LOS ANGELES — Ray York, who won the 1954 Kentucky Derby aboard Determine at age 20 and rode in a record seven consecutive decades, has died. He was 86.
Michael McKay, his longtime girlfriend, said he died Sunday after a year-long struggle with pneumonia at an extended care facility near Bakersfield, California.
York rode Determine to victory in the 1954 Santa Anita Derby before they teamed to win the Kentucky Derby by 1 1/2 lengths. It was York’s only win in five Derby mounts. He was nearly unseated when Timely Tip made an abrupt left turn coming out of the starting gate and clipped heels with Determine.
York and Determine also won the 1955 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita. Determine went on to a successful stallion career, siring 1962 Kentucky Derby winner Decidedly.
In York’s only appearance in the Preakness Stakes, he finished 10th aboard Armageddon in 1952.
York, a native of Gloucester, Massachusetts, began his career in 1949. He won 3,082 races and had career earnings of $14,206,054, according to Equibase. He was considered one of the top riders of his era, which included such Hall of Famers as Bill Shoemaker, Eddie Arcaro, Bill Hartack, Johnny Longden, Don Pierce and Milo Valenzuela.
“He loved racing so much and all the people he had known over the years,” McKay said. “Ray was so much fun, always laughing and always talking.”
She said the couple traveled extensively to China and Europe before York’s health declined.
York spent much of his career in California before retiring in 1992.
He won 26 stakes races at Santa Anita, including his second Santa Anita Derby in 1959 aboard Silver Spoon, a Hall of Fame filly. He won the 1964 Hollywood Gold Cup with Colorado King. York was Del Mar’s leading rider in 1957, 1962 and ’64. He shifted his base to Turf Paradise in Phoenix in the late 1960s, and won seven races there in one day in 1970.
York returned to the saddle one final time at age 66 to ride Culebra to a 10th-place finish in a claiming race at Santa Anita on Jan. 13, 2000, becoming the first jockey to ride in seven decades. Before then, he hadn’t ridden in a race since 1992.
“I rode better than the horse ran,” York told the Los Angeles Times afterward.
Culebra was trained by Henry Moreno, who died Sunday, the same day as York.
Besides his girlfriend, York is survived by three children from his first marriage: daughter Bonnie Wunner and sons Ray Jr. and Jeff.
Funeral services will be March 7 in Taft, California.