|Birth date||December 24, 1935|
|Death date||May 26, 1975|
|Career wins||Not found|
|Major racing wins, honours & awards|
|Major racing wins|
Narragansett Special (1953)|
Kentucky Oaks (1954)
Adirondack Stakes (1955)
Metropolitan Handicap (1955)
Schuylerville Stakes (1955)
Bowie Handicap (1956)
Grey Lag Handicap (1958)
Bewitch Stakes (1972)
|United States Champion Jockey by wins (1952)|
|Anthony DeSpirito Stakes at Suffolk Downs|
Anthony "Tony" DeSpirito (December 24, 1936 - May 26, 1975) was an American Champion jockey in Thoroughbred horse racing who skyrocketed to fame when he won a national riding title in 1952 as an apprentice in his first full year of racing.
Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Tony DeSpirito was the son of a millworker who left school at an early age to work as an exercise rider at Rockingham Park in Salem, New Hampshire. There are conflicting newspaper reports as to his birth year but the United States Social Security Death Index records him as being born in 1935.
Tony DeSpirito rode his first race as a professional apprentice jockey in 1951 at Naragansett Park Racetrack in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
In 1952, Tony DeSpirito began his record-setting year well behind other American jockeys in races won as he did not get his first win until January 22 at Sunshine Park in Oldsmar, Florida. He then began winning at a tremendous pace and would have several racedays with multiple victories. During the week of June 6-13, three times Despirito rode four winners on a single racecard at Suffolk Downs. At Rockingham Park he rode six winners on August 21, 1952. He won six races again at Rockingham on October 10, 1953. On November 29, 1952, he rode five winners on a single card at Lincoln Downs in Rhode Island. By December, he was in a position to challenge the world record for wins in a year. That month he rode in Florida and when the tracks there closed on Sunday, he flew to Cuba and won three races on December 28th at Oriental Park Racetrack. On December 30, 1952 he rode his 389th winner at Tropical Park Race Track in Coral Gables, Florida, breaking the record for most wins in a single year set by Walter Miller in 1906. DeSpirito ended the year with 390 wins from 1,474 mounts, a 26% win rate.
In 1953, Tony DeSpirito continued winninng at a high rate but was involved in the first of four very serious accidents that would profoundly affect his career and see the media dub him the "hard luck jockey." Despite time lost as a result of his 1953 accident, he still finished the year with 311 wins but was well behind Bill Shoemaker who smashed Despirito's record with 485 wins.
On November 1, 1953, Tony DeSpirito married Doris De Christoforo in a church ceremony in Revere, Massachusetts.
Tony DeSpirito won the 1954 Kentucky Oaks aboard the Maine Chance Farm filly, Fascinator. In his only Kentucky Derby appearance, he finished 13th in the 1954 edition aboard the Maine Chance colt, Black Metal. During 1954, DeSpirito battled with riding greats Avelino Gomez and Bill Shoemaker for top jockey honors in the United States and by July 10 had taken over the lead with 176 wins. However, in August Shoemaker took the lead and maintained it for the rest of the year.
On September 18, 1955, Tony DeSpirito suffered a traumatic brain injury in a racing accident at New York's Aqueduct Racetrack. He returned to racing in January 1956 and in May was hurt again in an accident at Laurel Park Racecourse and had to undergo surgery to remove a damaged kidney and spleen.
Henry Wajda's heroism
On June 30, 1960, Tony DeSpirito would come close to losing his life in a racing mishap at Suffolk Downs. After being bumped off his saddle in the first turn, he was left dangling from one stirrup and clinging to the horse's neck. Described by the Jockeys' Guild as "one of the most heroic feats ever seen in American racing history," jockey Henry Wajda galloped up beside DeSpirito's horse and reached over with his left hand to lift him back up and into the saddle. Tragically, Henry Wajda lost his own life following a racing accident at Rockingham Park on July 29, 1973.
Tony DeSpirito continued to ride until April 1973 after which he went to work as a track patrol judge at the Naragansett Park racetrack. On May 26, 1975, thirty-nine-year-old Tony DeSpirito was found dead in his Riverside, Rhode Island apartment. Police ruled out foul play and the coroner's report found he had choked to death.
- Web reprint of a November 13, 1998 article by Paul Daley from The Lowell Sun titled "DeSpirito Lives"