He paid a heavy price, though, to return as a racing official at Fonner Park.
Five years ago, the 75-year-old Nebraska-racing 'legend' returned to Wounded Knee, S.D. to take care of his wife, Phyllis,
who was suffering from COPD, a lung disease that ultimately claimed her life this past April.
At the time, the Ecoffey's were preparing to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary. Phyllis was 73.
It was also five years ago when Fred Ecoffey underwent open-heart surgery to repair a couple of valves that had been responsible for
a heart murmur that plagued the Native American for as long as he can remember.
"I was sickly as a kid," said Ecoffey, "and battled epilepsy till I was 21."
And yet, he went on to win five consecutive jockey titles right here at Fonner Park (1968-72), was inducted into the Nebraska
Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, following a 20-year race-riding career, and then embarked on another 25 years
of officiating on the local circuit.
As Fred puts it, "I've done just about everything there is to do at the races....gate judge, assistant clocker, steward, paddock judge.
They always found something to keep me around."
I can even remember when there used to be a lake in the infield at the old Lincoln track, and Mr. Ecoffey came out
every so often to feed the ducks.
This time around, Ecoffey takes on the duties of Clerk of Scales, replacing another ex-rider, Jerry Jewell, who's returned
to the agent business, representing Mike Ziegler, Armando Martinez and 17-year-old apprentice Nathan Haar.
The Clerk of Scales is responsible for weighing in jockey's prior to every 'live' racing day and after the conclusion
of every race. Most mornings, you can also find him up in the Clocker's Stand recording workout times for all Fonner horses.
Once 'Old Man Winter' blows himself out and allows us the pleasure of watching Fonner's 60th opening day, I can
assure you there will be alot of sentimental feelings being shared, not only down in the grandstand by nastalgia buffs, but
by most occupying their positions in the Press Box as well.
The name, Fred Ecoffey, is one of the reasons why.
That stoic look he had in the winner's circle onboard classic horses such as Bold Accent, Stumpy The Boy, Trippsville and Slidan
will always be engrained in my mind.
Legendary stuff by a classy individual.
Thanks for the memories, Mr. Ecoffey..... and welcome back!