Bill Harmatz, 79, a thoroughbred jockey who rode Royal Orbit to victory in the 1959 Preakness Stakes, died Thursday at his home in the San Diego County city of Vista, his daughter Sue Harmatz said. He had cancer.
Harmatz began racing professionally at the Caliente track in Tijuana in 1953. Based in Southern California, he had 1,770 wins by the time he retired in 1971. In the other Triple Crown races of 1959, he and Royal Orbit finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Belmont Stakes. Bill Shoemaker won the Kentucky Derby with Tomy Lee and Shoemaker won the Belmont with Sword Dancer.
Another career highlight came April 23, 1954, when he won six races in a row at Bay Meadows in San Mateo. In 1960 he won the prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, given to riders of exceptional ability and character. Among his mounts were the spectacular come-from-behind Silky Sullivan and the great Round Table.
William Harmatz was born Feb. 9, 1931, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the youngest of nine children, and moved with his family to California as a child. He grew up in Boyle Heights and attended Roosevelt High School, where he was a standout gymnast. As a teenager he had a job exercising horses before getting his break as a jockey.
A longtime resident of Vista, Harmatz ran a bowling alley there after retiring from racing.
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