By Maggie Van Ostrand
Mexico has produced many famous sports figures, either born in Mexico, or born to Mexican parents. I’m talking about legendary sportsmen, like champion golfer Lee Treviño; tennis whiz Pancho Gonzalez; boxer Oscar de la Hoya; Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela; futbol star Cuauhtemoc Blanco, and Major Leaguer Jorge Cantu.
Hall of Fame jockey, Ismael “Milo” Valenzuela, definitely belongs up there with the other greats named above. Though born in Texas, he had lived in Mexico with his parents till he was 14, when he returned to the United States. On September 2, 2009, he died, with words of his beloved profession on his lips.
Not once, but twice, and ten years apart, Valenzuela came close to winning Thoroughbred racing’s famed Triple Crown, when he completed the double of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, aboard Tim Tam in 1958, and aboard Forward Pass in 1968.
In addition, for over three years, Valenzuela regularly rode super horse Kelso, and the pair won 22 stakes races, to become the Number One money winner in thoroughbred racing history. Kelso won the prestigious Horse of the Year every one of those years, a feat not even the great Seabiscuit accomplished.
Valenzuela was the recipient of a prestigious award himself, named after Seabiscuit’s onetime jockey, the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, for high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the racetrack.
Milo Valenzuela won 2,545 races before retiring to his home near Santa Anita Park. On June 22, 2008, Valenzuela was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York. However, he was too ill to travel that far, and was inducted in a special ceremony held at Santa Anita Racetrack.
One of the famous horses ridden by Valenzuela was Silky Sullivan, who had a habit of coming from far behind to win. Valenzuela must have been remembering Silky, when, as he lay dying, he quipped, “I came from behind enough times, this time I am going to lose.”
Like his colleagues in other sports, Valenzuela may no longer be physically with us, but his legend will forever live.