Steeplechase legend Joe Aitcheson dead at 85

Joe Aitcheson aboard Tuscalee at Delaware Park in 1967 (Delaware Park photo)

Joe Aitcheson aboard Tuscalee at Delaware Park in 1967 (Delaware Park photo)

Joe Aitcheson, the all-time leader in steeplechase wins by a jockey and a 1978 Hall of Fame inductee, died Saturday at Carroll Hospice Dove House in Westminster, Md. He was 85.

The native Marylander won a record 440 American jump races. He won seven seasonal championships and rode at or near the top of the game from 1956 through 1979. He partnered with fellow Hall of Fame member Mikey Smithwick to win some of the sport’s most important races and guided such standout horses as Top Bid, Soothsayer and Tuscalee to major wins. Other top mounts included champions Bon Nouvel, Amber Diver and Peal.

Aitcheson won the Virginia Gold Cup a record eight times and won the Carolina Cup seven times. He was America’s leading jump jockey in 1961, 1963, 1964 and 1967 through 1970. He won a record 40 races in 1964 and topped 35 on three other occasions. In 1963, he rode 181 races, easily the highest total in history.

Pimlico Race Course held a steeplechase named for Aitcheson for several years and he presented the trophy. In 1976, the National Steeplechase Association presented Aitcheson with its highest honor, the F. Ambrose Clark Award.

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