HITTING THE FINISH LINE
Six mounts into his career, jockey Sandy Hawley earned his first victory when Fly Alone won the first race at Woodbine on Oct. 14, 1968.
Nearly 30 years and more than 31,000 rides later, Hawley hopes to get his 6,450th win with Terremoto in the Dominion Day Stakes today at the same track outside Toronto.
Terremoto, among the favorites in the 1 1/2-mile race, will be the last thoroughbred Hawley, 49, rides. After talking with his wife, Lisa, Hawley decided last fall to retire and chose July 1, the national Canada Day holiday, as the date. It is the equivalent of the Fourth of July in the United States.
Extremely popular in his native land, Hawley will be honored in a ceremony between races.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet, but it’s going to be emotional,” Hawley said from his home in Mississauga in Ontario. “There’s going to be a lot of emotion and adrenaline. To win the race would be the ultimate way to go out.
“I’m going to miss the stretch drives and the trips to the winner’s circle, but most of all, I’m going to miss the camaraderie of the jockey’s room. I’ve always felt very comfortable no matter where I’ve ridden.”
Desmond Sanford Hawley, born in Oshawa, Ontario, is a Hall of Famer in Canada and the United States. He ranks eighth among jockeys in victories, and in 1973 was the first rider to win 500 races in a year. He finished with 515 victories, bettering the previous record of 485 set by Bill Shoemaker in 1953.
Hawley won an Eclipse Award in 1976, has twice won the Lou Marsh Trophy, awarded to Canada’s top athlete, and is a member of the Order of Canada, which was instituted by Queen Elizabeth II more than 30 years ago to recognize outstanding accomplishments by Canadian citizens.
Hawley spent his early years and most of the last 10 riding in Canada, but he made his mark in California and other tracks around the United States.
A local fan favorite, he won riding titles at Hollywood Park in 1975 and ’77, prompting the Inglewood track to be called “Hawley Park” by some. On opening day of the 1975 Hollywood Park meeting, he rode seven longshots and won with five of them.
He also won the title during the 1975-76 season at Santa Anita, winning 129 races in 77 days. He had a pair of six-winner days, about a month apart, that same meeting and still ranks in the top 10 at both tracks in victories.
Known for his wide rallies and propensity for putting the whip in his mouth when changing hands, Hawley’s style may have been somewhat unorthodox, but no one has doubted his effectiveness.
“He was a natural,” said former trainer Gary Jones, who won many races in tandem with Hawley, including the 1983 Hollywood Futurity, California’s first $1-million race, with Fali Time. “He had a free way of riding, and certain horses would just run faster than they could actually run with Sandy.
“We kind of hooked up because I wanted my horses to be on the outside, and that’s where he liked to be. He could do more with his [whip] than any jockey I’ve ever been around.”
Laffit Pincay Jr., who won five consecutive riding titles at Hollywood Park before Hawley ended the run 23 years ago, admired the newcomer.
“Some of the races he won were unbelievable,” Pincay said. “He won on some horses nobody could win with, and he always took the outside. It didn’t matter to him if he lost a lot of ground. Horses just responded to him and he could ride any kind of horse.
“He had a a different kind of style, but he earned the respect of everybody. I consider him a good friend, and he’s definitely one of the best riders I’ve ever seen.”
Hawley’s business in California started to decline in the mid 1980s. Then late in 1986, he was found to have a potentially fatal form of skin cancer, a growth on his back proving to be malignant. He twice underwent surgery. Earlier this decade, he had another operation to remove a tumor from one of his lungs.
He has a clean bill of health now, but knows it is time to move in a different direction.
Hawley, who also won the Dominion Day in 1972 with Kennedy Road, has had fewer riding opportunities in recent years and, before Terremoto, he had accepted only 31 mounts at the current Woodbine meeting.
He started working in the media communications department for the Ontario Jockey Club in March and did analysis on the Louisiana Derby earlier this year for ESPN. He will also work for the CBC on some of the bigger races in Canada throughout 1998 and hopes to have more assignments for ESPN.
Some thought Hawley would retire after being seriously injured in a mishap during a post parade in 1995. A horse fell on him and he suffered a cracked pelvis, broken ribs and urinary tract damage. He had two surgeries and was sidelined for six months.
“I didn’t even think about retiring then; it didn’t even cross my mind,” Hawley said. “But, last fall, my wife suggested I see if the Ontario Jockey Club would be interested in my services, and she thought I would do well in public relations.
“The more I thought about it, the better it sounded to me, so I went to them and they said that they had been considering approaching me. I asked when they wanted me to start and they said the sooner the better. It was then decided that my last day would be Canada Day.
“I’m a public relations ambassador who works with the media, and I’ve done some public speaking at the intertrack sites and teletheaters and I’m going to be visiting some of the tracks where Woodbine’s races are shown.
“Any time you start something new you are a little unsure, but once I began I knew it was something I wanted to do and I’m really enjoying myself. I really like talking to people about racing because it’s been such a major part of my life.”
Hawley, who says 1976 Canadian and Washington D.C. International winner Youth was the best horse he ever rode, will always fondly recall his days in California.
“When I first came there, I remember meeting Bill Shoemaker and it was like meeting a movie star,” he said. “It was just a tremendous thrill and I couldn’t believe I could look over and see him sitting there in the jockey’s room.
“A week later, he was burning my neck with hot spoons, putting shaving cream in my shoes and catsup in my pockets and generally making me feel like one of the guys. I made a lot of good friends there.”