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10 Most Famous Jockeys in Horse Racing History

10 Most Famous Jockeys in Horse Racing History

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To become a jockey takes skill, dedication, and courage, as horse racing is not a sport for the light-hearted. The most famous horse racing jockeys ever possess all those skills and more, allowing them to make it to the top.

These famous jockeys have won some of the most legendary horse races. They have raked in numerous wins and earnings as they have achieved great success in the sport. These jockeys have made a name for themselves in the competitive world of horse racing.

Here are the 10 most famous jockeys ever.

1. Bill Shoemaker

Bill Shoemaker, famous American horse racing jockey
Height:1.47m (4' 10")
Weight41 kg (91 pounds)
Born:August 19, 1931
Birthplace:Fabens, Texas, United States
Died:October 12, 2003 (aged 72)
Career wins:8,833

Bill Shoemaker was born on August 19, 1931, in Fabens, Texas. Shoemaker was so small at birth his parents feared he wouldn’t make it, however, his small size proved to be a big advantage as a jockey.

Shoemaker’s career as a jockey kicked off when he was just a teenager. He quickly found success in horse racing and within a year of beginning his professional career, he became the US Champion Jockey.

During his career, Shoemaker won the Kentucky Derby four times, the Preakness Stakes twice and the Belmont Stakes five times. He won several other notable races including the Breeders’ Cup, Santa Anita Derby, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Oak Tree Invitational Stakes. In total, Shoemaker won 8,883 races, a record he held for many years.

For ten years, Shoemaker held the title for United States Champion Jockey by earnings and earned the United States Champion Jockey by wins title five times. In 1958, he became inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Shoemaker had a brief career as a trainer after retiring as a jockey and later passed away in 2003.

2. Mike Smith

Height:163 cm (5 ft 4 in)
Born:August 10, 1965
Birthplace:Dexter, New Mexico, U.S.
Career wins:5,607 (As of January 11, 2021)

Mike Smith was born on August 10, 1965, in Dexter, New Mexico. Smith spent much of his youth at his grandparent’s farm, where he began breaking horses at the age of eight.

At just 11 years old, Smith began riding in races and by 16 he received his jockey’s license. Shortly after dropping out of high school, Smith traveled on the Midwestern racing circuit with his grandfather. He soon rose to success and his racing career took off.

Throughout his career, Smith went on to win races in the Breeders’ Cup a record 26 times. He has won the Kentucky Derby twice, the Preakness Stakes twice and the Belmont Stakes three times. In 2018, he won the coveted Triple Crown aboard Justify, becoming the oldest jockey to win it.

Smith has also experienced success as a jockey abroad too, winning such races as the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Queen’s Plate, Breeders’ Stake, and Dubai Cup. He also has the most Grade 1 wins on American soil and to date, he has a total of 5,607 wins. He won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 1993 and 1994 and he became a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2003.

3. Lester Piggott

Famous horse racing jockey Lester Piggott
Credit: Ragge Strand
Height:1.73 m (5 ft 8 in)
Born:5 November, 1935
Career wins:4,493

Lester Piggott was born on November 5, 1935, in Wantage, England. Piggott came from a family with roots in the racing industry, as his grandfather owned a Thoroughbred farm and his father won the Grand National on three occasions.

Piggott began racing when he was just 12 years old. His background in Thoroughbreds allowed him to excel in his racing. During his astounding 42-year-long career, Piggott won 4,493 races.

Some of Piggott’s most notable British victories include winning the Epsom Derby, Epsom Oaks, Ascot Gold Cup, 2000 Guineas, and the 1000 Guineas. In addition, he’s won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Irish Derby, German Derby, and Singapore Derby. He took home the title of British Flat Racing Champion Jockey a whopping 11 times.

Many regard Piggott as one of the best flat jockeys of all time. He retired as a jockey at the grand age of 60. During his career, he even dabbled as a trainer as well.

4. John Velazquez

John Velazquez, famous jockey portrait photo
Credit: Maryland GovPics
Height:1.73 m (5 ft 8 in)
Weight:112 lb (51 kg)
Born:November 24, 1971
Birthplace:Carolina, Puerto Rico
Career wins:6,000 (As of 30 November 2018)

John Velazquez was born on November 24, 1971, in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He began his career as a jockey in Puerto Rico, attending a jockey school for a year and a half.

In 1990, Velazquez moved to New York where he received guidance from jockey Angel Cordero Jr. Shortly after moving, he began winning stake races and made a name for himself in the Thoroughbred industry.

So far, Velazquez has won the Kentucky Derby four times and the Belmont Stakes twice. He has won races at the Breeders’ Cup over 15 times. He’s even found success on the international circuit, winning the Dubai World Cup, King’s Stand Stakes, and Woodbine Mile.

Velazquez is the highest-earning jockey of all time, earning $415 million and counting. He has won over 6,000 races in his career so far. He led the United States Champion Jockey by earnings in 2004 and 2005. He’s won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey twice and in 2012 became a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

5. Victor Espinoza

Height:158.0 cm (5 ft 2 in)
Born:May 23, 1972
Birthplace:Tulancingo, Hidalgo, Mexico
Career wins:3,200+ (ongoing)

Born on May 23, 1972, Victor Espinoza grew up on a dairy farm in Hidalgo, Mexico. At age 15, he left home to work with his brother as a Quarter horse trainer in Cancun.

