by Joe Paschen
Arkansas native Chris Valovich, who rose up from a leading apprentice rider at Oaklawn Park in 1983 to garner more than 2,000 wins in 20 years, was cremated June 24 in Arizona after he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound four days earlier in Phoenix.
Valovich died of a gunshot wound "that has been ruled a suicide," said Henry Ferris, an investigator with the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's office.
Valovich, who would have turned 42 on Aug. 24, had not been actively riding racehorses because he tested positive for drug use in 2001. One former agent and friend, Randy Kearns, said: "Chris chose not to attend drug rehabilitation at that time. We haven't talked that much since. I'm very saddened by it all."
Valovich had since been living with former agent Ronnie Banks and wife, Nancy Banks, in Phoenix.
"Chris did not have a wife or any children, but he was always one to give of himself to others," Dale Valovich, Chris' brother, said from Phoenix. "Nancy and I talked at the funeral home (June 23) and agreed not to discuss any details relating to Chris' death. We would hope that people would understand how we feel the positives of Chris' life are not diminished by his death. I believe the Lord saw in Chris' heart a man who was meant to be saved."
The 5-foot-4-inch, 112-pound Valovich made a name for himself primarily on the Midwest circuit of Arkansas, Illinois, Minnesota, and Nebraska after a successful apprenticeship in California and his home state. From 1997 through 2001, Valovich was a consistently successful presence among top riders on the Chicago circuit that included Arlington Park, Hawthorne Race Course, and Sportsman's Park. He was the regular rider aboard multiple stakes winner Princess Elaine.
Valovich rode his first winner at Louisiana Downs July 14, 1982. Valovich's career stats, according to Equibase, show him having ridden in 14,354 races, with 2,034 wins, 1,804 seconds, and 1,663 thirds.