Jim Gaffney, the exercise rider of champions Secretariat and Riva Ridge, died the morning of June 3 at his home near Commack, Long Island, N.Y. He was 75.
“He suffered from emphysema, and it got the best of him,” said Gaffey's son Jim Gaffey Jr. “He stopped breathing in his sleep with his family at his side.
“Just five days ago, he was at Belmont Park signing autographs and getting his picture taken with the horse that was playing Secretariat in the movie that is coming out. It was a great day for him.”
Gaffney, who started in racing galloping horses at 15, got the chance of a lifetime when trainer Lucien Laurin hired him in 1972 to exercise Meadow Stable’s Secretariat, a 2-year-old at the time. Gaffney had worked for Laurin several years earlier.
Secretariat, a son of Bold Ruler, was voted Horse of the Year of 1972 and returned at 3 to sweep the Triple Crown and be voted another Horse of the Year title.
Gaffney exercised another of Laurin’s runners, champion Riva Ridge, who also raced for Meadow Stable.
Gaffney worked as a mutuel clerk for the New York tracks from 1957-2000.
In addition to his son, Gaffney’s survivors include his wife, Mary, a daughter, Desirie, and six grandchildren. Services will be held Saturday, June 5, at Christ Lutheran Church, E. Northport, Long Island.