Jerry Lambert, one of California’s leading jockeys through the 1960s and ‘70s was found dead Monday morning at his place of employment, Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, Calif., by his daughter, Lacey, who is also employed at the farm.
Born in Clyde, Kansas, on Dec. 27, 1940, Lambert, 74, was best known as the regular rider of the jet-black Hall of Fame gelding Native Diver, with whom Lambert won three consecutive Hollywood Gold Cups in 1965, ’66 and ’67. “The Black Horse” as Lambert often referred to him, had a keen temperament and front-running style that was perfectly complemented by Lambert’s deft touch.
“He was a great rider,” said retired Hall of Fame jockey Donald Pierce. “I rode with him from the time he came to California in 1961 until I retired (early 1984). Anytime he was in a race, you had to deal with him because he didn’t make mistakes. He was very quiet, very low key and he’d come and beat you when you’d least expect it. He was a lot like Shoe. He was very quiet to be around and to ride with.”
Santa Anita’s leading Winter/Spring Meet rider in 1967-’68 with 77 winners in 72 days of racing, “Clyde” as he was known to his contemporaries, was also leading rider at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree Meeting in 1972 with 30 winners. Known as a great judge of pace and blessed with light hands and a cool demeanor, Lambert’s career was often stymied by his love of the outdoors, which resulted in a number of protracted absences from the saddle.
“I think maybe the best indication of how good he was, was that every time he came back, he had a lot of business,” said Pierce. “Buster Millerick (trainer of Native Diver) loved him and whenever Jerry would come back to ride, Buster put him on horses which was very unusual then, ’cause those older guys didn’t like it when you took off and were gone for a while. Most of the time, when you took off, those horses went to other jocks and that’s the way it was.”
Lambert, who was also Del Mar’s leading rider in 1967, was an integral part of one of American Racing’s all-time greatest match races, which pitted trainer A.T. “Tommy” Doyle’s Typecast against trainer Willard Proctor’s Convenience at a mile and one eighth on June 17, 1972 at Hollywood Park.
Typecast, who was ridden by Bill Shoemaker, was favored over Convenience, but Lambert, in the opinion of many observers, rode a race for the ages, enabling Convenience to prevail by a head in a $250,000 winner-take-all thriller witnessed by an on-track crowd of 53,575.
“Not too many people out-rode Shoemaker, but Jerry had him in his hip pocket that day,” said trainer Tom Proctor, who was a 16-year-old groom at the time. “He had Shoe in a bad spot going into the first turn and again when they turned for home. He had Shoe where he wanted him and he drifted out, so Shoe had to come inside. I never saw my dad get nervous, but he was that day. There were 53,000 ‘paid’ there and from the time the horses came into the old paddock in front of the grandstand, I don’t think anyone sat down. Jerry was a horse-backer and that was a big win for Glen Hill Farm.”
Lambert enjoyed a career resurgence in 1987, riding at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields for trainers such as Jack Arterburn and Jerry Dutton, but his roll was derailed when he sustained a life-threatening spill going into the far turn at Pleasanton in July, ’87, which resulted in a broken cheekbone, broken ankle and collapsed lung.
Commenting on the incident in a Los Angeles Times article on Feb. 1, 1988, veteran turf writer and handicapper Gordon Jones said, “Too bad. Jerry Lambert was riding as well as I’ve ever seen him ride, and then for that to happen…”
Lambert was a winner of the 1995 Darley Award, given annually to America’s top Arabian-bred jockey and he finished up his riding career at Los Alamitos, where he dominated the track’s Arabian-bred standings from 1994-1998.
“Jerry may’ve had the best set of hands I’ve ever seen,” said Los Al track announcer, Ed Burgart. “He sat a horse perfect and he never abused his mounts. They ran out of their minds for Jerry, he just had that magic touch.”
A winner of Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1971, Lambert, who broke his maiden on a half-mile bullring in Shelby, Montana, in 1958, won 2,535 Thoroughbred races and retired with 42 stakes wins at Santa Anita, 54 at Hollywood Park and 30 stakes triumphs at Del Mar.
Funeral services are pending.