02/26/2015 4:05PM

Hovdey: Lambert and horses were on same wavelength


Clyde was slick. Clyde was smooth. Clyde was as cool as the other side of the pillow.

If Clyde had horse, he’d never let you know. Sometimes even the horse was surprised.

How did Clyde get Native Diver to ladle out that speed? He’d talk to him, he said, “like a Philadelphia lawyer,” and Native Diver would listen.

Clyde could win from anywhere, with anything. Here’s Clyde breaking from post 18 – you heard right – in the 1969 Malibu Stakes and nursing just the right amount of speed from First Mate to reach the front, control the race, and win by three-quarters at the end.

Here’s Clyde in the first division of the 1969 San Luis Rey on Biggs, lapped on the favored Tobin Bronze and Johnny Sellers from the start and then beating them by a nose.

Here’s Clyde later that same afternoon on Quicken Tree in the second division, taking the lazy chestnut out back, where he liked to be, and then coming with a rush to win in a gallop.

Max Gluck’s Manta had never carried 129 pounds in her life, but since most of it was Clyde in a division of the 1971 Long Beach Handicap at Hollywood Park, she gave him enough to beat Swoon’s Flower and Jorge Tejeira by a nose.

And never forget, that epic 1972 Hollywood Park match race between Convenience and Typecast, in which our man undressed Bill Shoemaker for a quarter million, never would have happened if Clyde and his mare had not beaten Typecast on the square two weeks earlier in the Vanity.

Clyde was Jerry Lambert – as in his birthplace of Clyde, Kansas. He died this week, at age 74, at his home on the property of Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, Calif.

As a jockey, which he was for the better part of 40 years, Lambert was nothing less than the West’s version of Braulio Baeza. Long-backed, perfectly balanced, patient to a fault, Lambert did more doing less than most riders who seem to equate busy with better. He rode boot-to-boot against not only Shoemaker but also Don Pierce, Alvaro Pineda, Howard Grant, Laffit Pincay, Milo Valenzuela, Bill Mahorney, and Eddie Belmonte, none of them known for giving an inch out there.

The best trainers of the age tossed Lambert the reins, including Charlie Whittingham, Farrell Jones, Jim Maloney, Gordon Campbell, Bob Wheeler, and Buster Millerick, for whom he rode Native Diver 43 times. Together, Lambert and Native Diver won 23 races, all of them stakes, including those three Hollywood Gold Cups in 1965, 1966, and 1967.

It was Lambert who helped hook this racing pilgrim on the romance of the game. Nearly every Saturday afternoon – at least it seemed like that – there would be Lambert interviewed by Gil Stratton after winning another one on The Diver, explaining in his flat, Midwestern drawl just how it was pretty much as easy as it looked.

Lambert was the jockey who had to miss riding Native Diver and other choice mounts to serve his weekend hitches in the National Guard. He was the guy with the gunfighter moustache and the long dark hair that flipped out from the back of his helmet. Lambert beat Cougar with Over the Counter, Gamely with Amerigo’s Fancy, Ack Ack with Jungle Savage.

Lambert was busted up and broken a lot, but no more or less than any other jockey, and while he finally had to quit race riding, he never stopped working at something.

Magali Farm manager Tom Hudson had just finished foaling a mare Thursday morning when he paused to talk about his friend. They went back some 18 years, to the time when Hudson trained Arabians and Lambert rode them to regular success in the mid-1990s. Hudson credits Lambert with the evolution of Magali as a respected training facility for not only young horses but young riders.

“That guy had a set of hands ... man, I’m telling you,” Hudson said. “He could teach a horse with his fingertips. I’d have another rider on a horse, and the horse would have his head up, being real bad. Jerry could spot what was happening across the track. He’d get on that horse, and before they’d go one lap around the track, that horse would be melted down into the bridle, quiet as could be. He was unbelievable.

“When we’d haul horses together, I got to hear a lot of stories about the old days,” Hudson said. “He’d tell me how you were fired if you couldn’t come back and tell the trainer what every eighth-of-a-mile split was. In a race, he would know every horse coming into the final turn and whether they were going to bear out or bear in, and there would be four other great riders in the field who could do the same thing. He’d say you’d only beat those guys if they made a mistake.”

In a 2003 interview with Santa Ynez Valley Journal writer Pat Murphy, Lambert recalled his return to riding after a four-year hiatus in the 1980s.

