Famed jockey Wayne Wright dies at 86
March 19, 2003
Friends and family said goodbye to a legend on Friday.
Wayne Danforth Wright, a Smith Valley resident and legendary jockey died March 11 at the age of 86.
He was admitted to the long-term wing at the Yerington hospital several days before and never awoke from an afternoon nap, family members said.
Services were held Friday at the Methodist Church in Smith Valley
Wright was born in Rexburg, Idaho to James and Alice Danforth Wright. His father died when Wayne was six.
“Daddy’s older brothers placed him on a horse called Shorty when he was just two years old,” said his son, Dan. “Shorty became his baby-sitter and Dad learned to communicate with Shorty and other horses from that time on. He and the other boys in the town would horse race each other furiously down the main street of town each trying to be the winner.”
He began racing at the fairgrounds at the age of 10. He won his first organized race in Reno on July 15, 1931, when he was 15.
A professional jockey in the 1930s and ’40s, Wright is one of the few who have won races in all three legs of the Triple Crown in different years.
Wright rode Peace Chance to victory in the 1934 Belmont Stakes when he was 17. Eight years later, he won the Kentucky Derby aboard Shut Out. In 1945, he rode Polynesian to victory in the Preakness.
“The excitement of racing and attempting to win was a challenge he could not turn down,” the younger Wright said. “Dad won the Belmont at the unheard age of 17.”
He rode 174 winners in 1934, earning $287,185. Two years later, he was again the nation’s top money winner earning $264,000 with 100 victories.
Wright rode in the Derby six times, finishing second on Brevity in 1936 and third on Whiskalo in ’35. He concluded his riding career in 1950 and then spent time training horses.
In 1956 he and his family moved to Smith Valley. His sister, the late Dorothy Swainston, called him to tell him about an 80-acre farm next to her Smith Valley property, according to family members.
After looking the property over, Wayne and his wife Nadia purchased it outright and raised alfalfa, horses and other animals. His daughter Dorothy was born in Smith Valley.
Wright is survived by his wife, Nadia, sister Mildred Howitt, sons Kenneth and Dan, daughter Dorothy Oaks and five grandchildren.