This Day In History: December 15

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On December 15, 1973, Sandy Hawley becomes the first jockey to win 500 races in a single year. Born in Ontario, Canada, Hawley began working at Toronto race tracks when he was a teenager. He won his first race in October 1968 at Toronto’s Woodbine race track and quickly racked up more successes, becoming North America’s leading jockey by 1970, when he won 452 races. In 1972, Hawley decided to try his luck on the Southern California race track circuit, where he would be based for the next 16 years.

Hawley achieved his historic 500th win aboard Charlie Jr., in the third race at Maryland’s Laurel Park race track on December 15, 1973. By season’s end, he had crossed the finish line first 15 more times for a total of 515 wins, smashing the previous record of 485 set by the legendary Bill Shoemaker. In 1976, Hawley was named the winner of Santa Anita Park’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Eclipse Award as the top jockey in North America.

Decorated with the Order of Canada, his native country’s highest honor, Hawley continued his stellar career throughout the 1980s and into the ‘90s. At Canterbury Downs in June 1986, he won his 5,000th career race aboard Mighty Massa, becoming the youngest jockey ever to reach that mark. Diagnosed with skin cancer in 1987 and given only months to live, Hawley successfully battled the disease and continued his racing career for another decade. He won his 6,000th race in November 1992 at the Greenwood (formerly Woodbine) track, aboard Summer Commander. Upon his retirement in July 1998, Hawley boasted 31,455 mounts and 6,449 wins (plus 4,825 second- and 4,158 third-place finishes) and a staggering total of $88,666,071 in purse earnings.

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