04/07/2015 2:33PM

Oaklawn honors former jockey/trainer Kurinec


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Oaklawn welcomed an old friend back to the winner’s circle last week when 98-year-old former jockey and trainer Frank A. Kurinec was part of a race presentation April 1. Kurinec has resided at an assisted-living facility in Hot Springs in the seven years since a car accident forced him to give up his position working one of the gaps as a spotter for clockers during morning training hours at Oaklawn.

The car that hit Kurinec on his way to work robbed him of his ability to walk on his own and some of his sight, but not of his memories of a lifetime in racing. Kurinec, a native of St. Louis, said that when he was about 14 or 15, a fireman in town asked him if he ever thought about becoming a jockey. They were near Fairmount Park.

“He went over and got me a job, and I’ve been on the racetrack ever since,” said Kurinec.

Kurinec began race riding at 16 or 17 and competed for four years starting out in New Orleans. He then turned to training and raced at Oaklawn as well as a host of other jurisdictions, including Kentucky, where at Keeneland in 1960 he won the Lafayette Stakes with Sal’s Beau for longtime client Harold Florsheim. Through the years, Kurinec befriended a host of prominent players in the business, including Lucien Lauren, the trainer of Secretariat.

“We rode together,” Kurinec said. “Lucien and I were very, very close.”

Kurinec also played a key role in the career of jockey Carroll Bierman, who won the 1940 Kentucky Derby with longshot Gallahadion. Bierman was also a founding member of the Jockeys’ Guild. 

“I taught him how to ride,” Kurinec said of the jockey from the same region as Kurinec. 

Kurinec also recalls a young Charles Cella, now the president of Oaklawn.

“I knew Charles when he was a kid,” he said. 

Kurinec, whose beloved wife died decades ago, has no real contemporaries around anymore.

“There’s only two of us left here, the racetrack and myself,” he said of his era at Oaklawn.