WATERVILLE — Ron Turcotte won more than 3,000 races as a jockey in a short horse racing career. He’s also a member of seven different Halls of Fame, and he won the three Triple Crown races — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont — twice each.

Still, Turcotte’s name is probably unfamiliar to you, but you probably know the most famous horse he rode — Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown in 1973 and retired with 16 victories in 21 starts.

Turcotte was at Spectrum Generations Muskie Center on Tuesday evening as fans had a chance to meet and talk with the 70-year-old racing legend. Turcotte said being known almost solely for one horse to most people is fine with him.

“I’m very proud of having the chance to ride Secretariat,” Turcotte said. “It doesn’t bother me. I would have been in the Hall of Fame without Secretariat.”

Spectrum Generations manager Cheryl Gifford came up with the idea of bringing in Turcotte as a surprise for her father, Ron Curtis, who recently had a heart attack and is a big fan of Turcotte.

Mike Sweeney, the announcer and publicity director at Scarborough Downs, emceed the event, and Turcotte naturally talked about Secretariat.

“He was the total horse,” Turcotte said. “He was the whole package. You could do anything with him. He was very easy to school. You teach him something one day, the next day he would do it.”

Gifford played a DVD with original broadcasts of Secretariat’s most famous races, and Turcotte gave an analysis and answered questions after each one. The 100 or so people in attendance gasped and cheered during the showing of the Belmont, which Secretariat won by 31 lengths.

“That race still gives me chills every time I watch it,” Sweeney said. “I often wish I had the opportunity to call big races like that, but I’m afraid if I called that race, I would have swallowed my tongue.”

“That was beyond imagination that he would win by 31 lengths,” Turcotte said. “As far as winning, I had no doubt, just because of his workouts. The harder I was on him, the tougher he was the next morning.”

Turcotte was played by Otto Thorwarth in the 2010 Disney movie, “Secretariat,” starring Diane Lane. Turcotte said Hollywood took a few liberties — he didn’t have a broken leg when he met the horse’s owner, he didn’t tell a woman he was taller if he stood on his wallet and he didn’t ask a much taller Ogden Phipps if people called him Tiny.

“I think, besides the three things, (the) portrayal was good,” said Turcotte, who unlike his character in the movie, speaks with a French-Canadian accent.

Turcotte told the audience how he had spoken to a veterinarian and confirmed that Secretariat’s heart weighed 22 lbs., twice the size of an average horse’s heart.

“A horse like Secretariat only comes once in a lifetime,” Turcotte said. “So I didn’t look to find another one like him, because there’s never been another one like him ever since. I would have been waiting a long time.”

After Secretariat retired, Turcotte kept racing until his career ended suddenly on July 13, 1978. Just nine days before his 37th birthday, Turcotte fell during a race and became a paraplegic.

“I never dwell on any bad thing that happened to me, because so many good things happened to me,” Turcotte said. “I never think of the bad things. I just look forward, and thank God every morning when I open my eyes.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

 


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