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12 Triple Crown Winning Jockeys Who Made History

To win the Triple Crown is a dream come true for any jockey. It takes skill, determination, and the right horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.

Throughout history, 12 jockeys have won the Triple Crown: Johnny Loftus (1919), Earl Sande (1930), Willie Saunders (1935), Charles Kurtsinger (1937), Eddie Arcaro (1941, 1948), Johnny Longden (1943), Warren Mehrtens (1946), Ron Turcotte (1973), Jean Cruguet (1977), Steve Cauthen (1978), Victor Espinoza (2015), and Mike Smith (2018).

Eddie Arcaro is the only jockey to win the Triple Crown Crown twice. Once in 1941 riding Whirlaway and again in 1948 riding Citation. To date, no other jockey has won the Triple Crown twice, though Victor Espinoza came close on two different occasions.

1. Johnny Loftus (1919)

Johnny Loftus became the first jockey to win the Triple Crown in 1919 aboard Sir Barton. He first became a jockey at the age of 15 and quickly found success in the sport.

Though his career as a jockey was short, lasting just ten years, Loftus won on some of the top horses of the time. He successfully piloted Sir Barton to the Triple Crown in his final season as a jockey. That same year, he also rode Man o’ War, widely regarded as the greatest Thoroughbred racehorse, to numerous wins.

Loftus finished out his 1919 season as the top money-winning jockey in the US. He went on to retire as a jockey that year to become a trainer. In 1959, he became a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

2. Earl Sande (1930)

Jockey Earl Sande riding Man o' War
Earl Sande on Man o’ War

As a South Dakota native, Earl Sande started as a bronco buster, then a Quarter horse rider before beginning a career as a jockey. He took home the Triple Crown in 1930 aboard Gallant Fox.

Sande quickly proved he had a talent for racing and became the United States Champion Jockey by earnings in 1921, 1923, and 1927. He even rode the legendary Man o’ War briefly while the colt’s main jockey was out for an injury. His biggest achievement as a jockey came from riding Gallant Fox to an exciting Triple Crown title.

At the time, the term ‘Triple Crown’ wasn’t commonly used but became popular after Sande’s spectacular wins aboard Gallant Fox. In 1932, Sande retired as a jockey to become a trainer, and in 1938 he became the U.S. Champion Trainer by earnings. Sande became a member of the United States Racing Hall of Fame in 1955.

3. Willie Saunders (1935)

Jockey Willie Saunders

Born in Canada, Willie Saunders rose to success on the American racing circuit. His most notable accomplishment came from winning the 1935 Triple Crown with Omaha.

The jockey’s first career win occurred in 1932. Saunders rode for many prominent barn owners before being paired with Omaha. His Triple Crown win on Omaha was historic, as the colt is the only winner of the Triple Crown to be sired by a Triple Crown winner.

Saunders took a break from his career as a jockey to serve in the Army in WWII. Upon returning from the war, he continued racing until 1950. He then worked as a horse trainer, and in 1976, he became a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

4. Charles Kurtsinger (1937)

Charles Kurtsinger and War Admiral
Charles Kurtsinger & War Admiral. Credit: Keeneland-Morgan

Nicknamed the “Flying Dutchman,” Charles Kurtsinger learned to ride from his father, who was also a jockey. Though his career as a jockey lasted just 15 years, Kurtsinger had incredible success.

As a jockey, Kurtsinger won six Triple Crown races, including the 1937 Triple Crown with War Admiral, son of the great Man o’ War. He also won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in 1931 and the Preakness Stakes in 1933. Kurtsinger also briefly rode Omaha in 1934, the year before the colt won the Triple Crown.

Kurtsinger also piloted War Admiral to the legendary one-on-one matchup with Seabiscuit in 1938, which underdog Seabiscuit won. After dealing with an injury, Kurtsinger retired in 1939. In 1967, he became a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

5. Eddie Arcaro (1941 & 1948)

Eddie Arcaro, famous two time Triple Crown winning jockey
Credit: BloodHorse Library

Eddie Arcaro is regarded as one of the greatest jockeys in history. He is the only jockey to win the Triple Crown twice, in 1941 aboard Whirlaway and again in 1948 with Citation.

Arcaro came across success at a young age, winning his first race at 16. He is tied for the most Kentucky Derby wins at five and holds the record of most Preakness, and Belmont wins at six. Despite Whirlway’s inconsistencies as a young horse, Arcrao expertly guided him to the Triple Crown. Seven years later, he rode the talented Citation to his Triple Crown win.

Arcaro won more American classic races than any other jockey. In addition to being the jockey of Whirlaway and Citation, Arcaro also rode the legendary Kelso. He won the United States Champion Jockey by earnings a whopping six times. In 1958, Arcaro became a member of the United States Racing Hall of Fame.

6. Johnny Longden (1943)

Johnny Longden on the front cover of Sports Illustrated magazine

As one of the top jockeys in history, Johnny Longden moved from Canada to America to pursue horse racing. Nicknamed “Pumper,” his most notable victory was winning the 1943 Triple Crown riding Count Fleet.

After a bit of a slow start, his career as a jockey took off. His first and most successful partnership was with Count Fleet. He guided the colt to a win in the Belmont Stakes by a then-record margin of 25 lengths.

