01/30/2011 4:23PM

Former jockey Bill Harmatz dies at 79

Former jockey Bill Harmatz, who won the Preakness Stakes in 1959, was a regular visitor to Del Mar in recent years.

Retired jockey Bill Harmatz, who won the 1959 Preakness Stakes on Royal Orbit, died on Jan. 27 of cancer at his home in Vista, Calif., according to published reports. Harmatz was 79.

A native of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Harmatz rode from 1953 to 1971, winning 1,770 races.

Harmatz lived most of his life in California, after his family relocated to the state during his childhood. Harmatz began his career at Caliente, in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1953, and rode extensively at Southern California tracks.

Harmatz had five mounts in the Kentucky Derby from 1955 to 1966, with his best result a fourth aboard Royal Orbit in 1959. In 1960, Harmatz won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, which is voted upon by jockeys in honor career achievement and character.

Harmatz won 32 stakes at Hollywood Park, 15 at Santa Anita and eight at Del Mar.

At Hollywood Park, he won the American Handicap, Los Angeles Handicap and Californian Stakes three times and was third in the Hollywood Gold Cup four times.

At Santa Anita, he won three runnings of the Santa Anita Maturity, including in 1958 on Round Table. He won the race in 1968 on Most Host when it was known as the Charles H. Strub Stakes, beating 1-5 favorite Damascus. Harmatz also won two runnings of the San Felipe Stakes, and San Gabriel Handicap, and the San Carlos and San Antonio handicaps at Santa Anita.

At Del Mar, his most prestigious wins were the 1955 Del Mar Derby on Hi Pardner and the Bing Crosby and San Diego handicaps in 1958 on How Now.

In the late 1950s, Harmatz invested in a bowling alley in Vista, Calif., and built the Vista Entertainment Center into a successful business. Harmatz was well known in Vista, in northern San Diego county, for charity work through the entertainment center.
In recent years, Harmatz was an annual visitor to the Del Mar races.

Harmatz is survived by his wife of 59 years, Connie, four children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

A memorial will be held at Vista Entertainment Center at 11 a.m. on Saturday. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Vista Rotary Foundation Polio Plus, P.O. Box, 24, Vista CA 92085.