OPINION: The Greatest Jockeys of all Time

Horse racing has been spoilt by the many great jockeys to have been given the leg-up and grace the dangers that come with climbing into the saddle. The sport’s long and evolved history make comparisons between yesterday and today extremely difficult, but here are six of the greatest (two currently still active) jockeys that have cemented their place in history through their extraordinary numbers, performances in the big races and more often than not, their reliability at the bookies.

Lester Piggott

With almost 4500 victories win to his name, the man commonly referenced as “The Long Fellow” was born and bred into a family synonymous with horse racing, able to trace their roots as jockeys and trainers back to the 18th century. By his teens, the lofty 5ft 8 figure of Piggott was already a sensation in the racing world when he won the Epsom Derby the first of nine times, as well as becoming the first teenager to ride over 100 winners in one season.

Despite constant struggles to keep his weight down because of his height, the iron will of Piggott pioneered a new style of race-riding that influenced the sport on a global scale and enabled him to compile a record tally of 30 English Classics. Piggott rode his last winner in 1994, aged 59, and finally retired the following year.

Willie Shoemaker

For 29 years, the legendary American held the world record for number of professional jockey victories until his incredible haul of 8,833 wins was overtaken by Panamanian-born Laffit Pincay Jr. A survivor from the very beginning, Shoemaker weighed just one kilo at birth and was not expected to make is through the night. However, his diminutive frame turned out to be a blessing in disguise

Shoemaker won all three of the US Classic races multiple times, without ever accomplishing the Triple Crown, but in a career spanning over 40 years, he would win virtually every major North American race including the Belmont five times, the Kentucky Derby four times, the Preakness twice, and the Breeder’s Cup Classic. “The Shoe” was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1958.

Russell Baze

The numbers that the Canadian-born jockey is able to boast are simply phenomenal. Baze was awarded the Eclipse Special Award in 1995 to honour his achievement of winning 400 races per year for five consecutive years and to add further gloss to this remarkable feat, he went onto be the victor in 400 or more races in a year seven additional times (no other jockey has accomplished that feat more than three times).

Despite never finishing higher than 20th on the national earnings list, nor won a Triple Crown race, Baze was the epitome of consistency and resilience. He retired with a record 12,842 career successes to his name.

Laffit Pincay Jr.

The aforementioned racing great was once flat racing’s leading all-time jockey, with his 9,530 career victories still holding second place almost 15 years after his retirement. A blistering start to his career saw him  claim top prize in eight of his first 11 races in a livelihood that spawned victories at nearly every major race on the US calendar, including nine wins in the Hollywood Gold Cup, three consecutive wins in the Belmont Stakes and one cherished run to glory in the Kentucky Derby.

Even though the Preakness Stakes was the one major contest to elude him, Pincay Jr was inducted into the National Museum Of Racing Hall Of Fame in 1975 and enthusiasts can even go have their photograph with a life-size effigy of the man who always displayed outstanding dedication and integrity.

The Current Crop

Frankie Dettori

At 46 years of age, horse racing’s most well-known figure is still a long way off retirement and has already enjoyed an illustrious career in which he has been crowned Champion Jockey on three occasions. Born into a family with a horse-heavy background, Dettori moved to the UK from his native Italy in 1985 to train at Newmarket under Luca Cumani.

A charismatic darling of the British public and once a team captain on the BBC quiz A Question of Sport, Dettori’s finest hour came on 28th September 1996 when he won seven out of seven races on a single day of the Royal Ascot Festival. This celebrated achievement remains unrivalled and is testament to the talent of Dettori who has already ridden the winners of more than 500 Group races. He was described by Piggott as the best jockey currently riding.

Javier Castellano

With many years remaining on the saddle, the Venezuelan is already establishing himself as one of the greats of the sport with 4,792 wins to his name. Castellano shot to fame in 2004 with several major victories, notably the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

In his short career to date, he has already received the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey on four occasions (2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016) – an award centred on having the highest purse winnings of any jockey in North America. Castellano’s record $28 million in winnings set in 2015 is the current single-season record and the 40-year-old has also triumphed at the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and numerous other G1 races around the world.

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