Eddie Ambrose, 100, jockey who rode in 6 Preaknesses

June 14, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Eddie "Sit Still" Ambrose, a famed jockey whose horse lost the 1928 Preakness in a stretch duel that still intrigues racing historians, died Thursday of heart failure at the Lorien-Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Belcamp. He turned 100 in April.

Mr. Ambrose began his riding career in 1911 and retired in 1933, his mounts earning more than $1 million riding for such luminaries and capitalists as John Hay Whitney, James Rowe, Walter Jeffords and Ral Par.

He was one of the most sought-after jockeys of the 1920s and was considered one of the best riders of 2-year-old horses in a career that took him to Hialeah, Belmont, Saratoga, Aqueduct, Pimlico, Laurel and other tracks nationwide.

Such was his stature that he turned down an opportunity to ride the famous thoroughbred Man o' War in 1920 because he was working for Mr. Whitney.

He lived in Baltimore for a time in the 1920s at the Hopkins Apartments on St. Paul Street and for two years at Glen Riddle Farm in Berlin, where Man o' War was stabled.

His daughter, Michelle O'Donnell of Towson, quoting from a newspaper clipping, said he won 814 races and his mounts earned $1,336,529 before his career slowed because of illness in 1930. "He didn't get many mounts the last three years of his career," she said.

Mr. Ambrose rode in six Preaknesses and was best known locally for the 1928 Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. Aboard Toro, owned by E. B. McLean, former publisher of the Washington Post, he attempted to close the gap in the stretch against Harry Payne Whitney's Victorian, ridden by Sonny Workman.

"Two horses ran as fast as they could . . . and when they had traversed a mile and three-sixteenths there was a difference of about an inch between them," reported The Sun. "Because it was Whitney's Victorian whose nostrils quivered at the front end of the inch when they went over the line, Mr. Whitney is richer by $60,000, the Preakness purse.

"Whether Ambrose or Toro became overconfident or whether Victorian came again always will be a disputed question. Toro, after once showing in front, lost the verdict by the slightest of margins," Edward Sparrow wrote in The Sun.

For Mr. Ambrose, it was a disappointment in a year in which he had won the American Derby in Chicago aboard Toro and the Arlington Derby at Arlington Park, Ill., and place third in the Kentucky Derby. Five years later, he left racing.

Asked by writer Snowden Carter in a 1968 interview for Maryland Horse magazine whether he had ever won a Preakness, he said, "Yes, but the placing judges made a mistake. They said I was a second when actually I win it by a nose."

Mr. Ambrose, who stood 5 feet 2 inches tall as an adult, was born in St. Louis and reared in Chicago. He had his first exposure to horses in a Chicago livery stable. As a youngster, he went to Lexington, Ky., where he began his career as an exercise rider.

His racing success enabled him to be known off-track for his sartorial elegance and gentlemanly manner, marked by a passion for Brooks Brothers suits and custom-made silk shirts.

He divorced after retiring from racing and went to work for the American Locomotive Co. in Schenectady, N.Y., said Mrs. O'Donnell, his daughter.

His second wife, Helen Jarratt, a schoolteacher, died in 1976.

Other survivors include five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Saturday.

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