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On This Date in Sports May 8, 1936: Dead Jockey Wants to Race Again

In collaboration with the

University of Southern California. Getty Images.

It is the worst nightmare for a jockey. Getting thrown from a horse and trambled. Such incidents, rare, are often deadly at the Bay Meadows Race Track in San Mateo, California, which appeared to be when Ralph Neves was thrown from his horse Flanakins. Neves, a 19-year-old jockey, was declared dead and taken to a storage area at the track. There a friend injected him with a shot of adrenaline, reviving the jockey. Ralph Neves stumbled around and returned to the race track wanting to race again. He would go on to win over 3,000 races.  

Ralph Neves was born in Cape Cod on August 26, 1916. A cocky young rider, Neves's career was just beginning when he was riding at the Bay Meadows Race Track in San Mateo. The brash 19-year-old was riding a horse named Flanakins in a race with a $500 prize and a gold watch courtesy of Bing Crosby. Riding in fifth place, a horse on the outside broke his led running into the other horses; this caused Flanakins to throw Neves from his mount into the guardrail as other horses ran over his lifeless body. Track doctors examined Ralph Neves and declared him dead. 

Neves's death was announced to the crowd as the day of racing continued on a Friday afternoon in Northern California after a moment of silence. The track doctor J.A. Warburton and two other doctors at the race track that day. Ralph Neves was placed in the back of a truck and driven to a cool area at Bay Meadows, where he was to be kept until his body could be taken to a funeral home. A friend of Neves accompanied the body, not wanting to give up hope. He grabbed a shot of adrenaline at the assistance of Dr. Horace Stevens, reviving the "dead jockey". 

After his resurrection, a dazed Ralph Neves stumbled around and asked to return to racing. Stunned track officials would not let him race that day, but six days later won four races at the same track. Legend has changed the story and blurred the real accounts, as Neves often exaggerated the accounts in later years. His Hall of Fame plaque proclaimed that he won five races the next day. While untrue, the fact Neves lived and won four races the following week is just as remarkable. The day after his revival, the San Francisco Examiner ran the headline, "Neves, Called Dead in Fall, Denies It."

Ralph Neves went on to have a long racing career, winning 3,772 races, most of which were in California, where he was considered among the top jockeys on the West Coast. The urban legend of Ralph Neves was a great story, but the career was just as good as he went into the horse racing Hall of Fame in 1960. Upon his retirement in 1963, Neves was one of just eight riders with 3,000 wins. Ralph Neves would have likely won more races if not for having his career interrupted by injuries and World War II.