Evan Shipman Jackson with 1968 Santa Anita Handicap and Woodward Stakes winner Mr. right
His biggest horse was called Mr. Right, who candidly defeated mighty Damascus in the 1968 Woodward Stakes. But training thoroughbred racehorses in the modern day turned out to be the wrong profession for Evan Shipman Jackson, who retired from the game in the early 1990s and left the game. Spent 25 years of his life piloting submarines in the Florida Keys.
Jackson died in Key Largo, Florida, on January 7, not waking up after an afternoon nap. Active to the end, gardening and cycling around the city, he was 88 years old.
Born on August 13, 1933 in Keswick, Virginia, Jackson was named after his uncle, the esteemed horse racing writer Evan Shipman. He grew up with horses in the Charlottesville, Virginia area, where his pioneering mother, Mary, ran a riding school on her ranch. Mary Jackson was a big seller of show horses and was named “Saratoga’s Most Unique Buyer” in New York State yearling sales in an article.
Evan Jackson would go on to become a steeplechase rider in his teens, riding at several encounters in the Mid-Atlantic region until the early 1960s—his riding career was interrupted when he served in the United States Army during the Korean War.
Jackson transitioned to trainer when his riding career ended and within a few years he was winning major races on both coasts.
mr. Owned by the wife of bandleader and pianist Peter Duchin, Right was his first major horse, winning the Santa Anita Handicap in 1968. The win made Auditing’s son the first New York-bred son to win a $100,000 race and a California stake.
mr. Right then defeated 1-10 favorite Damascus by a nose in the 1968 Woodward Stakes and shortly after was sold for $400,000 to a partnership with singer Frank Sinatra. For Sinatra and his partners, Jackson sent Mr. Right set out to win the Trenton Handicap and Suburban Handicap in 1969 before the horse went into breeding.
Other big stakes winners followed, including Acorn winner Cathy Honey and Haskell Handicap winner Gladwin – both for California’s Hastings Harcourt in 1970. Others included El Cajon Stakes winner Quick Bluff in 1973; G2 Del Mar Handicap winner Redtop III in 1974; 1976 G1 Century Handicap Winds of Thought winner; Grade 1 Flower Bowl Handicap winner Rossard (Den) in 1984; and Grade 3 Loving Handicap winner Descent in 1985.
Jackson’s two daughters, Tara and Kelle, remember their father training for celebrities both in New York and later when he moved his stable to California.
“I remember the time a limousine came to our house in New York to pick up my dad for dinner and it was Frank Sinatra,” said Tara Jackson.
Summers in Del Mar were special for the trainer’s children, who lived with their mother on the East Coast for most of the year after their parents’ divorce. “We were going to rent a beach house for six or eight weeks and it was so much fun,” said Tara Jackson of their Del Mar summers. “Back then you could take horses from the track to the beach. My father loved his horses and was happy to do so.”
“Those summers were exciting,” Tara Jackson recalled. “Daddy played tennis with Farrah Fawcett and Lee Majors and he trained for Burt Bacharach and Angie Dickinson. He got his pilot’s license and I remember he would train in the morning and fly us to Mammoth Mountain for skiing in the afternoon.”
But all was not rosy with Evan Jackson.
“He was very strong-willed, an old-school rider and a big believer in animals,” said Tara Jackson. “He nudged the owners and didn’t like the direction the game was going. I remember listening to him and (the late Hall of Fame trainer) Allen Jerkens complain about the lack of endurance racing. He hated it when he started seeing horses with lip chains being led into the paddock. Racing just didn’t suit him anymore and he said he would rather be with animals than most people.”
Jackson dropped out of training and went to work at a ski resort in Taos, NM, and then landed in the Florida Keys, where he worked in air traffic control at a small airport and eventually began operating submarines.
“My father walked away from the only thing he knew as a profession and way of life – because anyone who works in thoroughbred horse racing knows it’s a way of life, not just a job – because he couldn’t fit what he saw happens,” said Kelle Jackson.
“He was a typical rider – who worked well when horse training was a craft and a sport – when the horse mattered and intuition, observation and personal judgment were more important than the company, more than the person with the heaviest purse. But times started to change and the typical rider did not become as important as the company. He knew his horses personally and treated them as such. Although he had some regrets in life, he was a man driven by ‘be true to your own self’.
“My father was not an easy man to deal with when he was sure he was right about something,” continued Kelle Jackson. “And I’m not so sure that owners appreciated that or that he could strike the right balance to enable any change in the industry while doing what he thought was best for his horses. He chose his own personal integrity over the work that was so dear to him for decades and into which he was born.”
In addition to daughters Tara and Kelle, he leaves behind a son, Evan Jackson Jr., Kim Welchel, his daughter from a previous marriage, and nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
An animal lover all his life, Jackson is also survived by his beloved cat, “Trim”, whom he adopted as a stray in Key Largo many years ago. Trim has been taken in by a group of people who have lived in the same community as Jackson for the past 17 years.
Kelle Jackson said her father’s wish was to be cremated and have the ashes scattered at his family home in Keswick, Virginia. That will happen this spring.
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