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Unearthing an Idaho Legend

The Earl Sande Saga leaves Seabiscuit in the dust



Few recognize the name of Earl Sande, an unfortunate ignorance as he was the Babe Ruth of the racetrack-half man, half horse-and it all began in American Falls, Idaho. Historian Rick Maturi had no rest between projects when strange events kept beckoning him to write a biography of one of the most revered jockeys to date. When Maturi began unearthing the Sande legend, he discovered a story far surpassing the recent film Seabiscuit in regards to success, tragedy and triumph-with a plot revolving around a jockey as opposed to a horse. The result is the first book ever written about Sande, tailor-made for its own movie: Triple Crown Winner: The Earl Sande Saga, Tragedy to Triumph.

Though any historical biography can be ardorous to read, Maturi alleviates the burden with creative nonfiction, including character dialogue that may not have occurred. The events themselves are completely accurate, and besides the occasional redundancy of listing every time Sande won or placed, where, on what horse, and who he beat, on what horse etc. the book reads quickly and does the intricate story justice. This listing element will translate better to the big screen as scene by scene of every win, loss or injury, can be summed up panoramic-style in a matter of minutes. But eventually, the style and pace become addictive in itself as the reader begins to feel like an expert on horse racing history.

A host of characters and cowboys throughout Sande's life add depth to his story. Doc Pardee and Burr Scott shape a great deal of his legacy in Idaho and Arizona, but ultimately Sande attains a level of proficiency above the races out West and leaves to quickly rises through the ranks in the competitive Eastern circuits as well. Yet Sande did struggle after his initial success. Horatio "Guy" Poteet was a particularly staunch trainer who developed a dislike for Sande, and after a few years the jockey was forced to leave the stable as Poteet kept limiting his progress. He was immediately snapped up by Harry Ford Sinclair, due in part, ironically, to prodding from Sinclair's trainer, Samuel C. Hildreth, who eventually turns out to be Sande's uncle-in-law when he falls in love with Hildreth's niece, Marion Casey. His fellow jockeys give him flack for dating the boss' niece. "She's no gawky eyed kid," Sande responds. "She's beautiful and she's going to be my wife!"

After winning his third Belmont Stakes and tying the world record with six consecutive wins in one day under his belt, Sande was at the top of his game as an experienced jockey. Tragedy eventually tempered his luck, and on August 6, 1924, Sande takes one of the near fatal spills he witnessed many others take over the years. Crushed by a series of horses, while all other jockeys manage to crawl from the wreckage, Sande lies unconscious on the turf. After doctors determine Sande not to be in critical condition, they still advise him to pursue a career as a trainer-his racing days are over. "If a guy can't ride, he's not living," was Sande's response.

The way he recuperates to come back and win the second-ever 1930 Triple Crown on Gallant Fox (only 10 others have ever accomplished the feat) is incredibly reminiscent of Seabiscuit, except Seabiscuit never won a Triple Crown. Sande's journey back to racing success continues to be laced with tragedy, adding to an already engaging heroic story. Like many other Americans, Sande loses his financial cushion in the "Black Friday" stock market crash. Then instead of happily embracing their expected son, Marion dies due to pregnancy complications. Sande never quite recovers, but continues to race after a few weeks of mourning in spite of his devastation. Even via historical accounts, it was obvious Marion was the love of his life.

Sande was a true jockey, in tune with his horses to the point of becoming one with them. He rarely used a whip which was quite unusual, opting instead to sing them to victory. His philosophy was horses respond to respect not force. It's the reason gamblers of his day bet on Sande, not the horse, as he was known for his ability to coax any mount to the finish line first. He was also known as a gentlemen outside the racetrack, though he raced hard like any other jockey. During one race, Sande held back Sammy Renick by his horse's reins and Renick did the same to Sande at a later date. Sande's response to Renick's defense of his actions was, "Ah, yes, but I did it with finesse."

At the 2005 Kentucky Derby on May 7, author of Triple Crown Winner: The Earl Sande Saga, Triumph to Tragedy, Rick Maturi, will appear for an hour on Kentucky Public Radio, live from Churchill Downs.



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