For Immediate Release, April 06, 2017
Steve Anderson's Article - The Living Legend
There's a "living legend" residing in the Fonner Park paddock these days.
Don't take my word for it.
Next time you're at the track, just report to the southernmost-point of the mainline, located on the first floor, and find out for yourself.
Fred Ecoffey will be easy to spot.
He's the guy with the clipboard, checking tattoos on the upper-lip of every horse being led over from the backside.
His stoic facial expression easily could've been chiseled out of stone, but don't let the look scare you. His heart is as soft as a newborn foal's backside. And, his gentle demeaner simply crys out for a good old-fashioned bear hug.
Mr. Ecoffey's official title is Paddock Judge and Identifier.
It's his responsibility to make sure that every horse-in every race-is exactly who they're supposed to be.
When the 79-year-old Native American yells, "Riders up", the pomp-and-circumstance of another horse race is about to begin, as the ceremonial Post Parade is now officially underway.
In case you're too young to remember, Fred Ecoffey was one of the greatest thoroughbred jockey's to ever ride here in Nebraska, winning five consecutive Fonner titles from 1968 to 1972. His 20-year-riding-career netted 26 top-jock awards, all coming right here on the local circuit.
And to think, this guy graduated from Southern State Teacher's College, located in the southeast corner of South Dakota, with a Doctor of Motor's Degree in the early 60's.
"I was going to be a mechanic," said Ecoffey.
It's a good thing Park Jefferson race track was nearby. Fred started riding horses on the weekends, and slowly found out that "winning races seemed to come easy for me. I mean, it's not easy being a jockey," added Ecoffey. "In fact, it's dangerous. But, as I got older and stronger, I continued to get better." It's been 33 years since Ecoffey has actually ridden a horse.
"One of the toughest decisions I ever had to make was telling (trainer) Mick Kirby I'm going to quit." That was in 1984," recalled Ecoffey. "I finished third on a horse I should of won on. I
The Wounded Knee, South Dakota native was only 47 at the time.
He's been a racing official ever since.
"I've had every job except Racing or Assistant Racing Secretary," Ecoffey proudly proclaimed.
In 2007, Ecoffey returned to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where he took a six-year sabatical from the track, attending to his wife's (Phyllis) declining health condition.
"She never let me out of her sight," recalled Fred.
Her death, at the age of 73, still brings tears to his eyes.
A short-time later, perennial buddy, and fellow-jockey, Wayne Anderson came calling.
"We lived together for 20 years at the races either in a trailer or apartment," said Anderson. "It was fate that brought Fred back. We needed help in the Racing Office and he needed something to do."
Joined at the hip during their race-riding years together, Anderson and Ecoffey's competitive juices have carried over to the golf course, bowling alley and tennis court. They can't stand the thought of losing to one another, and Anderson candidly admits, "we went at it in arm wrestling once. That turned out to be a draw because our elbows were raw from rubbing them on the table."
Reluctantly, Anderson has succumbed to the "Living Legend" nickname attached to the legacy of Fred Ecoffey. "Fred was always the leading rider, I was always second. That's why they called me Avis.
"Even today, I just have to try harder."