Fact Check

Dead Jockey

The story of a dead jockey and his miraculous recovery.

Published Nov. 8, 1999


Claim:   A declared-dead jockey returned to the track and shocked the grandstand crowd.


Origins:   The following news story dates from May 1936:

The horses were pounding on the back stretch at Bay Meadows. It was the third race of the day.

Suddenly Fannikins was down. The crowd gasped as Jockey Ralph Neves hit the track and lay still.

The other horses swept on as track attendants rushed to lift Neves, known as one of the toughest and most courageous riders at Bay Meadows.

There was no sign of life in the jockey, and Dr. J. A. Warburton, track physician, pronounced him dead.

In what seemed a hopeless gesture, Dr. Warburton rushed him to the track hospital and administered a shot of adrenalin, [a] powerful heart stimulant.

Twenty minutes later, in what appeared to be a miraculous recovery, Neves was sitting up and demanding that he be allowed to ride the rest of his races.

Neves, former South San Francisco caddy, is under lease to A. A. Baroni, owner of Top Row.

As wild a tale as this already is, further examination reveals even more of a story.

When Fannikins fell, she landed on Neves, causing the jockey's temporary death. (The horse was unharmed.) Not only was Neves declared dead at the track, but

at the time the adrenaline was injected into him, he was laid out and toe-tagged at a nearby hospital. His reaction to the shot was a miracle: he soon sat up, then
ran out of the facility, wearing only his riding pants and one boot. He hailed a cab and was taken back to the track.

Track patrons who had bowed their heads in prayer as the body of this 19-year-old man had been removed from the track were thus shocked by the sight of the half-dressed newly deceased running past the grandstand toward the jockeys' room. Shock turned to celebration. According to Neves, "At one point, I think everyone on the damn track was chasing me."

Neves was back in the saddle the next day to compete for a watch being awarded to the top jockey in the Bay Meadows meet. Though he didn't win any of his races on that day, the last of the meet, he did rack up enough second place finishes to capture the title and the watch.

Neves went on to ride for 28 more years after being declared dead that day in 1936.

Barbara "dead run" Mikkelson

Last updated:   19 April 2009


    Los Angeles Times.   "Rider Who Came Back to Life Feels 'Great.'"

    10 May 1936   (p. A10).

    San Francisco Chronicle.   "Pronounced Dead After Bay Meadows Spill, Jockey Revives."

    9 May 1936   (p. A1).

    Library of Curious and Unusual Facts: Shadows of Death.

    Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1992.   ISBN 0-8094-7719-X   (p. 98).

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