Charlie Davis, Exercise Rider For Secretariat, Dies After Brief Battle With Lung Cancer

by | 02.07.2018 | 1:50pm
Charlie Davis

The Secretariat Team announced today that Charlie Davis, the charismatic exercise rider for 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, died early this morning from complications of lung cancer. He was 78.

Davis, who was born on Feb. 2, 1940, in Orangeburg, S.C., started his vocation by cutting elementary school to watch the Thoroughbreds train on the farm where his father worked. Small in stature but tough and determined, Davis learned how to exercise horses and eventually went to work for legendary trainer Lucien Laurin, becoming a member of the famed “Holly Hills” crew that also included storied groom Eddie Sweat.

Davis exercised some of the era's top racing stars of the 1960s, including champion filly Quill and Belmont Stakes winner Amberoid. In 1971, when Laurin took over Christopher Chenery's Meadow string, Davis was assigned as exercise rider for the stable's champion colt Riva Ridge and later Secretariat. He continued exercising horses until 1981, when he was thrown and suffered a career-ending back injury. Davis later worked as a foaling manager for several farms in the Ocala, Fla., area, and was known throughout the industry as a well-rounded horseman.

In a recent interview with Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Davis reflected, “I just wanted to be Charlie, no more than the good Lord let me,” he said. “I don't want to be more than what I is.”

Ron Turcotte, the Hall of Fame jockey who rode both Riva Ridge and Secretariat, said that Davis' passing is a great loss for the Secretariat Team and for the sport of horse racing.

“Charlie was a great friend to me personally and a great friend to the sport,” Turcotte said. “He and Eddie [Sweat] knew Secretariat better than any of us, and Charlie became a walking history book about those days. He was a wonderful exercise rider with a true horseman's touch, and the achievements of both Riva Ridge and Secretariat were a result of Charlie's work with them.”

Davis regularly made appearances at racing venues, the Secretariat Festival and other events to the delight of generations of fans, always willing to share stories of Secretariat and his first-hand experiences as a member of the Meadow Stable Team. Following the announcement of his cancer diagnosis last month, friends and fans rallied around Davis, raising funds to cover his medical expenses.

Davis is survived by his wife of 51 years, Caroline, as well as seven children and several grandchildren. His daughter, Katina Davis, said the family has been overwhelmed by the love and support they have received.

“We are heartbroken that we lost him,” Ms. Davis said. “He was always so generous with whatever he had, especially his time. He loved talking about his days as an exercise rider, and he loved Secretariat. We are very grateful to all of his friends and fans who have offered messages of support and contributed to his GoFundMe campaign. That financial assistance has eased our worries as we cover Dad's final expenses.”

Funeral arrangements for Charlie Davis are pending. Written condolences may be sent to:

The Davis Family
P.O. Box 831072
Ocala, FL 34483

Davis never missed an opportunity to brag on his champion Secretariat, whom he simply called ‘The Man,' yet always humble about his own undeniable contributions to the colt's legendary success and content to stand in Big Red's massive shadow.

“I'd like people to say about me, ‘I knew a guy that galloped Secretariat.' That is good enough for me.”

  • Norm

    I knew charlie from are live oak days back in the early 90s . He loved the game and loved telling stories about the man …
    RIP.. my friend condolences to the entire davis family .

    • Lisa

      Hey Norm! I was there at Live Oak then too. (Perhaps you’d remember me losing my fingertip?) So sad about Charlie. :( I hope you’re doing well though!

      • norm

        wow ! i do remember … how are u ? im doing great . so sad about charlie

  • DeniseSteffanus

    Charlie’s passing leaves Ron Turcotte as the last living member of the Secretariat team. So sad to realize these amazing people and the grand horse himself are just memories now.

    • NMBird

      Ron isn’t well either…this is a sad passing of an incredible era for racing.

      Penny,Charlie, Lucien and Secretariat will be waiting for Ron and will have a joyous reunion….but hopefully, NOT in the near future! I’m sure Ron is feeling a great deal of sadness today….I hope he stays well…

    • Ida Lee

      As long as we have beautiful and talented equine athletes racing for fame and glory, we will have Secretariat ….

  • NMBird

    Thank you for getting a report up on Charlie’s passing. I posted off topic in another place as well as another site…and you are the one who have gotten the news out.

