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Being a jockey is a demanding job and only a handful of people will make it to the top. It takes dedication, determination, and of course talent to become the best of the best.
The best jockeys of all time have made quite the name for themselves in the racing world, raking in wins, earnings, and breaking records.
With victories in the thousands, they have spent their fair share of time in the winner’s circle. Though some of these names might not ring a bell, they are worthy of a spot on this list.
Here are 10 of the best horse jockeys ever:
1. Russell Baze
Russell Baze is a pioneer in the racing world, as he has the most wins ever by a jockey with an incredible 12,844 victories to his name. He is a ten-time winner of the United States Champion Jockey title.
Baze was born on August 7, 1958, in Vancouver, British Columbia. He grew up in a horse racing family, as his father was a former jockey and trainer. Baze began his career as a jockey at 16 and he soon began dominating the Thoroughbred racing world.
Throughout his racing career, Baze has won some of the most prominent horse races in America. He has won the All American Stakes, San Carlos Handicap, California Derby, and Oak Tree Invitational Stakes, among many others. In 1999, he became a member of the United States Racing Hall of Fame.
During his career, Baze bought home an incredible $199,334,219 in earnings. With a 24% winning record, he is one of the best jockeys ever.
2. Laffit A. Pincay, Jr.
With an outstanding 9,530 career victories under his belt, Laffit Pincay, Jr. is only second to Russell Baze in wins. During his career, he earned the United States Champion Jockey by earnings seven times, and the United States Champion Jockey by wins once.
Pincay was born on December 29, 1946, in Panama City, Panama. He grew up watching his father race at tracks in Panama and Venezuela. He began riding in his native Panama before receiving a sponsorship to ride in America. His career in America began at Arlington Park and in no time he was dominating the Thoroughbred racing scene.
Pincay has won numerous G1 races including the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes three times, and seven wins at the Breeders’ Cup. Other major victories include winning the Santa Anita Derby, Hollywood Gold Cup, Santa Barbara Handicap, and Kentucky Oaks.
Pincay was named the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey five times. In 1975, he became a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. During his 40-year-long career, he took home $237,120,625 in earnings.
3. William Shoemaker
William (Bill) Shoemaker won a total of 8,883 races as a jockey, a record he held for many years. Upon retiring from his legendary career as a jockey, he briefly took up training horses.
Shoemaker was born on August 19, 1931, in Fabens, Texas. His career as a jockey took off when he was just a teenager. Within just a year of beginning his professional career, he became the US Champion Jockey.
Shoemaker went on to win the Kentucky Derby four times, the Preakness Stakes twice and the Belmont Stakes five times. Other notable wins include the Breeders’ Cup, Santa Anita Derby, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Oak Tree Invitational Stakes.
For ten years, Shoemaker held the title of United States Champion Jockey by earnings. He also earned the title of United States Champion Jockey five times.
In 1958, he became inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. He took home $123,375,524 in earnings as a jockey and over $3,700,000 in earnings as a trainer.
4. Lester Piggott
Lestor Piggott is an international legend, with a total of 4,493 career wins. He earned the title of British Flat Racing Champion Jockey a whopping 11 times.
Piggott was born November 5, 1935, in Wantage, England. He was born into a racing family as his grandfather owned a Thoroughbred farm and his father won the Grand National three times.
Piggott began racing when at the young age of 12, with his background in Thoroughbreds giving him an advantage on the racetrack.
His most notable wins include the Epsom Derby, Epsom Oaks, Ascot Gold Cup, 2000 Guineas, and the 1000 Guineas. In addition, Piggott won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Irish Derby, German Derby, and Singapore Derby.
Piggott has the most Epsom Derby wins among all jockeys. He also holds the most victories in the Ascot Gold Cup (11), Dewhurst Stakes (10), July Cup (10), and Coronation Cup (nine).
Also read: 15 Facts You Didn’t Know About Horse Racing
5. Eddie Arcaro
Eddie Arcaro has won more American classic races than any other jockey and is the only jockey to win two Triple Crown titles. During his career, he took home 4,779 wins, including many major stake races in America.
Arcaro was born on February 19, 1916, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was born premature, weighing only three pounds. His small size worked to his advantage, as he kicked off his racing career at age 16.
Acaro is tied for the most Kentucky Derby wins with five. He holds the record for the most Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes wins with six apiece. He won the Triple Crown in 1941 with Whirlaway and in 1948 with Citation.
Arcaro won the Suburban Handicap eight times, the Wood Memorial Stakes nine times, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup ten times. With earnings of $30,039,543, he led the United States Champion Jockey by earnings six times. In 1958, Acaro became a member of the United States Racing Hall of Fame.
