The Jockey Who Just Wouldn’t Die

Surprisingly, there’s more fact than fiction to the tall tale about a jockey who was killed in a fall, came back from the dead, and won five races the next day.

[Top image: Spirit Halloween]

Like many 19-year-olds, jockey Ralph Neves thought he was invincible…even after he died. In a 1936 race at California’s Bay Meadows, his horse Fannikins fell on him and he was trampled by four other horses. The track doctor pronounced him dead on the scene.

Racing lore goes that Neves was transported to a hospital, where doctors unsuccessfully tried to revive him. Dr. Horace Stevens, a friend of Neves, visited him at the morgue and made a last-ditch effort to bring him back, injecting Neves  with adrenaline straight to the heart, Pulp Fiction style. No luck. Neves, a firecracker of a jockey who was known as “The Portugese Pepperpot” and “wilder than a peach orchard boar” appeared to be really, truly dead.

Until a few minutes passed, and  Neves lurched off the table,  stumbling along in just breeches, one boot and his toe tag. Somehow, he caught a cab to the track. He made his way to the jockeys’ room, where fellow jockeys were starting up a collection for Neves’ widow, and demanded to ride in the next race, insisting that he “didn’t feel dead.” The track stewards wouldn’t allow it, but Neves went on to win his five races the next day, collecting $500 and a gold watch as a prize.

So that’s the story. And according to Snopes and the L.A. Times, much of it is true.

Ralph Neves was dead, that’s for sure, but it’s uncertain exactly who gave him an adrenaline shot and whether it was at the hospital or at the morgue. Also, Neves did not win any of his five races the next day, but he had enough second and third-place finishes to qualify for the $500 prize and watch.

Neves went on to ride for 28 more years, racking up more injuries, vision problems and multiple suspensions for “careless riding.” Despite his reckless style (or perhaps because of it) he finished his racing career with 3,772 wins, including 173 stakes, and was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame in 1960. He died in his sleep at age 78 in 1995…and has stayed that way since.

Go Riding.

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