Joe Aitcheson, a legendary Racing Hall of Fame jockey regarded as one of the all-time leading steeplechase riders, died Saturday, May 24, at Carroll Hospice Dove House in Westminster, Md. He was 85.
Aitcheson rode from 1956 through 1979 and accumulated 440 victories over fences, a National Steeplechase Association record. He rode such top horses as Bon Nouvel and Tuscalee, both Hall of Fame members. He was the sport’s champion jockey a record seven times and had a record 40 wins in 1964.
During his career, Aitcheson rode a record seven Carolina Cup winners --- Grand Chal (1959), Ricacho (1960), Flying Cottage (1963), Last Page (1965), Taneha (1966), Ballet Master (1975) and Happy Intellectual (1977). Aitcheson also piloted Montpelier’s Soothsayer to victory in the 1972 Colonial Cup at the Springdale Race Course in Camden for Marion duPont Scott.
Joseph Leiter Aitcheson Jr. was born July 31, 1928, in Olney, Md., the son of trainer Joseph L. Aitcheson Sr. and Lillian Roby Aitcheson.
Although raised around horses, he became a professional jockey at age 28. He attended the University of Maryland, where he played football, and served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1952, during World War II and the Korean War.
He won all of the steeplechasing’s leading races, including eight editions of the Virginia Gold Cup, seven Carolina Cups, six International Gold Cups, five Temple Gwathmeys, five Noel Laings, five Midsummers, and five Manlys.
In addition to three-time champion Bon Nouvel (1964, 1965, and 1968) and all-time leading winner Tuscalee (1966), he rode champions Peal (1961), Amber Diver (1963), Top Bid (1970), and Soothsayer (1972).
New York Times columnist Red Smith once wrote that Aitcheson was “held together with bailing wire and tape” because of the numerous falls he sustained during his career. He was widely respected within the sport and was the first jockey to receive the NSA’s F. Ambrose Clark Award for meritorious service in 1976.
“I lived steeplechasing. I ate, drank, and slept it,” Aitcheson once told Daily Racing Form. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1978, a year before his retirement.
Memorial contributions may be made in his name to Maryland Horseman’s Assistance Fund, 500 Redland Ct., Suite 105, Owings Mills, Md. 21117 or to Carroll Hospice Dove House, 292 Stoner Ave., Westminster, Md. 21157.
Murphy-Sloan team remains hot: Owner Irv Naylor, trainer Cyril Murphy, and jockey Carol-Ann Sloan collected their second stakes victory in a week when American Ladie prevailed in the $30,000 Valentine Memorial, the featured race at the 46th annual Fair Hill Spring Races in Fair Hill, Md., on Saturday, May 24.
American Ladie, a British-bred mare, pulled something of an upset when she defeated eight males in the starter handicap for horses who had started for a claiming price of $30,000 or less in 2013 or 2014. She scored by a half-length over Rosbrian Farm’s Wantan. Ricky Hendriks, who trains Wantan, also accounted for the third spot with Camden owner Dale Thiel’s Call Me Sonny, the 2013 Valentine Memorial winner. Why Not Racing’s Class Bopper, trained by Camden-based conditioner Liltih Boucher, who led for most of the race, finished third.
Sloan placed American Ladie back in the pack for the first 1 1/2 miles, made her move approaching the second to last fence, and overtook a game Wantan and jockey Paddy Young after the final fence. Call Me Sonny, ridden by Willie McCarthy, finished 8 1/4 lengths farther back. The mare ran the Valentine’s 2 1/4 miles in 4:13.80 on firm turf to cap a beautiful, sun-splashed afternoon in northern Maryland.
The owner-trainer-jockey combination had won the $50,000 National Hunt Cup a week earlier with Decoy Daddy at the Radnor Hunt Races in Malvern, Pa.
Absent from the race course last year, American Ladie made her 2014 debut with a one-length victory in the Rose Tree Cup, a claiming hurdle at the Willowdale Steeplechase in Kennett Square, Pa., on May 11. The $18,000 first-place purse raised her earnings for the current season to $27,000.
Naylor and trainer Murphy also combined forces to win the $25,000 Sport of Kings maiden hurdle with Address Unknown, another British-bred. In the saddle was 2012 champion jockey Ross Geraghty, who collected three wins on the afternoon.
The Fair Hill Races closed out the National Steeplechase Association’s spring campaign. The circuit heads to the race tracks until September, starting with a June 13 stop at Monmouth Park.