Ken Church was a champion jockey who won 2,000 races over the course of a long career in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. He finished his career with an impressive 110 Stakes winners. He rode in the Kentucy Derby six times, finishing as high as fourth.
Born in Windsor on March 24, 1930, Church attended J. E. Benson Elementary School and W. D. Lowe Vocational School.
Church became interested in horses at the age of 14, when his girlfriend’s father introduced him to some harness horses that he raced at various area fairs. In 1946, the same man bought Church a pony and invited him to ride it for show at various county fairs. Later in the year, Church found work as a “pony boy” at the Devonshire Riding Academy, where he led visitors on trail rides.
Soon, Church was introduced to competitive racing when Tom Graham of Kenilworth Racetrack, then located across the street from Devonshire Riding Academy, signed him to his first jockey contract. Church was employed as an exercise rider at Toronto’s Old Woodbine Track.
The following year, Church was scouted the Harry Trotsek, a famous American trainer. Trotsek signed him to an apprentice contract, and soon put Church to work riding in his series of “Novice” races for jockeys at the Detroit Fairgrounds. On July 12, 1947, Church rode his first winner, a horse named “Pug.”
In 1948, Trotsek sold Church’s contract to a trainer named John Hart, who took him outside of Detroit to race at major American tracks like Lexington, Kentucky and Rockingham Park in New England. In his first year of elite competition, Church rode greater than 50 winners and finished in the top three over 150 times.
Church returned to the Detroit Fairgrounds in 1949, when Trotsek bought back his contract. He enjoyed a successful campaign, winning two big Stakes races and 149 others.
In 1950, Church left Detroit for a second time to race exclusively on the USA Major Circuit. He won several big Stakes races at Chicago’s Arlington Park and participated in races at famous tracks like Keeneland in Lexintgon, Kentucky and Hialeah, Florida. Church raced in the Kentucky Derby, finishing fourth aboard “Oil Capitol” in a race won by “Middleground.” That year, Church placed fourth among all U.S. jockeys with 212 wins.
One year, Church had the most winners of any jockey on the Florida circuit, which consisted of Hialeah, Gulfstream, and Tropical Park. Church bested notable jockeys like Eddie Arcaro, Walter Blum, Ted Atkinson, and the Canadian Hedley Woodhouse.
Church ranked among the top-ten highest earning jockeys for six years in the 1950s.
In 1960, Church rode “Rocky Royale” to victory at Toronto Woodbine in the Canadian Championship Stakes. Church considers it his favourite ever win.
In 1964, about “Mr. Consistency,” Church won the Santa Anita Handicap, then considered the toughest race to win on the circuit aside from the Kentucky Derby.
Church spent the last five years of his career riding in California – particularly Santa Anita and Hollywood Park in Los Angeles and Del Mar in San Diego. He retired from racing in 1967.
Over the course of his career, Church raced 14,000 times, winning 2,000 races and finishing in the top three on 5,000 occasions.
In 1950, Church received Special Commendation from the State of Illinois for an act of heroism performed on the track. During a race at Chicago’s Arlington Park, he rescued Wendel Eads, a fellow rider, from a potentially fatal injury. Eads’ horse stumbled rounding the first turn, unseating him from the saddle. His left stirrup rose over to the right side of the horse, leaving him hanging by his feet and about to be dragged around the track. Church, who was luckily nearby, was somehow able to reach Eads with his left arm, lifting him back onto his horse while both animals were still in motion. The two riders were able to complete the race, with Church finishing second. It was the most noteworthy second-place finish of his incredible career.