Waldrep looks away, would turn away if he could.
If you can find Drummond, New Brunswick, which is not easy, then you can find Ron Turcotte. "Just ask somebody in town," he says over the phone. In Drummond (pop. 863), right across the border from Maine, the lady in the hardware store nods her head. Shifting from French to English, she says, "Big stone house." Folks can be a little hard to pin down in these parts. But, in fact, there is no other house so big as Turcotte's.
You would certainly know the house was his if you peeked inside; the walls of the hallways and the den are lined with photos of Turcotte sitting on horses in winner's circles. Turcotte had more than 3,000 winners in his 17-year career, and a good many of them are pictured in his house. It's not a museum, though. As he sails up and down the wide halls in his wheelchair on this particular day, Turcotte seems to regard the display more as a set of economic indicators. "See that?" he'll ask, pointing to a photo. "That was a $40,000 race. It's a million-dollar race today."
Only Secretariat, his Triple Crown winner in 1973, escapes Turcotte's inflation index. Stopping before the colt's photo, blown up extra large, he simply says, "The big horse."
Turcotte will forever be associated with Secretariat, but it was Flag of Leyte Gulf that changed his life. In 1978 in a race at Belmont Park, the 5-year-old filly was knocked off balance when Small Raja, ridden by Jeff Fell, drifted to the outside, crowding another horse and making Flag tumble when she clipped both horses' heels. Turcotte was flung over Flag's head and landed first on his head and then on his back. As soon as he hit the track he knew he was in trouble. When the outrider reached him, Turcotte said, "Don't touch me, there's something wrong." Indeed, Turcotte's back was broken, and he was paralyzed from the chest down.
Today he harbors no bitterness against Fell. "He might have been careless in his ride," Turcotte says, "but I've been careless in rides, too, and caused spills. It was an accident, just that." The $105-million lawsuit Turcotte filed in 1979 against the New York Racing Association, which was eventually dismissed, is not evidence of bitterness either, he says. Turcotte never expected much of the suit, and after he filed it he still went to the track every day.
"We've never even talked about the accident," Turcotte says. He hollers over to his wife, Gaetane, who is reading the newspaper in the kitchen. "Have we ever talked about the accident?"
"No," she says, "I guess there's plenty else to talk about."
In the same way that he doesn't look back, Turcotte never looks ahead. His getting into horse racing was as unpremeditated as his getting out. In 1960, while he was living in a Toronto boarding-house and waiting for a carpenters' strike to end so he could get work as a roofer, he saw his first Kentucky Derby on television. One of the men watching the race with him turned to the 5'1" Turcotte and said, "Hey, you ought to be a jockey." Turcotte wondered what a jockey was, and the fellow boarder said, "One of them boys in the white pants." Turcotte evidently liked the idea. He visited a track for the first time, and within 14 months he had his first ride. In 1962 he was the leading rider in Canada.
But racing was always kind of a lark for Turcotte. He loved it, no question. Yet when he can be provoked to take a trip down memory lane, he talks of the monthlong stay he made every season at Saratoga Springs, N.Y. "It was just like a big picnic, a place you could bring the family," he says. "The saddling enclosure was under the trees, and you would walk right among the crowd. And after my morning exercise I might take an hour fishing in a stream or lake alongside the road on my way home. After racing, if I felt like fishing, I'd stop back. You could ride horses through the trails of the Adirondacks, eat dinner at different farmhouses with friends. I always rode more horses there and felt the most refreshed." Now he thinks he might have taken all that for granted.