In 1940, Longden became a founding member of the Jockeys’ Guild. He won the United States Champion Jockey by wins in 1938, 1947, and 1948 and won the United States Champion Jockey by earnings in 1943 and 1945. Longden became the first person to win the Kentucky Derby as a jockey and then as a trainer. In 1958, he became a member of the United States Racing Hall of Fame.

7. Warren Mehrtens (1946)

Jockey Warren Mehrtens on Assault
Warren Mehrtens & Assault. Credit: kentuckyderby.com

Growing up as a fan of horse racing, Warren Mehrtens pursued a career as a jockey after graduating high school. His biggest career achievement came from taking home the 1946 Triple Crown aboard Assault.

Mehrtens’s first win happened in 1940 when he was 20 years old. He then went on to win big races in Chicago and New York before being paired with Assault. Mehrtens expertly guided Assault to a then record Kentucky Derby win of eight lengths.

In 1952, Mehrtens retired from his career as a jockey. He then went on to become a race steward at Keeneland Racetrack. Mehrtens then went on to work at Delaware Park Racetrack before joining the New York Racing Association.

8. Ron Turcotte (1973)

Ron Turcotte, the jockey who rode Secretariat to his Triple Crown victory

Born in Canada, Ron Turcotte began working in Toronto as a hot walker before becoming a jockey. He is most famous for being the jockey that won the 1973 Triple Crown riding the incredible Secretariat.

Turcotte’s career riding Secretariat was one for the ages. As one of the greatest racehorses of all time, Secretariat set the record for the fastest time in all three races of the Triple Crown under Turcotte’s expert guidance. Secretariat’s historic Belmont win by a record 31 lengths is memorialized in a famous photo of Turcotte looking back.

Turcotte became just the second jockey to win back-to-back Kentucky Derbies and the first jockey to win five of six consecutive Triple Crown races. Unfortunately, in 1978 he had a career-ending fall that resulted in him becoming paraplegic. In 1979, Turcotte became a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

9. Jean Cruguet (1977)

Jockey Jean Cruguet who rode Seattle Slew to win the Triple Crown

Born in France, Jean Cruguet has had a standout racing career in America, Europe, and Canada. Out of all his achievements, he is best known for winning the 1977 Triple Crown aboard Seattle Slew.

Under the guidance of Cruguet, Seattle Slew became the first horse to win the Triple Crown with an undefeated record. In fact, with Cruguet as his jockey Seattle Slew only lost one race, coming in second place. In addition to his victories in the United States, Cruguet won several big races abroad, including the Canadian International Stakes and Prix Vermeille.

At the age of 41, Cruguet retired from racing to become a trainer with his wife at their own stables. He returned to racing just two years later and won his last big race in 1989.

10. Steve Cauthen (1978)

Jockey Steve Cauthen who rode Affirmed to Triple Crown victory

Steve Cauthen got his start at racing at a young age, finding success in America and Europe. At just 18 years old, Cauthen became the youngest jockey ever to win the Triple Crown.

Despite his young age, Cauthen expertly rode Affirmed to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in 1978. His success continued abroad as he won some of Europe’s biggest races, such as the Epsom Derby, Ascot Gold Cup, Irish Derby, and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. He is the only jockey to win the Kentucky Derby and Epsom Derby.

After achieving such success at a young age, Cauthen was named the 1977 Associated Press Athlete of the Year and Sports Illustrated – Sportsman of the Year. He also won the 1977 United States Champion Jockey by earnings and the British Champion Jockey in 1984, 1985, and 1987. In 1994, he became a member of the United States Racing Hall of Fame.

11. Victor Espinoza (2015)

Jockey Victor Espinoza on a race horse before a race
Photo by Rennett Stowe (Flickr)

Born in Mexico, Victor Espinoza paid his way through jockey school by working as a bus driver. Espinoza broke a 37 year Triple Crown drought by winning the coveted title in 2015 aboard American Pharoah.

Before his 2015 victory, Espinoza arrived twice at the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown contender, only to fall short both those times. He became the first jockey to get three chances at the Triple Crown, securing the title on his third attempt. His win in 2015 was widely celebrated, as it had been so long since the world had seen a Triple Crown winner.

Espinoza has also enjoyed success abroad, winning the Windsor Castle Stakes and Dubai World Cup. He is the first jockey to win the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing, as he has won the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic. In 2017, he became a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

12. Mike Smith (2018)

2018 Triple Crown winning jockey, Mike Smith
Photo by Rennett Stowe (Flickr)

Mike Smith began racing horses at age 11, and by 16, he got his jockey’s license. He became the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown at age 52.

In 2018, Smith piloted Justify to win the Triple Crown in an exciting fashion. That same year, Smith rode Justify to the Breeders’ Cup Classic win, making Justify the first horse to win the Grand Slam. Smith was undefeated with Justify, making him the first horse to win the Triple Crown and be undefeated during his entire career.

Smith also has had lots of success abroad, winning races such as the Irish 2,000 Guineas and Dubai World Cup. In 2019, he became the jockey with the most Grade One wins. In 2003, he became a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

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