The internationally-renowned jockey Raymond York, who earned his fame by winning the famous 1954 Kentucky Derby when he was only 20-years-old, has passed away at the age of 86 due to pneumonia-related health complications. York retired as an active rider in 1992, and was commonly known to fans and friends alike by his nickname “Walkie-Talkie.”

“Ray passed away peacefully this past Sunday,” York's longtime girlfriend Michael McKay told the Paulick Report. “Ray was so much fun, always laughing and always talking.” McKay also clarifies that, while York could not travel in his closing years due to health complications, they had enjoyed traveling together while he remained healthy.

York had recently been staying at an extended care facility near Bakersfield, California, where he was grappling with health complications from a one-year bout with pneumonia. According to information provided by the National Institute of Health, pneumonia-related deaths are the fourth leading cause of death among elderly people.

Storied career

York won well over 3,000 races during his career and was widely considered one of the most talented jockeys of his era. He is survived by three children, daughter Bonnie and two sons Ray, Jr., and Jeff.

During his 1954 victory, York rode to success on the back of a gray colt called Determine. Other notable victories of his include the 1959 victory he seized during the Santa Anita Derby, where he rode to victory on the filly, Silver Spoon.

York’s death means that Bill Bolland is the only remaining Jockey alive from the 1950s era of the Kentucky Derby.

Raymond York is the only jockey to officially ride across seven different decades. While he technically retired in 1992, he did partake in the 2000 race at Santa Anita, earning him the seven decades honorary. The Kentucky Derby is widely considered one of the most prestigious horse racing events in the world.

Short life for horses

While Kentucky Derby jockeys can race for decades at a time, the horses who compete at such races have substantially smaller professional and biological lifespans. The Kentucky Derby only allows 3-year-old horses to compete, for instance, and the vast majority of racehorses who compete at the upper level are by and large still quite young.

Horses are still underdeveloped at age two and are considered fully mature at age four, ensuring that three years is the ideal racing time.

The official rules of the Kentucky Derby are “Grade I” stakes, which ensures the race distance is one and one-quarter miles long. Colts and geldings carry approximately 126 pounds, whereas fillies carry approximately 121 pounds.