10 of the Greatest Horse Racing Jockeys of All Time

10 of the Greatest Horse Racing Jockeys of All Time

Famous jockeys in the early 1900s were like modern-day football players – they were considered the most successful athletes of their time and made horse racing one of the most popular sports on the planet.

But, what are the greatest horse racing jockeys in history? 

In this blog post, we look at the top 10 jockeys of all time, what made them famous, and how much they earned during their careers.

Let’s dive in.

Top 10 Greatest Horse Racing Jockeys of All Time

Horse racing has a long history, and picking the 10 biggest names in the sport was a bit of a challenge. However, based on our research, these are the best of the best that the world of horse racing has ever seen. 

Bill Shoemaker

  • Who is he: Best jockey of all time
  • Born: 19 August 1931, Texas, United States
  • Died: 12 October 2003 (aged 72), in San Marino, California, United States
  • Country: United States
  • Career Wins: 8,833
  • Earnings: $123 million

William Lee Shoemaker is arguably the most famous and the best horse jockey in the history of the sport who held the world record for the most professional jockey wins for nearly 30 years.

He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (1958), in the Fair Grounds Racing Hall of Fame (1971), and his role in the popularity of the sport was immortalised as part of a series of portraits by the great Andy Warhol in the mid-1970s.

Lester Piggott

  • Who is he: Pioneered a race-riding style that was widely copied among colleagues
  • Born: 5 November 1935, Wantage, Berkshire, England (age 86)
  • Country: The United Kingdom
  • Career Wins: 4,493 
  • Earnings: £20 million

Lester Piggott is one of the greatest UK horse racers in history. He started training as a jockey when he was 10 and won his first race when he was 12. 

“The Long Fellow” was one of the youngest jockeys to mount more than 100 champions in one season. After his retirement, the Professional Jockey Association named the annual prize-giving ceremony The Lesters in honour of his contributions to the sport.

Sir Gordon Richards

  • Who is he: First jockey to be knighted
  • Born: 5 May 1904, in Donnington Wood, Telford 
  • Died: 10 November 1986 (aged 82). inKintbury, Berkshire
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Career Wins: 4.870 
  • Earnings: £829,650

Sir Gordon Richards is the jockey with the most wins in UK history and one of the most memorable figures in the sport who won the British flat racing Champion Jockey a total of 26 times.

He was the first to ride 4,000 winners and the first jockey to be knighted. To this day, Sir Richards is the only flat jockey with a knighthood

John R. Velazquez

  • Who is he: One of the wealthiest jockeys from Puerto Rico
  • Born: 24 November 1971, Carolina, Puerto Rico (age 50)
  • Country: United States
  • Career Wins: 6,000 
  • Earnings: $447,958,416

John R. Velazquez is the top 10 jockeys in the world, the most popular Puerto Rican in the world of horse racing, and the most successful jockey in the country’s history. 

He rode 5,000 winners in his career so far, is an all-time leader in purse earnings in the United States, and is the first jockey whose earnings surpassed $300 million.

Mike E. Smith

  • Who is he: Third leading horse jockey in earnings
  • Born: August 10, 1965, in Dexter, New Mexico (age 56)
  • Country: United States
  • Career Wins: 5,623 
  • Earnings: $336 million

E. Smith is among the top earners in horse racing who in 2018, became the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown at the age of 52.

Smith was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2003 and held the record for the most Breeders’ Cup race victories, with 26 Breeders’ Cup wins.

Laffit Pincay, Jr

  • Who is he: Former flat racing’s winningest all-time jockey
  • Born: December 29, 1946 (age 75). Panama City
  • Country: Panama
  • Career Wins: 9,530 
  • Earnings: $237 million

Laffit Pincay Jr started racing by watching his father at the horse tracks. He primarily competed in the US and had a long and successful career. He still holds the third place as the winningest flat racing jockey of all time.

Due to his immense success, Pincay earned plenty of prize money throughout his career and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1975.

Victor Espinoza

  • Who is he: Oldest winner of American Thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown
  • Born: May 23, 1972, in Tulancingo, Mexico (age 49 years), 
  • Country: Mexico
  • Career Wins: +3,200 
  • Earnings: $208 million

Horse riding is not the most popular sport in Mexico, but it made little difference to Victor Espinoza. He grew up in Mexico City and took riding lessons, and attended jockey school while working as a bus driver

Espinoza went on to take his first victory in 1992 in his native Mexico and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the National Museum of Racing in 2017.

Sir Anthony Peter McCoy

  • Who is he: Was Champion Jockey 20 consecutive times
  • Born: 4 May 1974 (age 47), Moneyglass, County Antrim
  • Country: Northern Ireland
  • Career Wins: 4,348 
  • Earnings: $30 million

AP McCoy broke plenty of records throughout his career. He became the most successful jockey in National Hunt history in 2002, rode his 270th success of the season that same year, and was the first jockey to be named the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2010.

McCoy was knighted in 2016, one year after his retirement from the sport.

Russell Baze

  • Who is he: Record holder for the most race wins in North American horse racing history
  • Born: August 7, 1958 (age 63), Vancouver, British Columbia 
  • Country: Canada
  • Career Wins: 12,844 
  • Earnings: $198 million

Russell Blaze is one of the most successful jockeys in the history of North American horse racing. He won 400 or more races a year for four consecutive years and went on to record seven more 400-win seasons in his career. 

His accomplishments earned him a membership in the United States Racing Hall of Fame and the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame.

Frankie Dettori

  • Who is he: Best horse jockey in Italian history
  • Born: 15 December 1970 (age 51) in Milan 
  • Country: Italy
  • Career Wins: +3,000 
  • Earnings: $212 million

The son of one of the most accomplished Italian jockeys, Dettori has a number of impressive victories under his belt. He was Champion Jockey three times and in 1996, rode all seven winners on British Champions’ Day at Ascot.

Dettori also became the first teenager since Lester Piggott to ride 100 winners in one season. 

Bottom Line

Successful jockeys are at the epicentre of the world of horse racing. However, the greatest horse racing jockeys have shown skill and unmatched performance that has influenced the sport in a way that few others (if any) can.

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