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Longden, John Eric ("Johnny")

LONGDEN, John Eric ("Johnny")

(b. 14 February 1907 in Wakefield, England), Thoroughbred jockey and trainer who founded the Jockeys' Guild and is the only person to have both ridden and trained Kentucky Derby winners.

Longden's father, Herb Longden, a coal miner, and his mother, Mary Longden, raised eight children. When the the Longdens' daughter Elsie was gravely ill, Mormons gave great spiritual support to the family. After Elsie recovered, the family adopted this faith and emigrated from England to Taber, a predominantly Mormon community in Alberta, Canada. Fortunately, train delays prevented the family from embarking on their booked passage on the Titanic.

Longden's childhood in Canada prepared him to become an able jockey. Long walks to his sister's farm to ride her horses strengthened his legs, and at age ten he began herding milk cows for a number of neighbors in his open range community. Riding a variety of horses, he was struck by their individuality and treated each one differently in order to obtain their best performance. At thirteen he began working in the coal mines, driving mules and digging coal, which he claimed built his strong upper body.

At sixteen Longden began riding half-mile races on the county fair circuit in western Canada and Montana. Longden found this experience invaluable. "You have to be more versatile in the saddle, think a lot quicker, and have more skill in being able to neck-rein in and out of traffic than you do on mile or more tracks." He also ran in sprint races and won sixteen consecutive Roman races (standing on the backs of two horses), which he later claimed improved his sense of balance. His height (four feet, eleven inches) and weight (114 pounds) were ideal for a jockey.

With the help of mine superintendent John Carmichael, Longden in 1925 traveled to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where he learned the finer points of racing. He won his first official Thoroughbred race on Hugo K. Asher on 4 October 1927 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He returned to Canada to attend school and signed a contract to ride for Fred Johnson in 1928. While in Calgary, he met Helen McDonald, a grocer's daughter; they were married in April 1929. Their son was born in 1930. That year Longden exercised horses for "Checks" Sloan in Tijuana, Mexico; returned to Calgary, where he met his lifelong friend Al Tarn, Thoroughbred owner and trainer; and led British Columbian jockeys in wins. During the winter, he traveled to Cuba and was second in winning mounts at Oriental Park. Longden used his earnings to buy the horse Reddy Fox from Tarn, traded it to Johnson for his contract, and became an independent rider. On 2 September 1931 he won his first stakes race, the Winnipeg Futurity, on Mad Somers.

In 1935 Longden met the great trainer Jim Fitzsimmons and began to ride Wheatley Stable horses. This change resulted in his riding more in the United States and, for the first time, earning over $100,000 in a year. In 1936 he was second in the United States in wins. As he traveled more and raced on better mounts, Longden enjoyed more success at the racetrack, but his home life suffered. Divorced in 1939, he married Hazel Tarn, Al Tarn's daughter, on 31 August 1941. They had two children. Longden attained U.S. citizenship on 1 March 1944.

Longden's notable riding accomplishments include winning the American Triple Crown on Count Fleet in 1943; winning the Illinois and Latonia Derbies on successive days, 22 and 23 May 1936, on Al Tarn's Rushaway; riding six winners on one day (5 December 1945) at Bay Meadows; and defeating Citation on Noor, the 1950 Handicap Champion, in the San Juan Capistrano and the Santa Anita Handicap. His other famous mounts included Busher (the 1945 Horse of the Year), Swaps, Silver Spoon, Whirlaway, and St. Vincent (the 1955 Turf Horse of the Year). He led the United States in wins in 1938, 1947, and 1948 and was in the top ten in 1936, 1938–1943, 1945–1953, and 1956. He also led the United States in earnings in 1943 and 1945 and was in the top ten from 1936 to 1957 and in 1961. In 32,413 races, Longden's mounts finished first 6,032 times (932 of these wins were at Santa Anita), second 4,914, and third 4,272. Longden became the world's winningest jockey on 3 September 1957 when he broke Sir Gordon Richard's record of 4,870 wins. Longden raised this record to 6,032, which was later broken by his friend Willie Shoemaker in 1970. (Laffit Pincay set a new record for wins in 1999.)

Longden was noted for his durability. He rode his last winner, George Royal, in the 1966 San Juan Capistrano at age fifty-nine. During his career, he broke both arms and collarbones, legs (one five times), both feet, his back, and numerous ribs and teeth. He suffered concussions and was troubled by arthritis. Injuries such as these were relatively common in horse racing. After Sammy Renick was injured in 1941 at Jamaica Racetrack, New York, Renick, Eddie Arcaro, and Longden formed the Jockeys' Guild. The guild negotiated insurance policies for jockeys, fought to require tracks to have first aid rooms and ambulances, and sponsored the development of improved safety helmets, flak jackets, and track safety rails.

Longden was also a successful trainer, just missing the Triple Crown with Majestic Prince in 1969. Other famous horses he trained included Jungle Savage, Money Lender, and Baffle. From 1965 to 1990 he sent 3,330 horses to the post: 443 won, 391 placed, and 397 showed. These horses won purses totaling $6,038,871. In 1990, following the death of his wife, Hazel, from cancer, he retired from training and moved to Banning, California.

Longden received the 1952 George Woolf Memorial Award and a Special Eclipse Award in 1994. He was inducted into Pimlico's National Jockeys Hall of Fame in 1956 and the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in 1958. He is also a member of the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame. Longden, nicknamed the "Pumper" for his aggressive riding style down the stretch, was a tough, gritty rider who overcame many obstacles to achieve great success.

Brainerd Beckwith, The Longden Legend (1973), covers Longden's life through his early training days. Henry Mahan, "Longden Saga Unparalleled in Sports," Daily Racing Forum (12 Mar. 1966), provides a concise but relatively complete story of Longden's career as a jockey. Stephanie Diaz, "Johnny Longden: A Rider's Reverie," Backstretch (Apr. 1993), looks at Longden in retirement and relates his reminiscences. Longden can be seen in "Lucy and the Loving Cup," an episode of I Love Lucy (first aired 7 Jan. 1957).

Steven P. Savage

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