Robert (Bobby) Summers was a world class jockey who rode in all of the great races in the U.S., but the fiery rider would have traded his fame for the chance to play in the National Hockey League. The Montreal Canadiens actually gave him a look during the talent-drained World War II years, but a 105-pound forward in the NHL are as hard to find as 185-pound jockeys at the race track.
Born in Winnipeg, he would become one of the continent's most successful jockeys by the age of 22. He trained for Max Freed, then Ben Hatskin and Les Lear. A crisis developed when Rex Young, a rider, was killed during a race at Polo Park. Said Danny Summers, "My mother asked me to take her to Whittier Park, where Bobby was working out horses. She said 'Bobby, Rex was killed. I want you to quit.' " Glumly, Bobby packed his bags. But, as he left the barn area, he turned to his mother and said, "Mom, what am I going to do? I'm so small."
He was Canada's top apprentice jockey in 1942 and, two years later, he was the nation's leading rider. Among his more memorable rides were winning the Sugar Ray Robinson Handicap in New York and winning a $25,000 handicap at Bay Meadows, in 1945; finishing fourth in the $100,000 Hollywood Gold Cup in 1951; finishing third in the $100,000 Santa Anita Derby and coming fourth in the Preakness at Pimlico, near Baltimore, in 1953. Among the highlights of his career were riding in a jockey colony that included Eddie Arcaro, Johnny Longden and Willy Shoemaker.
Injuries took their toll. He returned to Winnipeg to ride during a lull in the California schedule. On a muddy track, three horses went down and Summers suffered a fractured collar-bone, six broken ribs and a collapsed lung. It would be 2 1/2 months before he rode again. Back in California, he had another accident, when a horse kicked him in the head. That ended his career in 1955.