TORONTO, May 21, 2023 – Woodbine is saddened to learn of the passing of Irwin Driedger. Driedger was an outstanding jockey who transitioned in his post-riding days to continue impacting the sport. In addition to his accolades on the track and tremendous work with the Jockey’s Benefit Association of Canada, Driedger shared his expertise with Woodbine as the Director of Racing Surfaces for over a decade. Named to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame class of 2023, Driedger will be remembered fondly by Woodbine and the entire racing community across Canada.
By: Woodbine News
The tributes keep pouring in for Hall of Fame jockey
Champion Jockey Irwin Driedger: A Man of Many Hats
Canadian horse racing lost a popular horseman and friend to many on May 20; Irwin Driedger passed at age 66 after a cancer battle.
By: Canadian Thoroughbred Staff | May 22, 2023
Woodbine is saddened to learn of the passing of Irwin Driedger. Driedger was a Sovereign Award-winning jockey, winner of over 1,600 races, and a man who transitioned in his post-riding days to continue impacting the sport.
In addition to his accolades on the track and tremendous work with the Jockey’s Benefit Association of Canada, Driedger shared his expertise with Woodbine as the Director of Racing Surfaces for over a decade. Named to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame class of 2023, Driedger will be remembered fondly by Woodbine and the entire racing community across Canada.
Thank you to Bob Gates for this story on Irwin from 2014, Assiniboia Downs News:
Clifford “Shorty” Gray hired 11-year-old Irwin Driedger as an exercise rider. The young blonde schoolboy from Russell, Manitoba, tipped the scales at 78 pounds and got his first win on a race track at the Neepawa Fair Grounds on horse Admiral Zenith.
Who knew he would go on to win multiple riding titles at Assiniboia Downs and break records in the process?
By the year 1972, Irwin was riding in the bushes at the age of 16. He broke his “maiden” at a recognized track on Swishaway in a Lethbridge snowstorm in the fall of 1972. The young apprentice came to the Downs in 1973 under contract to Ken Adams, but life was tough.
Trainers would use the fair-haired kid from Russell in the morning but wanted a more experienced rider in the irons in the evening. So Irwin’s first win at the local oval would not come until June 27, 1973. And what a handsome win it was! Kenny Adams’ 10-year-old Count I paid $49.10 for a $2 nose bet! The life of an apprentice in 1973 was not an easy one. Irwin cleaned stalls, groomed and galloped horses for $15 weekly, and free room and board.
Irwin rode at the Downs from 1973 to 1982, although he had few mounts in 1973 and spent most of 1974 in a cast recuperating from a broken leg courtesy of a quarter horse bolted to the outside fence in Great Falls, Montana.
1975 and 1976 improved some for Irwin, but his career win total had not yet reached 100.
In 1979 Irwin won a Downs’ record 161 races; in 1980, he bettered his record with 180 wins.
In 1981 he shot out the lights when he established the Downs’ current record for the most wins by a jockey in a single season at 214, a record that will likely never be broken considering the number of days we run now.
You can’t talk about Irwin and his career accomplishments without giving his friend and colorful agent, Lorne Spearman, the credit he is due! The two have been inseparable throughout Irwin’s career.
In 1983 Irwin returned home for the Manitoba Derby and registered his last win aboard Gone to Royalty, his only Manitoba Derby winner.
Like others before him, Irwin knew that his future was at the larger eastern tracks, so off he went to ply his trade at Woodbine, Greenwood, and Fort Erie. It was economics, plain and simple.
In 1981 he won 220 races (214 locally) for $800,000 in purses.
In 1984 he won 111 races down east for purses that totaled $1.6 million.
Need more be said?
1979: Received the Chris McCance Memorial Trophy as Manitoba’s Male Athlete of the Year for his new record 161 wins at the Downs.
1981: Won a Sovereign Award as Canada’s Outstanding Jockey. The Sovereign Award is Canada’s equivalent to the Eclipse Award given to jockeys in the United States. He also received the Joe Perlove Trophy for being Canada’s leading percentage rider.
1998: Recipient of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award, given to the Canadian-born/raised jockey who has made significant contributions to the sport.
Retirement came in 1990. Irwin explained that he never intended to ride for more than 20 years. Making the weight had taken its toll, and it got to the point where the fun was gone. He didn’t want to do it anymore. Regrets? Absolutely none.
Horses special to Irwin over his years at the Downs included Astral Moon, Baladi, Victor’s Pride, Major Enterprise, Scarlet Rich, and Liz’s Pride.
August 12, 1990, marked the last time Irwin rode at the Downs, and he had already announced that he was retiring to become the managing director of the Jockeys’ Guild of Canada. Irwin is still in the racing business. Since 2006 he’s been the Director of Thoroughbred Racing Surfaces and Fleet at Woodbine.
Why did he return to the Downs for the final ride of his career?
Because C.J. “Shorty” Gray, the man who discovered him riding a pony as an 11-year-old on the street in Russell, Manitoba, asked him to.
They dubbed August 12, 1990, “Irwin Driedger Day” at the Downs, and it could have been a classic fairy tale ending to his stellar career, but the best he could muster from his three mounts that day were a third and two fifth-place finishes.
The rising star on Irwin Driedger Day was young Brian Bochinski, who had most of his riding career ahead of him. It just so happened that Irwin was the jock that Brian idolized, and the new heir to the throne went on to pattern himself… after the jock with the golden locks.
Article compliments of BloodHorse
Irwin Driedger – Jockey
A native of Russell, MB, Irwin Driedger launched his riding career in 1967, at age 11, as an exercise rider. He then honed his skills at fairs in Western Canada before moving to bush tracks and eventually recognized tracks such as Assiniboia Downs in 1973, where he plied his trade until 1982.
In 1979, Driedger set an Assiniboia record of 161 wins before surpassing his accomplishment in 1980 with 180 victories.
In 1981, Driedger made 214 trips to the winners’ circle, a record that stood for many years.
Over the next 17 years, Driedger rode at major tracks across Canada, winning 1,633 races for purse earnings of $14.6 million.
The 1998 recipient of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award, Driedger rode Sovereign Award winners Liz’s Pride, Phoenix Factor, Classy’ n Smart, In My Cap, Grey Classic, and Imperial Choice.
When CHRHF honoree Classy ‘n Smart’s daughter Dance Smartly was ready to start her race career, Driedger was provided the opportunity to ride the future CHRHF Honored Member for her first start, a five-furlong maiden race, which the pair won by a comfortable three 1/2-length margin.
In 1990, Driedger retired from competition and became the secretary-manager of the Jockeys Benefit Association of Canada, serving his first term until 2006.
Under his direction, Canadian Jockeys became the first in North America to wear safety vests. Driedger was also instrumental in helping to install safety rails at Woodbine.
From 2006 until 2018, Driedger was director of thoroughbred racing surfaces at Woodbine.
In 2019 he returned to the Jockeys’ Benefit Association of Canada to again assume the role of secretary-manager, a position he held until his retirement in 2021.