6. John Velazquez
With earnings of $450,903,607 and counting, John Velazquez is the highest-earning American-based jockey of all time. He has raked in a total of 6,398 career wins and is still going.
Velazquez was born on November 24, 1971, in Carolina, Puerto Rico. After attending a jockey school for a year and a half, his racing career took flight in Puerto Rico. In 1990, Velazquez came to New York and began receiving guidance from jockey Angel Cordero Jr.
To date, Velazquez has won the Kentucky Derby four times and the Belmont Stakes twice (however, Medina Spirit was later stripped of her 2021 Kentucky Derby win). He has won over 15 races at the Breeders’ Cup.
Velazquez has also found success on the international circuit, winning the Dubai World Cup, King’s Stand Stakes, and Woodbine Mile.
In 2004 and 2005, Velazquez led the United States Champion Jockey by earnings. He’s a two-time winner of the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey. In 2012, became a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
7. Sir Anthony Peter McCoy
Sir Anthony Peter McCoy, also known as AP McCoy or Tony McCoy, is perhaps the most successful jockey to compete in jump and flat races. During his career, he won 4,358 races, the majority of which were over fences.
Born on May 4, 1974, McCoy grew up in Moneyglass, Northern Ireland. After starting his career at 17, he has won almost all major jump races in the United Kingdom. Such races include the Grand National, Scottish Grand National, Cheltenham Gold Cup, Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Champion Hurdle.
McCoy won the British Jump Racing Champion Jockey 20 consecutive times, a record that remains unmatched. In 2010, he became the first jockey to win the honor of BBC Sports Personality of the Year. At the 2016 New Year Honours, McCoy was knighted in part for his services to horse racing.
McCoy holds the record for the most jump wins by any jockey ever. During his fantastic career, he took home over £40,000,000 in earnings (over $52,000,000).
8. Mike E. Smith
Mike E. Smith holds the record for the most Grade 1 wins on American soil. To date, he has a total of 5,649 wins under his belt.
Smith was born on August 10, 1965, in Dexter, New Mexico. He spent much of his youth at his grandparent’s farm, where he began breaking horses at just eight years old. At only 11 years old, Smith began riding in races, officially receiving his jockey’s license at 16.
Smith holds the record for the most Breeders’ Cup wins, with 27 victories. He has won the Kentucky Derby twice, the Preakness Stakes twice and the Belmont Stakes three times.
In 2018, Smith became the oldest jockey to win the coveted Triple Crown aboard Justify at age 52.
Smith also has success abroad, winning such races as the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Queen’s Plate, Breeders’ Stake, and Dubai Cup. In 1993 and 1994, he won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey. In 2003, Smith became a member of the Racing and Hall of Fame.
9. Frankie Dettori
Perhaps the current biggest global sensation in horse racing, Frankie Dettori has 3,286 wins and counting across the world. Described by the legendary Laffit Pincay as the “best jockey currently riding,” Dettori has over 250 Grade 1 wins.
Frankie Dettori was born on December 15, 1970, in Milan, Italy. He began riding horses at the age of 12 and by only 13 he become a stable boy and jockey apprentice. He achieved his first victory at the age of 16 and the success just kept on coming from there.
Dettori has won just about every major flat race there is in the United Kingdom. Such victories include the 1000 Guineas Stakes, 2000 Guineas Stakes, Ascot Gold Cup, Coronation Cup, Eclipse Stakes, and Yorkshire Oaks.
Dettori has numerous international wins under his belt including the Hong Kong Cup, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Derby Italiano. Dettori has won the coveted Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe a record six times.
In 1996, Dettori won all seven races at the Royal Ascot Festival, a feat that remains unmatched to this day. He has been the UK Champion Flat Jockey three times, with career earnings of over £153,000,000 (approximately $200 million).
Also read: 10 Best Racehorses of All Time
10. Sir Gordon Richards
Sir Gordon Richards is considered to be the best jockey of all time. During his career, he won 4,870 races, winning the British Flat Racing Champion Jockey title a record 26 times.
Richards was born on May 5, 1904, in Donnington Wood, England. Coming from an equestrian family, Richards grew up riding pit ponies and began his racing career at 16. He had an unorthodox style of riding that proved to be a success for him.
Richards won numerous British Classic races including the 1000 Guineas Stakes, 2000 Guineas Stakes, Derby Stakes, Oaks Stakes, and St Leger Stakes. He won many other major races including the Gold Cup, Champion Stakes, Coronation Stakes, and Eclipse Stakes.
After his career as a jockey, Richards dabbled as a trainer. Thanks to his contributions to the Thoroughbred racing world, he was knighted in 1953. In 1970, he became an honorary member of the Jockey Club.