Ira Hanford; rode 20-1 shot to 1936 Kentucky Derby win
NEW YORK - Ira “Babe’’ Hanford, who as an 18-year-old apprentice rode 20-1 shot Bold Venture to victory in the 1936 Kentucky Derby, has died. He was 91.
He died Saturday in Ocala, Fla., following a long illness, said Virginia Hanford, his wife of 67 years. He was the oldest-living jockey to have won the Derby and the only apprentice to have done so.
Mr. Hanford did not get a chance to ride Bold Venture in the Preakness because racing officials suspended him for 15 days following the Derby. He retired in 1953 without running in another Derby.
He is one of 22 jockeys to win the Run for the Roses in their only appearance.
“It’s something that once you win, it never gets taken away,’’ Virginia Hanford told the Associated Press by phone yesterday. “It’s something that he always held very close to him.’’
Mr. Hanford said officials never told him why he was suspended, along with two other jockeys. During an interview in 2006, Mr. Hanford said he suspected it had to do with the rugged nature of the sport at the time.
“I’ve always assumed it was for knocking down a horse,’’ he said. “I heard a few years ago that I was suspended for crossing over somewhere on the backside.’’
Back then, the starting gate did not have front or rear doors to lock the horses in a somewhat uniform line. They were led in and stood there until a bell rang.
Mr. Hanford looked to his right and saw Bien Joli standing at an angle and about a neck in front of him and Bold Venture. He called out to jockey Lester Balaski to straighten his horse.
“I didn’t get horse out of the mouth and the bell rang,’’ said Mr. Hanford, who as an apprentice got to carry less weight than senior riders.
“When he made the first or second jump out of the gate, he hit me and turned me almost sideways.’’
Mr. Hanford and Bold Venture careened to the left and into Granville, knocking jockey Jimmy Stout to the ground.
“That was a hell of a bump that I got and so did he,’’ Hanford said.
“Bold Venture got a going over leaving the gate as bad as anybody, but he was very agile and he collected himself good. By the time I got to the first turn, he was maybe six or seven lengths off the lead.’’
Bold Venture’s trainer, Max Hirsch, replaced Mr. Hanford with George Woolfe for the Preakness, which the horse won. Bold Venture did not run in the Belmont.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Hanford leaves his older brother Carl, who trained five-time Horse of the Year Kelso.