History Lesson: Bill Boland

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Plenty of people in the Palm Coast, Florida, area know Bill Boland, and even more folks who turn up at either of The Grand Club’s Cypress Knoll or Pine Lakes golf courses know what he did in the saddle on the racetrack during the game’s halcyon days in the 1950s and 1960s.

“Oh sure, I even sign some pictures for them, give autographs, a lot know who I am,” Boland said with a laugh from his home early Tuesday afternoon.

For the 80-year-old Boland to be home at such an hour is a feat in itself, considering he works a couple days a week at the courses, manning the carts and as a starter. He still plays, Tuesday mornings, Wednesday afternoons, Thursdays and Fridays and the occasional Saturdays.

He jokes again that he’s “cutting it down to five days.” Who can blame the man who once was the contract rider for the powerful King Ranch, won 2,049 races, rode Beau Purple to three upsets of the immortal Kelso and to this day is the last apprentice to win the Kentucky Derby? That victory came aboard Middleground in 1950, when Boland was just 16 and the day after he won the Kentucky Oaks on Ari’s Mona.

Boland earned his retirement, but the competitive fire still burns.

“I shot my age the other day,” Boland said, no small feat considering the difficulty most duffers encounter trying to crack 100.

Accomplishing things at a higher level than most is nothing new to Boland, who also won the 1966 Belmont Stakes aboard Amberoid and rode the winners of such races as the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Alabama, Wood Memorial, Metropolitan, Whitney, Suburban and Santa Anita Handicap during his 20-year career as a jockey.

“When I beat them playing golf they call me a rat, a thief,” Boland chuckles once again. “I tell them I’m used to that, when I was riding they did the same thing.”

Boland still finds time between golf matches, work at the golf course and spending time with his wife of 62 years, Sandra, to catch telecasts of the spring classics and the Breeders’ Cup, along with the occasional race here and there from Gulfstream Park or Saratoga.

But mostly he’s had his fill of racing. Boland trained for nearly 20 years after he retired as a jockey in 1969 and worked as an assistant steward and patrol judge for NYRA for about 10 years.

“I had 51 years of it, that’s enough,” Boland said.

Boland did make a trip to Saratoga last summer and was in the house for the Racing Hall of Fame inductions, his first visit for that event since his own induction in 2006.

Fellow Hall of Famer H. Allen Jerkens introduced Boland at his 2006 induction and the rider who rode Beau Purple to upsets of Kelso in the 1962 Suburban and Man o’ War Handicaps and the 1963 Widener Handicap still says the day is the highlight of his career.

“I asked Allen to introduce me, he was very hesitant but he was very good,” Boland said. “I broke up, I couldn’t talk. I started off good, but had to get off the microphone.”

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a regular series designed to shed light on the rich, colorful and sometimes forgotten or ignored history of racing in North America. If you’ve got a topic that’s interesting or something you’ve always wondered about related to racing, send it to Tom Law at [email protected] and we’ll start digging.