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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Jimmy Picou, a former jockey and trainer, died Friday at age 85. Picou first rode in the 1940’s and retired at the end of 2004 after training thoroughbreds for 45 years.

Picou had a big year in Saratoga in 1981, highlighted when he beat Derby-winner and eventual 3-year-old champion, Pleasant Colony, and Belmont Stakes winner, Summing, with Willow Hour in the Travers Stakes.

James Earl Picou, a native of Beaumont, Texas, was born on January 6, 1934 and won his first race aboard Miss Maggy at Belmont in autumn of 1949. He won approximately 200 races as a jockey.

In 1954, Picou retired from the saddle and became an assistant for trainer Walter Kelley. Picou started his own stable in 1960 and won his first race as a trainer at Aqueduct that year. He trained 422 winners with career earnings over $15 million.

Fred Hooper and Joseph Roebling were among his most famous owners and, aside from Willow Hour, his most famous horse was Val’s Prince, a classy gelding who won the Turf Classic Invitational in 1997 and 1999, and Hong Kong International Cup at Sha Tin in 1997. Val’s Prince was the first U.S.-based winner of the Hong Kong International.

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7 Responses

  1. This was a genuinely nice human being and a stand up guy. If he were standing in front of me right now I could make him laugh by telling him when I was sitting in Harvey Pack’s office waiting to do “Thoroughbred Action<" or between takes on set, if Jimmy had a horse in, Harvey would start to sing "Jimmy Picou and I don't care...Jimmy Picou and..." Those were the days my friend, too bad they had to end...

  2. JP-
    A 24 year old assistant to Picou in 1981, Gary Contessa, led Willow Hour in the walk-over for the Travers. Remember John Mehrtens? He got one of his younger brothers a job with Picou that summer. Lots of good memories at Jimmy’s barn.

  3. Jim-
    Good to hear from you, but sorry it’s a sad occasion. The Golden Age is Gone With the Wind. The memories will last forever.

  4. Very, very sad to hear of Jimmy Picou’s passing.

    As an NYRA media relations employee in the early 1980s I first met Jimmy doing Backstretch Notes. Jimmy always made me feel welcomed in his barn and was quite helpful when I needed an item and quote or two. I stopped by his barn one morning in early spring after Willow Hour won an allowance race. Willow Hour had run 2-3 sprints in a row in pretty good time and I said I ‘liked’ him a lot.

    Jimmy smiled and said he’ll be even better later in the year.

    Willow Hour didn’t make the Triple Crown races but did get better later in the year, winning the Jim Dandy one sunny Sunday at 25-1 and followed that up with another upset –and very game– win in the slop beating the under-rated Derby-Preakness winner Pleasant Colony with 1980 2-year-old champ Lord Avie third in the Travers Stakes.

    Picou also trained the talented Susan’s Girl for a time.

    RIP to a truly great horseman.

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