Irwin Driedger

Hall of Fame Inductee 2023


Irwin Driedger’s contributions to Canadian horse racing go far beyond his successful career as a champion jockey. The Russell, Manitoba native moved on from riding to representing all Canadian jockeys as the Secretary-Manager of the Jockeys Benefit Association, a position he held for 16 years. From there, Irwin became Director of Thoroughbred Racing Surfaces for Woodbine Entertainment before he returned to the Jockeys Benefit Association for two years before retiring in 2021.

Sadly, Irwin passed away in Toronto on May 20, 2023 at the age of 66 after a long battle with cancer. He is being honoured by the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame for his influential roles in Canadian racing through the past five decades.

Irwin was just 11 years old when he hopped on his first racehorse as exercise rider for trainer, Clifford ‘Shorty’ Gray. Nicknamed the ‘boy with the golden locks’, Irwin won his first race on a horse named Admiral Zenith at the Neepawa Fair Grounds in Manitoba. His first win at a recognized track came in 1972 in Lethbridge, Alberta before he moved his tack to Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg.

As an apprentice rider, Irwin also groomed and exercised horses for the paltry sum of $15 a week. His first Assiniboia Downs win came in the summer of 1973. By 1979, Irwin set a record at the Winnipeg track for wins at 131 and he bettered that mark the following year when he rode 180 winners. He wasn’t done with setting records, however, as he rode an astonishing 214 winners at Assiniboia in 1981, a number that will likely never be broken. He was voted Canada’s Outstanding Jockey at the Sovereign Awards.

The soft-spoken rider had already tested his skills in Ontario, riding at Greenwood racetrack in the fall, and later decided to permanently move to Ontario for the 1983 season. It was there that he met fellow Winnipegger, Lorne Spearman, who would become Irwin’s agent, forming one of the most powerful jockey and agent teams in the 1980s. Irwin became one of the number one riders for Ernie Samuel’s Sam-Son Farms and trainer, Jim Day. In 1983, he guided Classy ‘n Smart to victory in the Canadian Oaks and won graded stakes on champions Grey Classic and Imperial Choice. That same year he returned to Assiniboia and won the Manitoba Derby aboard Gone to Royalty. In 1990, just before his retirement, Irwin rode Classy ‘n Smart‘s daughter, Dance Smartly, to an impressive maiden victory, which launched her incredible career.

Irwin’s last ride came on ‘Irwin Driedger Day’ at Assiniboia in August. He retired with over 1,600 career wins. Irwin received the Avelino Gomez Award in 1998, given to a Canadian born or raised jockey who has made a significant contribution to the sport.

As Manager of the JBAC, Irwin was integral in having Canadian riders be the first to wear safety vests. He was also instrumental in helping to install safety rails at Woodbine.

His focus changed to safety for horses when he became the Director of Track Surfaces at Woodbine and he studied and worked with WEG management and horsepeople when one of the continent’s first synthetic surfaces, Polytrack, was installed in 2008. The Woodbine main track was changed to Tapeta in 2016.

Whether it was on horseback or working for fellow riders and his beloved racehorses, Irwin will be fondly remembered as a notable figure in Canadian racing.