Triple Crown jockey remembered: "Never A Guy Like Sande"

Damon Runyon wrote a poem about the winning Earl Sande, which put him in the books forever. Photo: Gallant Fox ready to take the Triple Crown

VIENNA, Va., May 23, 2012 — In the early days of the Derby and horseracing, young black guys epitomized thoroughbred racing’s top riders. Men like Isaac Murphy and Jimmy Winkfield were the leading jocks, much in demand and consistent winners.

Years passed and then lithe white youngsters began to take over the jockey ranks, and soon the black riders had no mounts. While this seems unfair (and was), it also promoted a host of white riders who continue in today’s racing. 

Now we have seen a jockey newcomer Mario Gutierrez, born in Mexico, win both the Derby and the Preakness, and headed for the Belmont Stakes next month and maybe the Triple Crown.

It seemed like a good time to look at a stellar jockey from days past, Earl Sande, one of the elite 11 who have won the elusive Crown. However, this one had a poem written about him, which sets him apart. Plus some of the records of the inimitable Sande still stand.

He was born November 13, 1898, in Groton, South Dakota, moving with his family to Idaho when he was nine years old. He began racing in 1918, and by 1921 he was the country’s leading rider as well as in 1923 and 1927.  

Earl Sande’s Hall of Fame photo

Sande was not the typical model of a jockey at first blush. He was said to be too tall. A serious accident in 1924 at Saratoga almost cost him his life, and after many months of rehabilitation, he came back in 1925 to win the Derby aboard Flying Ebony.

However, the next couple of years were bad ones for Sande: he became ill and went through the death of his wife as well, but by 1927, he was again the top winning rider. Three years later he won the Kentucky Derby on Gallant Fox, known as the “super horse,” then the Preakness, and finally the Belmont Stakes.

In today’s era of super sports heroes, Earl Sande would be right up there with them. He rode horses who are only the stuff of legends today, including Man O’ War (who never ran in the Derby, by the way.) 

Sande’s record included five wins at the Belmont Stakes; three Kentucky Derby wins; one Preakness victory; and one Triple Crown when he rode Gallant Fox, coming out of retirement to do so. He thus belongs to an extremely small and exclusive club: one the 11 Triple Crown jockeys.

The Triple Crown trophy when awarded to Seattle Slew

One writer described him as a “master tactician, he studied the competition and knew what they were going to do.” He also differed from most of the jockeys who stayed in hotels when out of town; Sande bedded down in a stable with the horses.

Finally he switched from riding to training, and in 1938 led the ranks of money-winning trainers, making him the first individual to lead in both riding horses and training them. We always say that close doesn’t count, but in Earl Sande’s case, it’s pretty darn good. He was hired to train a colt named Howard’s Stagehand, who pulled an upset in a race with Seabiscuit, a photo finish win event at Santa Anita.

Earl Sande aboard Gallant Fox

It was after his second Kentucky Derby win in 1925, that newspaperman, author, and horseracing gambler Damon Runyon wrote a poem, which put Earl Sande in the books forever:

There Never Was a Guy So Handy as Sande

Maybe there’ll be another,

Heady and game and true -

Maybe we’ll find his brother

At driving them horses through. 

Maybe – but, say, I doubt it,

Never his like again –

Never a handy guy like Sande

Bootin’ them babies in. 

Maybe we’ll find another

Maybe in 90 years;

Maybe we’ll find his brother

With his brains above his ears.

Maybe – I’ll lay against it

A million bucks to a fin –

Never a handy guy like Sande,

Bootin’ them babies in.

Poor health finally forced Sande’s retirement from racing and he moved west to Oregon. He was inducted into the first Racing Hall of Fame class in 1955 and died in Oregon on August 21, 1968.

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Martha M. Boltz

Martha Boltz is a frequent contributor  to the long running Civil War features in The Washington Times America At War feature in the print and online editions. She has been a regular contributor to the original Civil War Page and its successor page since 1994, and is a civil war buff, historian, and writer. "Someone said that if we don't learn about the past, we are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and there are lessons of all sorts inherent in this bloody four-year period of our country's history."  She is a member of several heritage and lineage groups, as well as the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table. Her standing invitation is, "come on down - check the blog - send me your comments and let's have fun with its history and maybe learn something at the same time."


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