Until end, Richardson had finger on racing's pulse

June 18, 1991|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Evening Sun Staff

Sally Richardson has a favorite photograph of her husband.

It was taken about 20 years ago, at a meet of the Elkridge-Harford Hounds at what is now Turney McKnight's polo field.

In the picture, Jimmy Richardson is riding a favorite horse, Chunk.

The photo bears little resemblance to the man that laid on the track at Pimlico in the stifling heat on Sunday, and fought for his life.

Paramedics thumped on Richardson's heart for more than 20 minutes, and the best they could do, according to Sally, was come up with a weak pulse.

By the time Jimmy Richardson reached Sinai Hospital, that weak pulse was gone.

"Who is he?" people asked, staring at television monitors showing the sudden tragedy unfolding in front of them between the fifth and sixth races.

Richardson was referred to as a hotwalker on the nightly news or as a pony rider who was stricken as he accompanied a racehorse to the post.

It seemed like such an inadequate description of a man who was a lifelong horseman, who had devoted more than 40 years to owning, training and breeding hundreds of winners, many of them in his native Harford County.

The Richardsons once operated their own farm, stood stallions like Ambernash and Thinking Cap, and raised five children, all involved at one time or another in horse activities. They were kind of a racetrack "Brady Brunch," clean cut and horsey, and Jimmy projected a sort of "Father Knows Best" image.

The best horse he trained was a minor stakes winner named Jay Mar's Buck. There was always the hope they would come up with a big horse, but one never materialized.

Still, the Richardsons were the prototype small Maryland owner-trainer-breeders, once the backbone of the Maryland horse industry.

But the game began to change in the mid-1980s. Track consolidation took place, out-of-town outfits came in with higher class horses to compete for bigger purses, and many small owners and trainers were gradually squeezed out of business. A few still hang on, but each year it seems they become more and more a vanishing breed.

Jimmy Richardson, who had started training horses at Havre de Grace in 1949, ran his last horse as a trainer four years ago.

But he and Sally proved resilient.

Even though both of them had more horse knowledge than younger trainers with thriving 20- or 30-horse strings, they rolled up their sleeves, weren't afraid to work and stayed in the game.

Both of them were employed for the last few years by trainer Barclay Tagg. Although fiftysomething, Sally is a groom and rubs four horses.

"I'm getting a little old to be doing this," she said. "But Barclay is good to me. I get the easier horses to handle."

Despite having a heart valve replaced in 1980 and despite dTC having two operations to implant pacemakers, Jimmy walked hots in the morning and occasionally filled in for his daughters, Sandy and Lisa, who have a thriving business ponying racehorses to the post in the afternoons.

Sunday started out normal enough.

"We got our work done at the barn, and then went out to breakfast," Sally said.

The Richardsons lived with their son, Jamie, the track maintenance supervisor at Pimlico. They shared a modest track-owned bungalow on Rogers Avenue.

"After breakfast, we came back and Jimmy took a nap," Sally said. "I haven't been to the races, just to go to the races, in seven years. But I wanted to see the steeplechases [run as a special attraction that afternoon], and to see some of our old friends from Monkton.

"So I put on a dress and went to the races. Our daughter Sandy took a horse to a show that day and asked her dad to pony three horses for her that afternoon. Jimmy gladly did it. It was Father's Day, and after the races, we were all going to have a cookout at our house. Sandy has a wonderful pony named Duncan, who she's had for 10 years. He's such an old pro, he can just about do the ponying himself."

Jimmy Richardson and Duncan were set to accompany jockey Mike Luzzi and a horse named More Cheese Please to the starting gate. They had made one sweep to the gate, had warmed up and were walking back to the gate, when Richardson suddenly fell off his horse near the winner's circle.

"I think Jimmy was dead when he hit the ground," Sally said. "I don't think it was the heat. He seemed fine all day. I don't think he ever had an inkling this was going to happen. He was unconscious all the time they were working on him. He didn't suffer. It was so ironic, especially since I was all dressed up and with our friends. As horrible as it was, it was still better than if someone had had to come over to the house to get me."

Eventually Sally said she will return to her job rubbing horses. She loves horses, and working with them, too much to stop now.

When her husband's life on the track came to a halt Sunday, it was quick, and painless.

Up to the end, Jimmy Richardson died doing what he loved best, riding horses.

Services for Richardson will be held tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the Christ Episcopal Church in Forest Hill. There will be visitation tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Kurtz funeral establishment in Jarrettsville.

Besides his wife, Richardson is survived by two sons, David, of Herndon, Va., and Jamie, of Baltimore; three daughters, Leslie Gosey of Towson and Sandy and Lisa Richardson of Bethesda.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations should be made to the Backstretch Workers Assistance Fund of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

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