07/20/2012 2:43PM

Fort Erie: Daniel David back in the saddle after one-year hiatus

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FORT ERIE, Ontario – One of the most dangerous places in horse racing is the starting gate, where high-spirited horses are ready to spring when the bell rings. Just after entering the gate for the final race Tuesday, jockey Daniel David’s horse reared, and crushed his leg against the stall.

The gate crew worked feverishly to free horse and rider. David fell to the ground in obvious pain and then awaited the ambulance. Fortunately, the damage was not severe and David is looking forward to being back in the saddle this coming Sunday. David, 48, just recently decided to start riding again after sitting out the 2011 season.

“My goal of becoming a jockey began at the age of 9 when I watched my uncle, Ron Turcotte, ride Secretariat to win the 1973 Triple Crown,” said David.

David remembers his teenage summers when he would leave Montreal for the summer months and travel to Woodbine. There, he would walk hots and do every other chore one could imagine except ride horses.

“Carl Chapman was one of many mentors in those learning years and he was often like a father figure to me,” said David. “My uncle Yves Turcotte, also a jockey, kept an eye on me. I put in time with the likes of Tino Attard, Sheldon Wolfe, and Jimmy Day. Sam-Son Farm at times became home and that is where I learned to break babies.”

It was not until 1984 that David finally acquired his jockey’s license. Now it was time to find horses to ride and for the young apprentice another struggle began.

“Bill Edmiston had four babies set to go, but although I galloped them and prepared them to race, the stewards would not let me ride a 2-year-old,” said David. “Then out of the blue, I had a call to ride a Quarter Horse in the Maple Leaf Derby at Picov [now Ajax] Downs. They paid for my license. Two days later, I had my first win.”

David explained how he would travel back and forth between Ajax and Toronto, riding both breeds. That year he rode in 61 Quarter Horse races, winning 34.

“Wow, that was some year,” said David, as he smiled at the memory. “Then in the spring of 1985, the Thoroughbred wins began and I was the leading apprentice that year. I lost my bug [apprentice allowance] in 1986.”

In 1989 David was diagnosed with diabetes and his life journey changed. He learned to adapt and by the summer of 1991, he was back in top form.

“In 1997 a nurse specializing in sugar diabetes taught me the absolute correct way to manage my insulin,” said David, “and ever since then, it has gone as well as could be expected.”

Still recognized by fellow jockeys as a top rider, a relaxed David, single, now lives in Ridgeway, Ontario, and is sad to think that this might be the final year for the Fort Erie track.

“I love this place, I love the track,” said David, who has 1,238 career victories. He has 1 win from 20 mounts thus far this year.

Now recovering from that gate incident last week, he is looking forward to being back in the saddle this coming Sunday.