Ron Turcotte: No Derby Day for me

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The jockey who rode Secretariat to the Triple Crown says he's skipping the Kentucky Derby on Saturday after being snubbed by the track's management.

Ron Turcotte, the paralyzed Hall of Fame rider, said Wednesday he couldn't get a parking spot during his last Derby Day visit to Churchill Downs, and then couldn't even get into the track to watch last year's race.

The two-time Derby winner said he was so disgusted by how he was treated that he decided not to attend the 140th Run for the Roses.

"I just couldn't believe that they would treat people like that," he said in a phone interview.

Turcotte was paralyzed in a riding accident in 1978.

On Derby Day last year, Turcotte said, he was forced to park in a neighborhood lot near the track. Adding to the insult, he later was unable to gain entrance into Churchill Downs to watch the Derby, he said.

The year before, he was at Churchill for the filming of a documentary and initially was denied parking assistance by the track, he said. The film crew ended up paying for a handicapped accessible spot in a track parking lot, he said.

"What I can see about the management of Churchill Downs right now, it's all for money and they're not at all for horsemen or horses," Turcotte said. "It don't make sense anymore. We're a long way from the golden era that I rode."

Churchill Downs rushed to quell the Derby-week controversy involving a beloved jockey.

Track spokesman John Asher said any snub was the result of a "communication breakdown" and promised the track will "fix it."

Churchill has provided a parking pass for Turcotte since 2012, he said.

"There was certainly nothing intentional in any way, any slight toward Ron Turcotte, who is a valued and treasured member of the Kentucky Derby family," Asher said.

Asher called it a "significant issue" and said track officials would contact Turcotte to assure him that any slights would never happen again.

"We just regret incredibly that he's upset with the situation," he said. "We've obviously fallen short somewhere. Clearly his feelings have been hurt and clearly he feels like we don't value him. That's not the truth. But I might think the same thing if I was in his spot."

Turcotte won the Derby twice, aboard Riva Ridge in 1972 and Secretariat the following year.

The controversy surfaced when Turcotte wrote to Rick Porter, who posted the ex-jockey's comments online. Porter owned the ill-fated Eight Belles, the filly that was euthanized on the track after breaking both of her front legs following a second-place finish in the 2008 Derby.

Turcotte wrote that Churchill Downs management knew in advance that he would be at the Derby the past two years, "yet never made an effort to offer one shred of hospitality or professional courtesy."

Turcotte said he enjoys meeting with race fans, but said the "inaction" by Churchill had tarnished his memories of the track.

"Being confined to a wheelchair since my racing accident in 1978, it is no easy feat to maneuver through the crowds that attend the Derby festivities," he wrote. "It becomes a nearly impossible task when there is virtually no assistance from the track."

Porter wrote in an online posting about his own difficulties in obtaining tickets to watch one of his horses race at Churchill Downs on Friday, and in getting Derby tickets last year for four World War II veterans who were part of the D-Day invasion.

"What is wrong with this management group?" Porter wrote. "No wonder racing is on the decline."