NPR logo Horse-Racing Icon Bill Hartack Dies at 74

Remembrances

Horse-Racing Icon Bill Hartack Dies at 74

Bill Hartack — then known as Willie — celebrates after winning the 1964 Kentucky Derby (aboard Northern Dancer). Robert W. Kelley/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Robert W. Kelley/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Bill Hartack — then known as Willie — celebrates after winning the 1964 Kentucky Derby (aboard Northern Dancer).

Robert W. Kelley/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Eddie Arcaro (left) and Bill Hartack (right) were the only riders to win the Kentucky Derby five times. Robert Riger/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Robert Riger/Getty Images

Eddie Arcaro (left) and Bill Hartack (right) were the only riders to win the Kentucky Derby five times.

Robert Riger/Getty Images

Bill Hartack, a Hall of Fame jockey and five-time Kentucky Derby winner, has died while on a hunting vacation in Texas. He was 74.

Hartack died Monday night from natural causes due to heart disease, said Dr. Corinne Stern, the chief medical examiner in Webb County.

Stern said Hartack's family has been notified, and funeral arrangements were being made.

Hartack and fellow Hall of Fame rider Eddie Arcaro are the only jockeys to win the Kentucky Derby five times. Known for his burning desire to win every single race, Hartack won his first Derby aboard Iron Liege in 1957. He then won with Venetian Way in 1960, Decidedly in 1962, Northern Dancer in 1964 and Majestic Prince in 1969.

Hartack won the Preakness aboard Fabius in 1956, Northern Dancer in 1964 and Majestic Prince in 1969. He won the Belmont Stakes once, with Celtic Ash in 1960.

"He was my idol," said trainer Mike Stidham, whose father, George, was Hartack's agent. "I was at the '69 Derby when he won with Majestic Prince. He was a great person to grow up around. He was a kid at heart."

Hartack rode until 1974 and had 4,272 wins from 21,535 mounts, winning nearly 20 percent of his races. He later rode in Hong Kong from 1978-80.

He remained in racing as a steward, working the past few years in that role at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La.

Hall of Fame rider Angel Cordero didn't know Hartack well, but was aware of his accomplishments.

"I rode with him a little bit at the end of his career," Cordero said Tuesday. "When I first came to this country and met him, it was like meeting a superstar — he was a jockey everyone had heard about.

"He was very smart. And he was amazing with the whip — he could hit a horse left-handed coming around the turn, and the horse would never go out."

Hartack won his first race in 1952 at West Virginia's Waterford Park, and he was elected to thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame in 1959, at the age of 27.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas was just coming on the thoroughbred scene when Hartack was leaving.

"He had a strong, competitive spirit, and he took no prisoners," Lukas said. "I admire any of those guys who can accomplish what he did."

When he wasn't working in Louisiana, Hartack spent time at the hunting camp on south Texas property owned by thoroughbred owner Greg Goodman, a friend and client of Stidham's.

According to Stidham, Hartack was the first of a group to arrive, but hadn't been seen since Sunday. Hartack's body was discovered when security personnel went to check the cabin on Monday night.

Raised by his coal-mining father on a Pennsylvania farm, William John Hartack Jr., took a job as an exercise and stable boy at the age of 17 with trainer Junie Corbin at Charles Town Race Course in West Virginia. He began riding in 1952. By the end of the following year, Hartack became a star.

He was the top rider by earnings in 1956 and 1957, and the leader in victories four times — 1955-57 and 1960. He was the second jockey to ride as many as 400 winners in a single year when he won 417 races in 1955.

From Associated Press reports.

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