Joe Aitcheson, a legendary Racing Hall of Fame jockey regarded as one of the all-time leading steeplechase riders, died Saturday, May 24, at Carroll Hospice Dove House in Westminster, Md. He was 85.
Aitcheson rode from 1956 through 1979 and accumulated 440 victories over fences, a National Steeplechase Association record. He rode such top horses as Bon Nouvel and Tuscalee, both Hall of Fame members. He was the sport’s champion jockey a record seven times and had a record 40 wins in 1964.
Joseph Leiter Aitcheson Jr. was born July 31, 1928, in Olney, Md., the son of trainer Joseph L. Aitcheson Sr. and Lillian Roby Aitcheson.
Although raised around horses, he became a professional jockey at age 28. He attended the University of Maryland, where he played football, and served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 to 1952, during World War II and the Korean War.
He won all of the steeplechasing’s leading races, including eight editions of the Virginia Gold Cup, seven Carolina Cups, six International Gold Cups, five Temple Gwathmeys, five Noel Laings, five Midsummers, and five Manlys.
In addition to three-time champion Bon Nouvel (1964, 1965, and 1968) and all-time leading winner Tuscalee (1966), he rode champions Peal (1961), Amber Diver (1963), Top Bid (1970), and Soothsayer (1972).
New York Times columnist Red Smith once wrote that Aitcheson was “held together with bailing wire and tape” because of the numerous falls he sustained during his career. He was widely respected within the sport and was the first jockey to receive the NSA’s F. Ambrose Clark Award for meritorious service in 1976.
“I lived steeplechasing. I ate, drank, and slept it,” Aitcheson once told Daily Racing Form. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1978, a year before his retirement.
Surviving are daughter and son-in-law Jody A. and Thomas Davis of Sykesville; sister and brother-in-law Jane and Ronald Cartwright of Laurel; grandchildren Jacob Stepp of Eldersburg and Brett Davis of Sykesville; and nephews Robert Curley, Jay Curley, and Beaver Curley.
The family will receive friends on Friday, June 6, one hour prior to the start of the memorial service at 11 a.m. at Pritts Funeral Home and Chapel, 412 Washington Rd., Westminster, with Chaplain Jimmie Schwartz officiating. Interment will be private.
Memorial contributions may be made in his name to Maryland Horseman’s Assistance Fund, 500 Redland Ct., Suite 105, Owings Mills, Md. 21117 or to Carroll Hospice Dove House, 292 Stoner Ave., Westminster, Md. 21157.