Farewell to ‘The General’ | 4th-winningest jockey of his time, Metro East legend Dave Gall, dead at 79

Fairmount Park Generic
Fairmount Park Generic((AP Photo/Jeff Roberson))
Published: Jan. 22, 2022 at 3:38 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - It was the summer of 1973, and I can remember it like it was yesterday. My best friend Ron and his father Lynis invited me to go to the horse races with them at the now defunct Cahokia Downs.

While his father drove, Ron and I sat in the car, two kids studying the Daily Racing Form. In the hour drive down Interstate 55, Ron and I had studiously figured out all the winners. This was going to be our big night.

****

I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Gall one time, after he retired from riding, as an unexpected surprise at a friend’s house. I told him about that night in 1973, when I heard his name for the first time. He was quiet and smiled.

“Cahokia Downs,” he said. “Short stretch. I had to get there first.”

I asked him how he got started in the jockey business. He said something about his Dad owning a farm in Canada, and his uncle having horses. He remembered riding before he was 10. And he wasn’t going slow. Before he was old enough to drive, he was riding professionally in Canada.

“How was that possible?” I asked.

That sly smile again. “Well, I had to fudge the truth a little bit about my age.”

My eyes got wide.

“You didn’t.”

“I did.”

And we both laughed.

I remember asking him how he got from Canada to St. Louis, and him saying how he was riding on the west coast, wanted to try the east coast, but only had enough money for a bus ticket to St. Louis.

And there history began.

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Dave Gall passed away Sunday. He was 79. That number doesn’t come close to the other that distinguished his life.

He rode more than 41,000 races, winning more than 7,000 times. In 1979 he was the leading rider in the country, winning nearly 500 races. He also led the nation in 1981. And at Cahokia Downs, with that short stretch, Dave Gall once won eight times on the 10-race card (imagine the money you could have made at the betting window).

They called him “The General” at Cahokia and at Fairmount Park. There was nobody even close.

I remember asking him why he never left, maybe to Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, all cities with way bigger purses.

Gall paused. He must have been asked this question hundreds of times.

“I like horse races, not rat races,” he said, and we laughed again.

I asked him if he ever fell and got injured. He talked about his worst spill that broke his back, his ribs, and his jaw. And how he couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle once he healed.

He rode his last race in 1999, 57 years young, at Fairmount Park. He would retire as the fourth-winningest jockey of all time, anywhere, with some $25 million dollars in purse winnings; an incredible feat for a jockey who rarely used his whip.

Then I told him about that night in 1973 and the quiet little man laughed hysterically.

****

Ron and I left the track dejected that night. All of our studying had produced nothing but losers. It was a long, late night ride home.

But Ron’s father, Lynis, was happy as a lark, showering us with a wad of cash, stopping for a late dinner on the drive, and tales of how he had won half of the night’s races. He hadn’t even looked at a racing form.

“Didn’t need to,” he crowed. “Just went to the window and kept betting on Dave Gall!”