Larry Snyder rushed from starting gates and into hearts throughout his life.
The eight-time riding champion at Hot Springs' Oaklawn Park died Monday of cancer at the age of 76.
Born June 29, 1942, in Toledo, Ohio, Snyder was a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the Fairgrounds Racing Hall of Fame in New Orleans, and the Arkansas Walk of Fame in Hot Springs. He was nominated for induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2006.
He is survived by his wife Jeanette and son Larry Jr. He was preceded in death by his daughter Lynette.
U.S. jockeys voted Snyder the recipient of the 1989 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, presented to designate high standards of professional and personal conduct. Oaklawn President Louis Cella said the award reflected his thoughts of Snyder and those of everyone he has known, including his late father Charles Cella.
"Larry really was a humanitarian and a great guy who just loved the game," Louis Cella said.
"In my 40 years at Oaklawn, I don't know if I worked with anyone with more integrity than Larry Snyder," senior vice president Eric Jackson said. "He lived his life the same way on the track as he did off of it."
Snyder's career was defined as much for his ability to ride horses to immediate leads and keep them there as it was by his overall rate of success. He rode from 1960-1994 with 6,388 victories, currently 14th among North American jockeys.
After a win at Louisiana Downs on Aug. 4, 1989, he became the sixth rider in U.S. racing to reach 6,000 career victories. He won 1,248 races at Oaklawn, including the 1983 Rebel Stakes on Kentucky Derby champion Sunny's Halo and the 1989 Arkansas Derby on Dansil.
"Larry had the ability to keep a horse running when they wanted to hang it up," said trainer Jinks Fires, a longtime Oaklawn regular. "And he was just a great guy to be around. Everybody liked him. Not only the racetrack, but the world needs more like Larry Snyder."
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, 53, was reached in the jockey's dressing room at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., where he will ride Friday and Saturday in the Breeders' Cup World Championships. He said Snyder was a father figure to him early in his career.
"He would always take the time to make sure that I was on the right track," Smith said. "He would make you smile as soon as he walked into the room. He always made wherever he went a better place."
Smith said Snyder made front-running success look far easier than reality.
"It's really difficult to ride up there, but he liked the lead," Smith said. "A lot of riders are uncomfortable with it, but he embraced it, and it's very hard. You have to dictate the whole pace. You do all the hard work, but you have to save enough to be around at the end, to somehow maintain the horse's will to win, and he could do that."
Snyder served as a steward at Oaklawn from 1995-2017. Stewards, who are roughly the equivalent to referees in many American sports, are commonly stationed in racetrack press boxes, as they are at Oaklawn. Pete Aiello, currently the track announcer at Gulfstream Park near Miami, said he admired Snyder during his tenure as Oaklawn's announcer from 2015-2016.
"Every day that I was at Oaklawn, I never once saw him in a bad mood, ever," Aiello said. "He may have been having a bad day, but you'd never know it. He wasn't going to impart that negativity on anyone else. He was always one of those guys that you just love being around."
Don Von Hemel, a longtime trainer at Oaklawn who won the track's training title in 1981 when Snyder won his seventh riding championship, did not learn of Snyder's death until late Tuesday afternoon.
"He was a first-class rider and a first-class gentleman," Von Hemel said. "There was nobody any bit ahead of Larry Snyder."
"His personality and just who he was were amazing," Smith said. "He was a serious competitor on the track, and you couldn't help but idolize him. You couldn't help but love him."
Sports on 10/31/2018
Print Headline: Oaklawn legend Snyder, 76, dies