LEGENDARY JOCKEY RAY YORK, WHO WON THE 1954 KENTUCKY DERBY AT AGE 20 ABOARD SANTA ANITA-BASED DETERMINE, DIES AT 86
ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 25, 2020)–Ray York, who gained international fame by winning the 1954 Kentucky Derby at the age of 20 in 1954, has died at age 86 due to the effects of a one-year battle with pneumonia at an extended care facility near Bakersfield, CA.
“Ray passed away peacefully this past Sunday,” said Michael McKay, York’s longtime girlfriend. “He loved racing so much and all the people he had known over the years, but we haven’t been able to visit Santa Anita for several years due to his health,” she added. “We had a great time together and we traveled quite a bit. We went to China, Ireland, Italy, Nova Scotia, Alaska and we visited England three times. Ray was so much fun, always laughing and always talking.”
York, who was born on Nov. 23, 1933 in Gloucaster, MA, was gregarious and full of energy well into his 80s. He won major stakes on both coasts and was considered one of the top riders of his era, which included the likes of Bill Shoemaker, Johnny Longden, Eddie Arcaro, Donald Pierce, Bill Hartack, Milo Valenzuela and others.
Determine, a diminutive grey colt by Alibhai, also won the 1954 Santa Anita Derby and 1955 Strub Stakes with York and he would go on to a successful career as a stallion, siring the winner of the 1962 Kentucky Derby, Decidedly.
Affectionately nicknamed “Walkie-Talkie” by fellow jockey Angel Valenzuela in the early 1950s, York was the life of any party and remained a great interview long after his official retirement as an active rider in 1992.
“In his day, Ray could ride with anybody,” said trainer Clay Brinson from his Turf Paradise base in Phoenix, AZ. “Ray had great instincts and he was a big-money jock, no question. As a kid, he was one of the guys I looked up to and learned from. I rode with him in California and Chicago and he won a lotta races for my dad (trainer Ross Brinson). Ray had a great personality and he gave everybody their money’s worth, owners, trainers and the people betting on the horses.”
A winner of 3,082 races, York was recognized for his professionalism on and off the track by the racing press, when in 1955, they voted him the winner of Santa Anita’s prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award.
With his first major Santa Anita stakes win coming aboard the Jimmy Jordan-trained Phil D. in the 1952 San Antonio Handicap, York would go on to win 26 added money events at The Great Race Place, putting him 34th on the track’s all-time list.
York won his second Santa Anita Derby in 1959, aboard the Bob Wheeler-trained Hall of Fame filly Silver Spoon, with whom he also won that year’s Santa Anita Oaks.
A winner of the 1964 Hollywood Gold Cup aboard the Wally Dunn-conditioned Colorado King, York was a three-time leading rider at Del Mar (1957, 62 & 64) and would shift his tack to Turf Paradise in the late sixties, where he won seven races in one day in 1970.
Close friends with trainer Henry Moreno, who also passed away on Sunday, York suited up one final time to ride Moreno’s 4-year-old gelding Culebra to a 10th place finish in a claiming race at Santa Anita on Jan. 13, 2000, thus becoming the first jockey to ride in seven decades.
A longtime resident of Kern County, CA, Ray York is survived by his girlfriend Michael McKay, and three children from his first marriage, daughter, Bonnie (Wunner) and two sons, Ray Jr. and Jeff York. Funeral services for York will be held at Erickson and Brown Funeral Home in Taft, CA, Saturday, March 7 at 1 p.m.