Eddie Arcaro: ‘The Master’

Legendary jockey Eddie Arcaro (left) with Hall of Fame trainer Max Hirsch. (BloodHorse Library)

Eddie Arcaro was known as “The Master,” high praise indeed for anyone attempting to persuade a half-ton Thoroughbred to do his bidding at an instant’s notice. But Arcaro deserved that accolade because it can be argued that he, perhaps more than any other jockey, came closest to mastering his perilous craft.

Eddie Arcaro

Birthdate: Feb. 19, 1916

Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio

Died: Nov. 4, 1997

In a spectacular career that extended from 1931 until 1962, he won 4,779 of the 24,092 races he rode for earnings of $30,039,543. He is tied with Bill Hartack for most Kentucky Derby victories with five. No one ever enjoyed more success in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes than Arcaro, who owns half a dozen wins in each. He has the distinction of being the only jockey to partner with two Triple Crown champions, Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948).

Ben Jones, who leads all trainers with six Derby triumphs, once said of Arcaro: “Eddie was special. He was a real athlete. With his coordination, his judgment and his power at the end of a race, he was the best.”

Jones saw in Arcaro qualities that went beyond his obvious athleticism and meant just as much. “He also was very good to work with,” Jones said. “He’d follow orders and made it a real team effort.”

Arcaro was born Feb. 19, 1916, in Cincinnati, the son of a cab driver who struggled to eke out a living. He left school at age 14 to exercise horses and became a jockey one year later. He reached the winner’s circle for the first time on Jan. 14, 1932, at Agua Caliente in Mexico.

His outstanding judgment of pace and uncanny ability to draw the most from his mounts led to a swift rise to prominence. He was the leading apprentice in New Orleans in 1933 and began riding for prestigious Calumet Farm in 1934.

Arcaro with Whirlaway in the Belmont Stakes winner's circle.
Arcaro with Whirlaway in the Belmont Stakes winner's circle. (BloodHorse Library)

Arcaro earned his first victory in a Triple Crown race in 1938, bringing home the Kentucky Derby roses with Lawrin. Soon after that, he was on his way with Whirlaway. The 3-year-old launched his successful Triple Crown bid by tearing through the 1 1/4-mile Derby in 2:01 2/5 seconds, a record at the time.

A cruel twist of fate united Arcaro with Citation. He inherited the mount from Albert Snider, who went boating one day and never returned. Snider was presumed to be lost at sea. Arcaro gave half of his Derby earnings to Snider’s widow. He was always concerned for his fellow competitors. He played an integral role in establishing the Jockeys’ Guild and served as its president from 1949-62.

Arcaro is best known for his magnificent handling of Kelso. They took 12 of their 14 starts together, twice setting a track record and twice equaling a track record.

“I believe Kelso was the best horse I ever rode,” Arcaro once said. “He was Horse of the Year five straight years (1960-64), and that takes a lot of doing. And he hooked everybody, every place, on every kind of racetrack. He just was the best horse. Sprint, go a distance, run all day. He could do it all.”

Just like his rider.

Fun Facts

  • Nicknamed “Banana Nose” by his peers.
  • Missed on a sixth Kentucky Derby triumph when he chose Devil Driver, who would finish sixth, over victorious Shut Out in 1942.
  • Served as pitchman for Buick. Became known for the phrase: “If you price a Buick, you’ll buy a Buick.”
  • Owned a popular Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills for many years.
  • Worked as television commentator and as representative for Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas after retiring from racing.

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