It's been almost 40 years since 22-year-old Jimmy Sorenson lit up the tote board under a star-lit sky at Assiniboia Downs.
Patrons in attendance on the evening of Wednesday, June 23, 1976 will not soon forget the riding exhibition put on by the young man from Minnesota. On this evening Sorenson hit the winner's circle a record setting seven times on the nine race card.
Sorensen's record has stood the test of time and this June 23 marks its 39th anniversary. Frankly, it's a record that is in no real danger of being broken anytime soon, but more on Jim's accomplishment in a moment.
Many race goers will recall Sorensen's feat of June 23, 1976, but few could tell you much about the jockey who hails from south of the border. So who was Jim Sorenson?
Well, I can't tell you a lot because there aren't many people around these days who knew him. In 1973 the 19-year-old got his start in the business in Phoenix. He came by his talent naturally. His father, Dennis "Dinky" Sorenson rode in western Canada and trained at the Downs. It was a chance meeting between Sorensen and our own Clayton Gray in the winter of 1975-76 that laid the foundation for his sojourn to Assiniboia Downs for the 1976 meet.
As a youth Sorensen spent a lot of time around the race track, but all things considered, he got a late start in the riding game. Dad was fine with his son following in his footsteps, Mom, not so much. She would have preferred almost any other profession for her son.
The only person I could find who could tell me firsthand about Sorensen, not surprisingly, was Downs' all-time leading trainer Gary Danelson. Danelson described the young rider as a nice kid who came from a good family. As for his chosen profession, Danelson said Sorensen was a good, capable rider who rode first call for him in 1976.
Now back to the record-setting performance of 1976. The previous record was six wins on an eight race card, and it was held by Downs' six-time leading jockey and a name you've read here many time, Bobby Stewart. Stewart's wins occurred five years earlier on June 16, 1971.
But they say, and haven't you always wondered who "they" are, records are made to be broken. But Sorensen's seven win performance was special! Of his seven victories only one, Simons Sword, went to post as the race favourite, and he was better than even money. His mount in the last, Deacon Road, paid $30.30 to win and set up an exactor of $209.70.
Lastly, two of his seven wins came courtesy of jocks who had booked-off sick. Ironically, one of these riders was Bobby Stewart, who was supposed to ride Lore Eze Two in the fourth race. The other saddlesmith who fell ill was Roger Jensen. Jensen was to have had the mount on Deacon Road.
Sorensen's night started in fine fashion with five straight wins. Beginning with the first race he won aboard Dandy Babu ($5.80), Never Be Long ($7.40), Simons Sword ($4.30). Lore Eze Two ($11.10) and Oakie's Arc ($13.70).
After finishing out of the money in the sixth and seventh races, Sorensen came back with a vengeance to win the eighth on Super Good ($7.90) and the final race on Deacon Road ($30.30).
For Sorenson it was a magical night, and forgive the personal indulgence, but I was there. After race eight, Sorensen was sitting on six wins with a chance, albeit not a very good one, to make history. What were the odds?
The tote board said it all. Deacon Road was 14-1. The betting public didn't seem to believe it was going to happen, but there was something in the air that night, and you could just feel it, at least I did.
And how many riders with six wins on the evening would even bother riding a long shot in the last race. Not many!
I will never forget my bet. Back then the last race was an exactor, it was a nine horse field so I took Deacon Road to the board and reversed the bet. The $32 investment returned a handsome $209.70. All in all, one of my better bets!
The 1976 race meet was a dandy for young Sorenson. His 85 wins were enough to capture Downs' leading rider honours. He finished with 13 more wins than perennial contender Ken Hendricks. Sorenson returned to the Downs in 1977 to defend his title but fate intervened and his fortunes did a complete 180.
Sorensen's father Dennis, died of a heart attack in May, and less than a month later he broke his wrist in a riding accident. The break was a bad one and required a bone graft from his hip. He spent the balance of 1977 convalescing.
Sadly, things never really turned around for Sorensen. His career seemed to flounder and he just faded away. Rumor has it, that his life unraveled when his marriage went bad. He became, so I'm told, a bit of a recluse and he disappeared off the grid.
I've heard he can be found in the Phoenix area these days, but the man cloaked in mystery will long be remembered for a summer's night at Assiniboia Downs, when he owned the winner's circle.
Seven wins on a nine-race card. Not a bad night's work. And maybe one record…
that was made NOT to be broken!