Jerry Lambert, one of the top jockeys in California during the 1960s and '70s and the rider of Hall of Fame horse Native Diver, was found dead Monday at Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, where he lived. He was 74.
His death was confirmed by his daughter, Lacey, who said he had been in poor health and apparently died in his sleep.
Lambert guided Native Diver to consecutive victories in the Hollywood Gold Cup in 1965, '66 and '67, starting when the gelding was 6 years old. Each time Native Diver won the 1 1/4-mile race leading from start to finish.
Lambert led Santa Anita in victories with 77 during the 1967-68 racing season. He was part of a Southern California riding crew that featured future Hall of Famers Willie Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay Jr. and Donald Pierce.
Born on a cattle ranch on Dec. 27, 1940, in Clyde, Kan., Lambert got his first experience riding a horse four miles round trip to school as a young boy. After riding in horse shows, he became a jockey in 1958. He competed in Nebraska, New Mexico and Colorado before arriving at Del Mar in 1963. He won 2,535 races and had 133 stakes wins at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita and Del Mar.
Lambert was a key figure in one of the most famous match races in American racing history. He rode Convenience to a head victory over Typecast and Shoemaker on June 17, 1972, at Hollywood Park before a crowd of 53,755 in a $250,000 winner-take-all event.
Tom Proctor, the son of Convenience's trainer, Willard Proctor, was 16 at the time and remembers Lambert's decisions as proving decisive.
"He definitely rode a winning race with the things you had to do to win a match race with the horses being almost equal," he said. "He definitely was a top-class rider."
Lambert suffered a number of injuries during his career, including in 1987 when he broke his ankle and cheekbone and had a collapsed lung in a spill at a track in Pleasanton. He came back to ride in 1988 at Bay Meadows Racetrack in San Mateo at age 47.