able to locate more details about this race. It's also not surprising that a search of the stacks in my library turned up nothing about Neves -- our collection of racing materials is woeful. However, a search of the Web revealed that the date of this extraordinary event was probably May 8, 1936. The story is fairly well-documented at:
  • News of the Odd, which includes links to additional sources
  • Snopes.com, where one of the citations is the May 9, 1936 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle
  • Washington Racing Hall of Fame, which is the source of this version of the tale:
    On May 8, 1936, Neves was riding Fannikins in a race at Bay Meadows. At the time, he was in a tight race for the riding title with Johnny Longden, Jackie Westrope and John Adams. At stake was $500 and a gold watch that Bing Crosby had promised to present to the leading rider at the meeting.

    Neves was fifth in the race, heading into the first turn behind a wall of four horses. The outside horse broke a leg and, stumbling into the neighboring runner, precipitated a falling domino effect that brought all four horses down immediately in front of Neves and Fannikins. Fannikins balked, throwing Neves onto the track and then fell on top of him.

    So much is known from film of the race. What happened afterward has been told so many times and embellished so much in the telling that the outlines of the truth are hard to pick out. In the account of Bert Thompson, who was then his valet, Neves was removed from the track in a pickup truck and taken to the first aid room. There he was examined by the track doctor and pronounced dead. The track announcer made the announcement to the stunned crowd and requested a moment of silence. In a longshot attempt to revive him, the doctor injected adrenaline into his heart. Neves revived and demanded to ride the balance of his mounts on the card. The shaken stewards refused to let him return to riding until the following day. Meanwhile, it was decided that he should spend the night in a nearby hospital under observation. He remained overnight, then exited the hospital through a window in his hospital gown the next morning and hailed a cab back to the racetrack.

    Some accounts relate that he revived in the local mortuary and ran screaming into the street, complete with toe tag, to hail a cab. Neves himself maintained for years that he was chased by track officials up and down the stretch in front of the grandstand, while he demanded not to be taken off his mounts. Next day, however, he resumed riding and ultimately won the riding title, the $500 and the gold watch. The headline on the story in the San Francisco Chronicle read: "“Ralph Neves --– Died But Lives, to Ride and Win."”
My favorite description, however, is at Damn Interesting, where one reader has commented, "Ah, if only the youth of today could see that sort of drive. Do you think Shaq or Terrel Owens would come back from the dead for $500 and a watch?"


Tote Board Brad said...

These types of posts are the reason you are the number one source on horse racing.

John said...

Wonderful story...thanks