On one wall, a favorite photo shows Aitcheson aboard Happy Intellectual after their victory in the 1977 New York Turf Writers Cup. It was the last big win in the jockey's career, and one in which he raced with a broken collarbone.

"I rode that horse with one hand," he said. "We were on the lead but [Happy Intellectual] had a habit of dropping back at the end. This time, though, he just took off and set a course record. Good thing, because I couldn't raise my hand to use the whip."

The media rallied around his Iron Man persona. A framed cartoon above Aitcheson's bed shows a line of well-kept cars bearing jockeys' names — Cruget, Maple and Velasquez — and one beat-up clunker, swathed in bandages, with a broken windshield and flat tire. "Aitcheson," the dented license plate reads.

"I was in the hospital when the cartoon came out," he said.

"My worst accident was at Aqueduct, when the horse I was riding fell and rolled over on me. I had enough internal injuries that doctors called my family and said, 'He won't live through the night.' I fooled them, though."

Again and again. Usually, his mounts survived the spills.

"Very few horses that I rode were destroyed," he said. "I got the worst of it, but that's OK. I love animals and I feel bad about losing them. And I'd go to church and believe that the good Lord was taking care of me.

"Still do."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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