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Hall-of-Fame Jockey Earlie Fires Retires

Churchill Downs Communications | 03/03/2009 #
  • Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires' final mount, Frank Calabrese's Manchu Prince, breaks from the starting gate in the fifth race at Arlington Park on Sept. 21, 2008.

Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires hung up his tack Sunday after guiding Frank C. Calabrese’s Manchu Prince to a fifth-place in the fifth race at Arlington Park, where he is the track’s all-time leading rider with 2,886 victories at the suburban Chicago racecourse.

According to figures from Equibase Company, Fires, 61, retires with 6,470 tallies, placing him ninth on the all-time list of the sport’s winningest riders. After more than 43 years in the saddle, Fires’ mounts have earned $86,392,977.

Fires was greeted in the winner’s circle for the final time by members of his family, fellow jockeys and members of the Arlington Park staff, including chairman emeritus Richard L. Duchossois.

“I wanted to retire on my terms,” said Fires. “I don’t have any regrets. I will miss the Illinois people, especially at Arlington Park. This crowd has always been a good crowd and I love that more than anything in the world. I’m going to travel but I’ll still be around to visit.”

Duchossois added that an Earlie Fires Day will be held at Arlington Park during the 2009 season which starts on May 1.

A native of Rivervale, Arkansas, Fires took out his jockey’s license in 1964 and won his first race on March 6, 1965, at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas aboard a horse named Carnation Kid. Fires went on to become the nation’s leading apprentice rider that season with 224 victories.

Coming to Chicago a short time later, Fires became a mainstay on the circuit, garnering six Arlington Park titles (1966, 1969 [tie], 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1984) as well as multiple riding crowns at Hawthorne Race Course.

He also was leading rider at Hialeah Park, Gulfstream Park, Calder Race Course, Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Miles Park, and he has the distinction riding in five different decades – capturing riding titles in four of those.

Fires’ peers voted for him to receive the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1991 and he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame at Saratoga in 2001.