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THOROUGHBRED RACING : Mary Bacon: Different to the End

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a few days, Mary Bacon’s ashes are to be spread across Belmont Park, one of the many tracks she had hoped to conquer. The race of Bacon’s that New Yorkers most remember came in 1973, when she went down in an ugly spill, was trampled by a horse and suffered multiple injuries, including a crushed pelvis.

Injuries such as that, and a penchant for outlandish behavior, which the media lapped up and the racing establishment abhorred, kept Bacon from riding more than 300 winners in a career that began soon after the women’s movement and the courts pushed horsemen into giving female jockeys a chance in the late 1960s. Bacon wasn’t there on the front lines with Kathy Kusner, Diane Crump and Barbara Jo Rubin, but she was the most visible of the platoon that came shortly thereafter.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jun. 22, 1991 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday June 22, 1991 Home Edition Sports Part C Page 13 Column 3 Sports Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Mary Bacon--A story in Friday’s editions on the recent death of former jockey Mary Bacon implied that she had posed nude for a picture in Playboy magazine. Bacon posed in a pair of jeans and the photo was shot from the rear.

Bacon’s off-track life, accompanied by the inevitable wisecrack, overshadowed her riding career. She was linked with the Ku Klux Klan; she posed in the buff for Playboy; she made more money modeling than riding, and she had throwaway lines that sounded like Marilyn Monroe when Hollywood was trying to make her a star. The difference was, Bacon didn’t have some studio flack writing her material--she was naturally funny. Unintentionally, she was the antithesis of what the serious female jockeys wanted in those gate-crashing days. Instead of being interviewed about riding skills, Bacon was being asked about her centerfold.

Last weekend, Bacon apparently shot herself in a Ft. Worth hotel room. She was 41 or 43 or perhaps some other age. The last race she won was last fall at Bandera Downs, a new track near San Antonio that has average crowds of about 3,500.

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Don Rhine, a Bandera official, remembered the blond, brash Bacon riding for his grandfather when Rhine was a teen-ager hanging out at Churchill Downs. “This (Bacon’s death) is hard to figure out,” Rhine said Thursday. “We talked a lot when she was riding here last year. She didn’t tell me that she had cancer. She was getting about two mounts a day, and told me that she planned to settle in Texas.”

Before Bandera, Bacon hadn’t done any riding since another painful spill at Golden Gate Fields in 1982. An earlier accident at a track near St. Louis resulted in a lawsuit and a $3-million judgment, but the track went out of business and Bacon never collected.

The Golden Gate accident, worse than the others, scrambled her mind besides punishing her body. She was unconscious for 11 days, and people who talked to her long afterward noticed that she was missing a familiar mental sharpness. “She’s broken 39 bones,” her husband, jockey Jeff Anderson, said at the time. “This is the first time she’s broken her brain.”

Less than a year after the Golden Gate spill, against doctors’ orders, Bacon went out to Bay Meadows and tried to gallop a horse. The saddle slipped, and she hit the ground. “To say she’s very depressed is an understatement,” Anderson said. “I think she’ll be all right once she gets back on horses.”

For Bacon, horses were the ultimate escape. “Horses are a wall that I hide behind,” she said once. “Horses are more important to me than most people.”

An earlier husband, Johnny Bacon, was also a jockey. Racing officials had problems with both of them riding in the same race, but one day at Detroit Race Course they were competing, and Johnny’s horse slammed into Mary’s leaving the gate.

“I was so mad that if he hadn’t snatched up on his horse, I would have put him over the fence,” Mary Bacon said.

The stewards disqualified Johnny Bacon’s horse and gave him a five-day suspension.

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“That’s nothing,” Mary Bacon said. “I gave him five nights.”

Johnny Bacon was killed in an automobile accident several years later.

Bacon wore flowered underwear, which showed through her white jockey pants. “When I’m on the lead,” she said, “it gives the boys back there something to look at.”

In 1989, Bacon and her agent, also a woman, were involved in a bizarre kidnaping incident near Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania. Two years later, one of the alleged kidnapers was found with a gun in the bathroom of Bacon’s hotel room in Louisville, Ky. He was arrested, convicted and sentenced to a long jail term.

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All the way to her death, Mary Bacon didn’t blend in with the crowd.

Horse Racing Notes

Laffit Pincay, who won the Valkyr Handicap last year with Paper Princess and rode Shywing to victory in the stake in 1985, has a good chance to win the $100,000 race Saturday at Hollywood Park. Pincay rides Somethingmerry, who will carry high weight of 120 pounds in the field of seven 3-year-old fillies going a mile on grass. Other entrants are Paper Princess, Tropical Stephanie, Agirlfromars, Linda Card, Venturilla and Hit a Homer Honey.

Hollywood Park will take betting on the telecast of the 132nd Queen’s Plate from Woodbine in suburban Toronto on July 7. The Queen’s Plate, for Canadian-breds, is the first race in Canada’s Triple Crown series and, having been first held in 1864, is North America’s oldest continuously run race.

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