“Everything had changed,” Lambert said. “The jockeys were coming out of the gate standing up with the reins flapping in the breeze. When I asked why, they said they thought it made the horses more relaxed. Well, I still rode down low with my reins collected so I could feel my horse’s mouth and his action. I played those reins like a piano, and I would pass them like a turpentined cat.”

It was truly beautiful music.

Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Jerry also beat Ack Ack with First Mate Hollywood Premiere late sixties. Lambert at the re-union of Hol Gold Cup winners., Pincay, Eddie D, Pierce et al , gave all the races a token in winners circle. After Joe Steiner came back with a $100 winner, Jerry " Let us know if ya have anything like that, maybe Laffit bet a couple of bob ". Joe " He's looked good in the morning ". Jerry " Now you tell us ". HoF ? Didn't go back east much! ...... On comparing 'Diver with Lava Man... Jerry " The Diver was awful fast"
Bronwyn Duffy More than 1 year ago
I ponied horses to the gate for many years and was fortunate enough to take Jerry to the gate A LOT :)...lucky me...what an honor it is to call him my friend....it was like a horse racing history lesson...every time...such an honor.... We were joking one night about my lovely pony Johnny...cuz he was a lil on the chubby side :)...Jerry said...I like a round pony...then he went on to tell me a story...he was being ponied to the gate...many a year ago...and the pony that was taking him was a little boney...hip bones a stickin out...he said the race horse he was on was being a lil rank...and swung out and then swung back hard and rammed the pony...and in the process rammed jerrys leg into the ponies hip bone...HE BROKE HIS LEG on the way to the gate...and what did he do???...he didnt say a word...he loaded into the gate...rode the race...and WON...with a freakin broken leg!!!!....he said in those days you didnt hold up a race or the older rider would kick your A** in the jocks room...Jerry Lambert...cowboy...race rider...gentleman...friend....Thank You for the memories...and all the great stories...Big Love My Friend...Bronwyn (and Johnny)
Casey Gould More than 1 year ago
Great story .
Casey Gould More than 1 year ago
Great story. Tuff , soft hands all around greatness.
Casey Gould More than 1 year ago
Jay , what does it mean my comment is awaiting moderation is it to long. I do not see any way to edit it . Thanks .
Edward Kip More than 1 year ago
Native Diver is in the Hall of Fame. Buster Millerick is in the Hall of Fame. Somebody in this Hall of Fame picture is missing. Maybe it's time, although now (and unfortunately) it will have to be posthumously, it can finally happen and give the man some well-deserved credit. Great story, Jay...R.I.P. Jerry Lambert
Karen L. Gogue More than 1 year ago
Thank you Mr. Hovdey on the lovely article in DRF on Jerry Lambert. Tears shed again this morning reading ... Jerry was one of a kind as was his beloved black Native Diver - I am truly blessed that I was there as a child to see the glory days of the Diver and Jerry ripping home under the wire. Memories that will last a lifetime. These two giants of the track ride away now, together in all their glory greeted at the pearly gates by the greats of racing's past. Memories of my heart ...
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
Thanks for the nice article and recognition for one heck of a jockey and nice guy. I met Jerry years ago at Hollywood when we shipped a horse in to race. It was early morning and I was trying to find the racing secretary's office. He was walking to a barn to work a horse, but took the time to show mw the way to the office. A gentleman for sure. R.I.P. Clyde!!!
Duane Brinson More than 1 year ago
My dad was friends with and rode with Mr. Lambert. When I was a kid at Del Mar, Jerry Lambert gave me one of his old whips.....Wasn't much to him....It was AWESOME for a 7 year old kid.....R.I.P. Mr. Lambert, you had Class...... Duane A. Brinson Key West, Fl.
Mike McCarty More than 1 year ago
He was a pretty salty bronc rider too, and could rope, as most of the Kansas-born farm boys to Race Trackers were. He rode my QH's back when it was all in the bushes and county fairs. I remember him winning almost every race at Thunderbird, [Cloud County Downs] one day in the late 60's He was a good hand with a horse. Happy Trails Jerry.
Bob Rose More than 1 year ago
Thanks Jay, Beautiful tribute to a most deserving jockey, Dad and friend.
Steve More than 1 year ago
I've never seen a cooler rider than Jerry Lambert. Nothing seemed to faze him. I used to watch him come out of the jocks room and head to the walking ring, looking as self-confident as anyone could. He made me want to be a jockey and I wanted to be just like Jerry Lambert. Didn't work out, but I sure enjoyed watching him ride