Ron Burrell, Owner of Captain Ron’s Fishing in Port McNeill, has been riding and racing horses his whole life. “I rode my first horse on a farm in Saskatchewan,” Burrell said in an interview via Email. “It was a rather large work horse where I would put some feed on the ground, and when he put his head down I climbed up his neck and rode around the farm. Soon enough I got to the point where standing on his back was easy to do.”
He was hooked from that point on. He left home at the age of 14 and went to Edmonton, Alberta where there was “horse racing nine months a year between Edmonton and Calgary. Being a little fella myself, I saw Jockeys were small like I was, and I knew I wanted that life.”
Burrell started cleaning stalls, which was the bottom of the barrel, for around six months before he finally got to ride a thoroughbred. “It was like riding a stick of dynamite that could blow up at any point,” Burrell said, adding that “Within a few months I became a gallop boy who just galloped the horses as they trained.”
After riding many different horses from various stables at Northlands Park in Edmonton for a couple years, Burrell learned how to leave the starting gate. “When I passed the working tests I received an apprentice licence, which means anyone that rides as an apprentice gets 10 lb’s off the weight assigned to the horse. After 10 rides it changes to a 5 lb weight allowance. That is the benefit for riding as a bug boy. I had that weight allowance for one full year.” After his apprenticeship ended, Burrell competed as a journeyman rider where he had an agent hustling to book him mounts. The agent “got 25 per cent off the top,” said Burrell.
As the years past on by, Burrell rode in many big races, with the most well known being the Canadian Derby, which back then was for a $100,000 purse, but now is $200,000. He also rode in the USA for three years with good success, adding that he “won many Stake Races on some very nice horses everywhere I rode.”
When it came to other famous jockeys he’s been acquainted with over the course of his racing career, Burrell mentioned that he met “Ron Turcotte in Edmonton. Also his brothers Roger, Rudy and Yves, whom I rode with in Alberta for many years.”
Turcotte, a retired Canadian Thoroughbred race horse jockey who’s best known as the rider of Secretariat and winner of the U.S. Triple Crown in 1973, was “a great guy.”
He also got to meet “The greatest of the great, Bill Shoemaker. We met in Winnipeg. He was on his world retirement tour and we stayed at the same hotel, had drinks and supper together along with his agent. I had just won a $75,000 race, and Bill wanted to talk about that. We told some stories and it was a great moment.”
Shoemaker, a legendary American jockey from Texas, held the world record for total professional jockey victories for 29 years, and won eleven Triple Crown races over the course of his four decade long career.
Reflecting on his riding career overall, Burrell noted that he “was lucky enough to win 657 races with 70 being Stake and Handicaps,” adding that he also “won more trophies than I can remember.”
After Burrell finished his career as a successful jockey in 2005, he then made the transition into training Thoroughbreds. Burrell also pointed out that over the course of his decades long riding career, he had “nine major accidents while on horseback. Three broken collarbones, 7 broken ribs, broke both my legs, one ankle” and the most serious of all “a shattered face that kept me out for one year, plus a few cracked vertebras.”
Burrell said that his favourite thing about riding was “the power of the horses who are the real stars of racing,” adding that “No horses I raced ever had a bad test” and that “Every winner is tested for drugs. I am most proud of that.”