Growing up in Australia, I was aware from an early age how important horse-racing is to the country, along with cricket and footy. Every year on the first Tuesday of November, the entire nation shuts down and listens to or watches the run of the Melbourne Cup, one of the World’s richest turf races. The legendary Phar Lap mesmerized the country back in the late 20s and early 30’s before dying mysteriously in the U.S.; I had the opportunity to see him (well, his skin really) preserved and on display in a shrine-like case in the big state museum in Melbourne (pictured below)Since moving to Canada, I’ve followed racing and the annual quest for the Triple Crown so it’s no secret I am a huge fan of the late, great Secretariat, and have had the honour of meeting his equally legendary jockey, Ron Turcotte. When I learnt of the new book, The Turcottes: The Remarkable Story of a Horse Racing Dynasty by author Curtis Stock, I knew I had to read it and with a little bit of luck, have the opportunity to interview the author for my entertainment column in The Rider (Ontario’s “voice of the horse”) newspaper. Talk about great timing – 2023 is the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s Triple Crown victory.Yes, fifty years ago, Secretariat, a horse so powerful and fast that many of his records still stand today, completed his historic Triple Crown campaign – his win was so popular with race fans that many winning $2 tickets were never surrendered to claim winnings. Secretariat’s rider was Ron Turcotte who grew up as one of 14 children in the small town of Drummond, New Brunswick, noted for its timber industry not horse racing! Four of Ron’s siblings – Noel, Rudy, Roger and Yves – followed their older brother onto North American racetracks and into the winner’s circle.This new 360 page book is the story of the family’s journey from their little corner of the Canadian woods to the pinnacle of the thoroughbred racing world. Each Turcotte found outstanding success, collectively winning a staggering 8,251 races for purse earnings just shy of $60 million. But the jockey’s life takes a toll; each brother was in a never-ending battle to maintain his riding weight, while Noel, Rudy and Roger constantly fought the bottle. And then came the losses, the injuries and the crushing heartbreaks: the unlikely triumph of one of horse racing’s greatest families was not without tragedy. Drawing upon over 30 years of reporting and interviews, author Curtis Stock takes readers on an unforgettable ride through the major players and race days of thoroughbred racing. (author Stock, pictured below)Part biography and part oral history, the book is a true underdog story and a sure bet for any sports fan. The 25th chapter, in particular, is an exciting telling of Secretariat’s Triple Crown campaign, each race written from a stride-by-stride perspective. It will leave you breathless!I asked Curtis about the process of writing his book and he was kind enough to share the following with me….
Apart from the obvious successes enjoyed by the Turcottes in the horse-racing world, what inspired you to write this biographical story, warts and all? It was simply a fascinating story of five brothers from Drummond, population 700, out of a lumberjack town all being jockeys and all very successful. And then the tragedies that followed.
Did the family endorse your book and open up to you with tales from childhood to the winner’s circle? Yes, the family (pictured below) was very accommodating. I spent three days in New Brunswick with Ron three years ago. At that time, I also visited Rudy who was in a group home in Grand Falls, New Brunswick. I also talked extensively with Rudy when I tracked him down in Florida and before he came to Alberta. Yves, lives in St. Albert which is a suburb of Edmonton where I live. He was extremely helpful. We spoke at least once a week. I met Roger many, many times when he rode in Alberta. Noel was the only jockey I never met.How long did the research for the book take? Were you given full access to the racing industry’s archives, news footage and historical reportage (much of which I’m sure you wrote yourself!)? The research and writing took 3 years but I actually started thinking of writing this book 20 years ago and I began accumulating their histories. I went through countless statistics at that time. Daily Racing Form manuals and archives from the stories I had already written as a sports writer with the Edmonton Journal for some 30 years and when Roger and Yves rode here in Alberta. So, yes, a lot of the information came from one-on-one interviews from that period.
You previously joined a syndicate that was successful with running winners – how did that feel, being on the other side? I have owned shares of horses for some 30 years. Not many but usually with a group of friends. I currently own one horse, a three-year-old, that is just getting started with five friends. I covered horse racing for the Edmonton Journal for about 25 years so I was inside, as you say, for a long time. As for being on the inside, there is nothing more thrilling than watching your own horse run.
So 11 Sovereign Awards plus numerous other sports writing awards and kudos – is there any other writing goal(s) to which you aspire? I have no future plans at this time. I would like to see the book become a movie. There was a very successful movie on Secretariat, the greatest horse of all time but nothing on the Turcotte family.How can fans follow you on social media? Follow me on Twitter: @CurtisJStock
(Pictured below – Ron in wheelchair alongside the statue of him aboard the great Secretariat, located in Lexington, Kentucky)Thank you to Firefly Books who kindly sent me a preview copy. The book is available from Amazon and Indigo Books for $35.00 (ISBN: 9780228104247)