Today I want to tell you about Ralph Neves, a jockey who died and came back to life again on this day in 1936. Neves had a quick temper and a reckless attitude that earned him the nickname Portuguese Pepperpot. He was one of the most fined Jockeys on the West Coast. One trainer said of him “He was a very good rider, but he was wilder than a peach orchard boar.” which is lovely. As the above title could equally apply to my friend and ex-jockey Bob Slayer, I’m going to dedicate this post to him.
On this day Ralph Neves was riding at the Bay Meadows racetrack in San Mateo, California when four horses fell in front of him. His horse, who was called ‘Flannikins’, stopped suddenly then tripped, threw him onto the track and then fell on top of him. Neves was lifted onto a pick-up truck, as there were no ambulances on the course in those days, and taken to the first aid room. What happened next has been retold and embellished so many times, it’s hard to get to the truth of it, so here are all the versions I’ve found, because they’re all excellent.
In the first aid room he was examined by a doctor and pronounced dead. An announcement was made over the tannoy and the stunned crowd were requested to observe a moment of silence. In a last ditch attempt to revive him, the doctor injected adrenaline directly into his heart. Like a scene form ‘Pulp Fiction’, Neves suddenly revived. He demanded to ride the the rest of his races for that day. The stewards would not to let him and insisted that he spend the night in a nearby hospital under observation. They managed to keep him overnight, but the next morning he exited the hospital via a window in his hospital gown and hailed a cab back to the racetrack.
In another account he was revived in the local mortuary and ran screaming into the street, complete with toe tag, to hail a cab straight away. Or perhaps he went to a nearby snooker hall and ran round a couple of times and then hailed a cab. Neves himself insisted that he sat up and walked out of the first aid room and headed across the grandstand towards the jockeys’ room, wearing nothing but his trousers and one boot. When the crowd realized that the shirtless, bloodied, toe-tagged man who was staggering across the grandstand area was the jockey who had been declared dead about a half hour earlier, the crowd and the race officials rushed towards him. Shock turned to celebration. “At one point,” Neves later recalled, “I think everyone on the damn track was chasing me.” He arrived at the jockeys room to find his colleagues had started a collection for his widow.
So there it is. Neves was certainly declared dead and then revived. I don’t know which, if any, of these stories is the true account, but they’re all good. When I told this story to my jockey friend, he was not at all surprised. I was rather sad to learn from him that jockeys seem to fair almost as badly as race horses. Still, he’s not a jockey any more. He’s a comedian with an enormous bus. I couldn’t find a picture of Neves I could use, so here is my drawing of Bob and his Blundabus instead…