By 17, Espinoza was attending jockey school, which he paid for by driving a bus in Mexico City. In 1990, he moved to the United States and began working as an apprentice at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields race tracks. His talent quickly shined through as he began winning stake races.

So far in his career, Espinoza has won the Kentucky Derby three times, the Preakness Stakes three times, and the Belmont Stakes once. He won the 2015 Triple Crown aboard American Pharoah, breaking a 37-year dry streak. Espinoza has won numerous other major races including the Breeders’ Cup, Dubai World Cup, Santa Anita Derby, Del Mar Handicap, and San Diego Handicap.

Espinoza is the first jockey to win the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing, after winning the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic with Justify. To date, he has won over 3,200 races. Espinoza has won the ESPY Award for Best Jockey three times and in 2017 became a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

6. Laffit Pincay, Jr.

Jokcey Laffit Pincay, Jr.
Height1.55 m (5'1”)
Born:December 29, 1946
Birthplace:Panama City, Panama
Career wins:9,530

Laffit Pincay, Jr. was born on December 29, 1946, in Panama City, Panama. He grew up watching his father race at tracks in Panama and Venezuela.

Pincay began riding in his native Panama before receiving a sponsorship to ride in America. His career in the States began at Arlington Park in Chicago. He quickly began to dominate 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. His other victories include winning the Santa Anita Derby, Hollywood Gold Cup, Santa Barbara Handicap, and Kentucky Oaks. He won a total of 9,530 races during his career.

After 40 years as a jockey, Pincay retired in 2003. During his career, he earned the United States Champion Jockey by earnings seven times, and the United States Champion Jockey by wins once. Five times he was named the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey and in 1975 he became a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

7. Sir Anthony Peter McCoy

Height1.78 m (5'10")
Weight:63.5 kg (racing weight)
Born:4 May 1974
Birthplace:Moneyglass, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Wife:Chanelle McCoy
Career wins:4,348

Born on May 4, 1974, Sir Anthony McCoy grew up in Moneyglass, Northern Ireland. Commonly known as AP McCoy or Tony McCoy, he won his first race at the age of 17.

Throughout his career, McCoy found success in both jump and flat races. He has won almost all major jump races in the United Kingdom including the Grand National, Scottish Grand National, Cheltenham Gold Cup, Queen Mother Champion Chase, and Champion Hurdle.

During his racing career, McCoy won the British Jump Racing Champion Jockey 20 times. In 2010, McCoy became the first jockey to be named the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. At the 2016 New Year Honours, he was knighted in part of his services to horse racing.

Throughout his racing career, McCoy won 4,348 jump races and 10 flat races. He holds the record for the most jump wins by any jockey ever.

8. Russell Baze

Height1.63 m (5'4")
Born:August 7, 1958
Birthplace:Vancouver, Canada
Career wins:12,844

Russell Baze was born on August 7, 1958, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Baze grew up in a horse racing family, as his father was a former jockey and trainer.

Baze began his career as a jockey in Walla Walla, Washington at the age of 16. Within just a few years, Baze had made a name for himself and began dominating the Thoroughbred racing world.

Throughout his racing career, Baze has raked in the wins, winning some of the most prominent races in America. He has won the All American Stakes, San Carlos Handicap, California Derby and Oak Tree Invitational Stakes.

Baze has the most wins ever by a jockey with an incredible 12,844 victories under his belt. He earned the title of United States Champion Jockey by wins 10 times throughout his career. In 1999, he became a member of the United States Racing Hall of Fame.

9. Ruby Walsh

Height1.78 m
Born:14 May 1979
Birthplace:Kill, Ireland
Wife:Gillian Walsh
Career wins:2756

Born on May 14, 1979, Ruby Walsh grew up in Kill, County Kildare, Ireland. He is the son of a former amateur jockey. Showing talent from a young age, Walsh won as an amateur before turning professional. As a jump jockey, he won the Grand National in his first attempt in 2000. His victory took place on a horse trained by his father.

Throughout his career, Walsh won the Irish National Hunt 12 times. He holds the most wins at the Cheltenham Festival out of all jockeys, along with winning the top jockey at the festival 12 times. In addition to his many wins on British and Irish soil, he’s won international races such as the Grand National Hurdle Stakes, Nakayama Grand Jump, and Ecycle Solutions Grand National Steeplechase.

Walsh won the International Jockey of the Year Lester Award on three occasions. During his career, he won over 2,700 races, making him one of the top jump jockeys ever.

10. Frankie Dettori

Height1.63 m (5 ft 4 in)
Born:15 December 1970
Birthplace:Milan, Italy

Frankie Dettori was born on December 15, 1970, in Milan, Italy. Dettori began riding horses at the age of 12 and by 13 he went on to become a stable boy and jockey apprentice.

As a teenager, he moved to Great Britain to where he worked as an apprentice for trainer Luca Cumani. His first victory came at the age of 16 and success followed him from there.

Dettori has won just about every major flat race in the United Kingdom. His victories include the 1000 Guineas Stakes, 2000 Guineas Stakes, Ascot Gold Cup, Coronation Cup, Eclipse Stakes, and Yorkshire Oaks. He has several international wins to his name including the Hong Kong Cup, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Derby Italiano. He has also won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe a record six times.

In 1996, he won all seven races at the Royal Ascot Festival, a feat that remains unmatched. He has been the UK Champion Flat Jockey three times. He has over 3,000 career wins to date.