Hall of Fame jockey Albert Johnson’s sister, Helen, was the region’s best relay rider in the 1920s, regularly defeating men at the Spokane Interstate Fair and elsewhere.
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According to retired jockey Fred Lambert, Playfair’s five-furlong track was egg-shaped, not oval. “The first turn was tighter than the stretch turn,” he said, “although it was only apparent from the air.”
Jerry Pruitt and Akifumi Kato, both still active, are the only riders with four wins in the Playfair Mile. Bud Simonis lost a fourth win when Just Like Ed was disqualified in 1966.
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1955 jockey champion Don Pierce became a standout rider in Southern California. He is one of four Playfair alumni who has won the coveted George Woolf Award.
Hall of Fame jockeys Earl Sande, Ralph Neves and Gary Stevens, believed by many to have ridden by Playfair, apparently did not. There’s no record of Sande or Neves competing here. Stevens was not old enough when his brother, Scott, accepted mounts in 1978.
Margaret Paine, grandmother of The Spokesman-Review publisher Stacey Cowles, was the 1925 Spokane Derby queen.
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Four-time champion Tim McCanna has been the dominant trainer since Emerald Downs opened in 1996. McCanna, whose father, Dan, won two titles here, owns 10 championships at the Seattle-area track.
E.A. “Sleepy” Armstrong had a storied career with horses. He starred as relay rider at Northwest fairs and, as a trainer, launched the career of the great jockey Johnny Longden and saddled many horses at Playfair for his nephew, standout breeder-owner Herb Armstrong of Harrington, Wash.
H.R. “Hump” Roberts only won two training titles but he finished second five times. From Woodinville, Wash., Roberts served six years as president of the state breeders association.
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In 1889, Montana-bred Spokane won the Kentucky Derby. Fans from this city presented his owners with a blanket periodically displayed at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture.