Bill Boland is one of only two apprentice jockeys to win Run for the Roses.

Bill Boland is one of only two apprentice jockeys to win Run for the Roses.


Hall of Fame 2006: Jockey Bill Boland

Higher Ground
In 1950, Bill Boland became part of Kentucky Derby history when he rode Middleground to victory and became just the second apprentice jockey to win the famed race. Only 16 at the time, he also won the Kentucky Oaks aboard Ari's Mona the day before.

The only other apprentice to capture the Run for the Roses is Ira "Babe" Hanford, who won in 1936 aboard Bold Venture, the sire of Middleground. Hall of Fame trainer Max Hirsch gave a leg up to both young jockeys.

Now, 56 years after winning the greatest American race, Boland, 73, is a member of the Hall of Fame.

"That is the ultimate," said Boland, who was unaware he was under consideration. "It is the highest honor you can receive."

After his Derby victory, the apprentice piloted King Ranch's Middleground to a second-place finish in the Preakness and a victory in the Belmont Stakes.

"I was on such a roll at the time," Boland said about winning the Derby. "The week before, I won the Gallant Fox, and the Friday before, I won the Oaks. I was on such a roll that I didn't really think that much about it. It was just another race."

He would have Triple Crown success again 16 years later when he won the Belmont aboard Amberoid in 1966. During his career, he rode 2,049 winners from 17,233 mounts that earned $14.8 million.

Boland began riding for King Ranch in 1947, after his mother, who worked in a diner, told customer J.K. Northway, the ranch's head veterinarian, that her son had experience exercising horses. Boland first worked with horses when he was seven, caring for the cowboys' ponies at local rodeos near Corpus Christi, Texas.

Although he was born July 16, 1933, Boland told his King Ranch employees he was born in 1932, and in 1948, at the age of 14, he rode in his first race. His first victory came May 13, 1949, at Belmont Park on Safe Arrival.

"I forged my birth certificate, so they thought I was older," he said laughingly. "I rode a couple of races at 15, which was against New York state law, but they didn't know.

"Four or five years later, I bought an annuity in California and Max Hirsch was my guardian, so he had to sign for it, and he found out my age. He was mad because he could have gotten in trouble."

One of the most memorable races of Boland's career came in a race he didn't win: the 1959 Kentucky Derby. Boland, who rode second-place finisher Sword Dancer, lodged a complaint against winner Tomy Lee and rider Bill Shoemaker for interference, but it was disallowed.

"I wish I would have won; it took me six months to get over that one," Boland said. "You get beat by a nose for the biggest race of the year, you know it's tough. That was my biggest low of racing."

In 1959, he received the George Woolf Memorial Award "for outstanding contributions to Thoroughbred racing," and he still considers that one of his highest achievements.

Among his other memorable mounts was Beau Purple, who defeated the mighty Kelso three times, winning the 1962 Suburban Handicap, 1962 Man o' War Stakes, and the 1963 Widener Handicap.

"He beat Kelso, and he might have beat Secretariat if it came up right for him," Boland said. "(Kelso) was the king and anytime you beat the king, you knew you did something good."

Beau Purple was trained by Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, who has remained a close friend of Boland's.

"It's a funny thing about him--even when he started riding he didn't have to go through the things most younger riders have to go through," Jerkens said. "He was cool under fire and didn't seem to get flustered."

In one of life's funny quirks, Boland rode Kelso in the gelding's final start at Hialeah in 1966. The trainer who gave him his leg up was none other than fellow new Hall of Famer Carl Hanford, the brother of Derby-winning Ira.

Boland trained horses for 18 years after retiring as a jockey, and then spent 10 years as an assistant steward and a patrol judge for the New York Racing Association. Now living in Florida, he loves to play golf. He celebrated his 55th wedding anniversary with wife Sandra July 25. They raised two daughters, Sharon and Cynthia, and after Cynthia, her husband Bruce Sheringham, and their daughter Ellie were killed in a tragic fire, Boland raised his other granddaughter, Jennifer, who was the only survivor.

Jerkens summed up Boland's induction best by saying, "It is so wonderful because it looked like it had passed him by. For him to get in is just great."