    I donated to his care fund and was amazed his daughter sent out the picture of Charlie on Secretariat as promised in the midst of his first rounds of chemo. Who could have expected that?

    I’m so glad that when I sent my SASE for return that I included a long letter to Charlie expressing what he and Secretariat meant to me.

    Wonderful man, fine family. He will be with his beloved Secretariat now…

    • Archangel10

      It’s also been out on Facebook, just FYI, by some of his friends who spent a great deal of time with him from way back.

  • Flying J

    So sorry to learn of this. Rest in peace sir, my sincere and heartfelt condolences to his family.

  • Ida Lee

    RIP Mr. Davis ….my condolences to his loved ones….it hurts to see so many of Big Red’s connections leave us ….

  • Lefty_Orioles_Fan

    “I’d like people to say about me, ‘I knew a guy that galloped Secretariat.’ That is good enough for me.” Sure he got to Gallop Secretariet, but what is more impressive is that he was married for 51 years and raised 7 children and dote on lots of grandchildren

    May Charlie Davis Rest in Peace

    • Jean Greenwood

      To have been a part of that unmatched, unparalleled brush with greatness breeds great grace of character, and humility, it would seem

  • CyndyTrivella

    Another legend has passed. What a team of amazingly gifted people and hugs to the amazing Charlie Davis who was obviously loved by the greatest horse ever!

  • Buckpasser

    An era in racing is passing before us. Only Ron Turcotte is left now. RIP Charlie Davis.

  • Kelly

    We must keep the magnificent legacy of Secretariat alive. He was so much more, than just a horse that ran fast. He loved people, had a sense of humor, and took his sport and himself seriously. It took a Team of those with all the “right stuff”, to nurture and teach this magnificent horse that God built. The odds of all the right people landing in just the right places, and at just the right time, with the perfect horse again… 1 in a trillion. Secretariat has held his Triple Crown world record times, longer than any athlete in history….including humans. He was a serious athlete, with a serious but loving team around him. Penny, Lucien, Jim, Eddie, Ron, and Charlie, deserve an eternal standing ovation……for their part, in bringing about one of the most exciting, unforgettable, and jaw dropping moments in sports history! Secretariat, was one hell of a talented showman. Always out of the gate last…..just to run around all of them, and beat them silly……and without breaking a sweat! And he made it look, so easy……not to mention, that he looked absolutely beautiful, doing it! He just had it all! He was touched by angels……..and we just lost another one. His name, was Charlie Davis. God speed, Charlie. God speed!

    • Mary Jo

      Very nicely said, Kelly. RIP Charlie.

    • man o’ war

      Did you see Secretariat in person??? And, only his Belmont is a world record. But, he was a beautiful, great horse and it’s ashame that these icons have to pass on. Hopefully they are reconnecting and Charlie is riding Secretariat across the fields of heaven.

  • Archangel10

    Just one member of the Team left to join the rest on the other side. Charlie Davis was funny, cordial, immensely intelligent and always sharing his horse knowledge with anyone who was willing to listen. I had the pleasure to meet him in Paris, KY and in my home state of FL. I could listen to him talk forever. Not one to praise himself, always giving praise to his mount. He loved horses. And he truly was “the guy who galloped Secretariat” and that truly was good enough for him. We lost a legend and I lost a friend. To his wife Caroline and his family, my deepest condolences and prayers. Rest in Peace Charlie. There’s lots of horses up there to ride while you’re waiting.

  • Dave Stevenson

    Charlie was an integral part of Team Secretariat. He became the morning spokesman for the Canadian fans upon his arrival at Woodbine for Secretariat’s final race of his career. He became the voice of Secretariat to the masses that gathered to see his pre-race works in anticipation for a classic victory. A class act!

  • HappyHarriet

    I hear hooves at the gallop, and a lady’s voice cheering at the rail. United once again with Secretariat and Mrs. Chenery, I hope your heart is happy and at peace.

  • Kimberly Woodard

    An amazing man. Never a mean or condensending word. Such a loving individual and he loved and treated Secretariat and other horses with dignity and respect. You will be missed.

  • OopsyDaisy3

    Condolences are sent with love and appreciation to the family of Mr. Charlie Davis.
    What wonderful stories he no doubt left with you all. Treasure them always.
    Linda in Texas

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