Turcotte: Treatment by Churchill Downs ‘Disheartening’

by | 04.30.2014 | 12:24pm
Secretariat, Eddie Sweat, and Ron Turcotte in the KY Derby winner's circle.

Hall of  Fame jockey Ron Turcotte, a two-time winner of the G1 Kentucky Derby aboard Secretariat in 1973 and Riva Ridge in 1972, issued a statement April 30 regarding his struggles with access to Churchill Downs.

Turcotte, who has been confined to a wheelchair since 1978, described recent experiences attempting to gain handicapped parking and other accommodations from the track.

After reading the recent post of Rick Porter on the Foxhill Farm website, it caused me great concern and sadness as I know only too well the frustration of facing the “facts” of Churchill Downs and the lack of hospitality it displays to those in the racing industry.

For the past several years, I have been attending the Kentucky Derby as one who loves the sport, and as a guest of the Kentucky Derby Museum to meet fans and sign autographs. As a two-time winning jockey who still holds the track record for the 1 1/4 mile distance, I take great pride in my accomplishments aboard Secretariat and Riva Ridge in their Derby triumphs. It also gives me great enjoyment talking to fans, sharing stories, and signing autographs as a way to promote the sport of racing and benefit many worthwhile charitable organizations such as the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

However, my most recent experiences at the track have tarnished my fond memories of Churchill Downs through the actions, or should I say inaction, of track management who has not provided me with either accommodation or parking access during Oaks and Derby days. Being confined to a wheelchair since my racing accident in 1978, it is no easy feat to maneuver through the crowds that attend the Derby festivities. It becomes a nearly impossible task when there is virtually no assistance from the track.

In 2012, despite being the subject of a National Film Board of Canada documentary being filmed at Churchill Downs, I was denied any parking assistance by the track. If not for the gracious actions of the film crew who had no other choice but to pay Churchill Downs $500 to allow me the “privilege” of on-site parking in a handicapped accessible spot, I am not sure what would have happened. In 2013, despite strong lobbying on my behalf by the Kentucky Derby Museum who hosted my appearance, I once again received no parking accommodation from Churchill Downs and ultimately was forced to park in an off-track neighborhood lot across Central Avenue. Making matters worse, I was then informed that Churchill Downs policy restricted my access to the Museum grounds only, preventing me from even being able to watch the race I had won twice.

In each of these instances, Churchill Downs management knew well in advance that I would be attending the Derby, yet never made an effort to offer one shred of hospitality or professional courtesy. After reading Mr. Porter's post, it has become painfully obvious that this lack of basic consideration also applies to many others who helped shape Churchill Downs' history or promote its welfare. More than anything it shows me exactly how the track values its precious bottom line above the sport and those who champion it.

I have been very blessed to have had so much success within the sport I love, and one of the greatest moments for me was being inducted into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame. With that honor, I remember proudly receiving the golden Hall of Fame lapel pin, which at the time allowed complimentary access to every major racetrack across the nation. It is disheartening to me that the present business culture and management at Churchill Downs now treats my treasured pin as an obsolete relic. Unfortunately, I suspect that they view me and many of my fellow riders (as well as trainers and owners who support the racing industry) the same way.

Ron Turcotte

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