Tiffany Leggett was exchanging texts with her father on June 30 while enjoying a boat cruise on Prior Lake with friends. It was the fifth-year anniversary of the riding accident that paralyzed him and ended his racing career.
“He was having mixed feelings about the anniversary because he had just gotten a van with hand controls that would enable him to drive,” Tiffany said. “He said maybe he would drive up to visit me.”
She had an immediate response.
“Why don’t you come on September 5 for your induction into the Canterbury Park Hall of Fame,” she texted.
That’s when the conversation took an unexpected turn. Tiffany stood up in the boat and the cell phone squirted out of her hands and into the depths of Prior Lake.
“That thing sank immediately,” she said.
Yet, Tad Leggett had been duly informed that he was Canterbury Park’s newest jockey addition to the Hall of Fame.
Leggett immediately questioned the validity of his selection. Ry Eikleberry had eclipsed his all-time earnings record, and was passing him in other categories as well. How could he be inducted ahead of him. Eikleberry had a response of his own at the time: “This wouldn’t be happening if Tad was still riding,” he said.
It is quite conceivable that Leggett would have increased the numbers he achieved at Canterbury, in a variety of categories, had he ridden the last five years.
Leggett won four straight quarter horse riding titles in Shakopee beginning in 2003, sharing the last one with Helen Vanek.
When the 2015 season got under way, he was the leading rider in earnings and third in total wins at Canterbury Park, having won a multitude of stakes for Ed Ross Hardy, with whom he had one of the most successful relationships in Canterbury history.
“That kind of a combination is hard to find because he is such a positive person,” said Hardy. “It’s like the cylinders in a car. When they are all in unison the car performs great. That’s the way it was with Tad.”
Indeed, Leggett was a winning machine for the Hardy barn, winning 18 stakes races over the years in Shakopee: the Bob Morehouse Memorial four times, and the Skip Zimmerman Memorial and the Northlands Futurity three times each. He won the Canterbury Park Quarter Horse Derby and the North Central Quarter Horse Racing Association Futurity twice each.
“We won all of those and we won some really big ones, too,” Hardy added.
Leading that list is the Texas Classic at Lone Star Park, worth $1,065,000, the largest purse for any breed in that state at the time. The Hardy barn, Leggett and Capones Vault, winner of the Northlands Futurity in 2002, teamed up for the biggest win of their collaboration. Then there was One Rare Bug, winner of the Canterbury Park Quarter Horse Derby in 2002, who became a world champion that year; and, of course, Let Her Zoom, a world champion also, who raced at Canterbury as a three-year-old.
Leggett rode for 24 years, starting in Broken Bow, Neb., where he rode his first winner, a horse named Patient Wranger in the Nebraska Open Futurity. “That was pretty neat,” Leggett recalled, “to get my first career winner in an open futurity.”
Thereafter he rode in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, California and Minnesota and in Colorado and Louisiana as well.
He hasn’t ridden in five years, but Leggett still holds the record for most wins in Iowa, a record expects to lose some day, too.
“Soon or later, that one’s going to fall, too,” he said.
His career ended at Fair Meadows in Oklahoma when the two-year-old he was riding collapsed beneath him after the wire, crushing the numbers three, four and five vertebrae in his neck, leaving him a quadriplegic. Leggett remembers the start of the race but nothing much after that until he was being loaded on a plane escorting him from Tulsa to a rehabilitation center in Colorado a month later.
Today, Leggett says simply that “without my family and God I would be a mess.”
His family has been with him, in one capacity or another, every step of the way.
Tiffany, the horsemen’s bookkeeper at Canterbury Park, is part of a family that knows how to cross its T’s. Mom and Dad are Tad and Tina. Tiffany’s brothers are Travis and Trevor.
The family glue during Tad’s recovery process was Tina. “She’s been a nurse for years,” Tiffany said. “She has a rock-solid personality and doesn’t have a panic button. She held things together for us and knew how to make sure dad got the attention he needed in the hospital.”
The strong family connection might help explain part of Tad’s attraction to Canterbury. “I always enjoyed it there,” he said. “It was family oriented and the kids could come up there in the summer and spend time with me when they got out of school.”
Despite his limitations, Leggett nonetheless considers himself fortunate. “I see all these people in therapy with brain injuries who can’t move at all,” he said. “You bet I’m fortunate.” That’s not to say there aren’t better days than others. There are plenty of tough days. Leggett does his best to focus on the good ones.
Take August 7, for example. He got a license to drive that specially equipped van.
by JIM WELLS