Famous Horse Jockeys
For many years, horse racing has seen many talented jockeys who have participated in and won thousands of races. However, a few names stand out as the most famous horse jockeys, making indelible marks on the sport.
This article will be of most interest to horse racing bettors. We will explore the world of horse racing, taking a closer look at the career and achievements of some of the most famous and winningest jockeys of all time, including:
- Sir Tony McCoy
- Russell Baze
- Frankie Dettori
- John Velazquez
- Mike E. Smith
- Bill Shoemaker
List of Famous Horse Racing Jockeys in the World
Horse racing is an exhilarating sport that captivates audiences worldwide. Archaeological records indicate that horse racing dates back to Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Babylon, and other ancient civilizations. While the sport has been around since long before, horse racing only became well-established as a spectacle sport in the 18th century.
From ancient civilization till modern-day society, horse racing has remained a timeless spectacle that reflects the spirit of competition and the extraordinary bond and partnership between humans and these majestic animals.
Since as far back as was recorded, horse racing has witnessed the rise of talented and fearless jockeys who have played pivotal roles in the sport and have become legends. Many have displayed extraordinary talents and unwavering determination and made indelible marks on the sport, from exciting finishes to record-making or breaking performances.
Now let’s dive into our list of the top 10 famous horse jockey names.
10. Sir Tony McCoy
- Born: May 4, 1974, Moneyglass, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
- Career wins: 4,348
- Years active: 1992-2015 (23 years)
- Earnings: £180 million
Sir Antony Peter McCoy, popularly known as AP McCoy or Tony McCoy, is possibly the most successful jockey in jump and flat races. Born in Ireland, McCoy began his winning streak at 17, when he secured his first victory in a flat race at Thurles racecourse in Ireland. His impressive success in horse racing led him to the England tracks, where he continued to excel.
During his illustrious career, McCoy won every major race worth winning, from the Grand National to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and the Champion Hurdle, among others. For 20 consecutive years, from the 1995/96 season to 2014/15, McCoy won British Jump Racing Champion Jockey, a record that remains unmatched. He became the first top jockey to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2010.
Another major highlight of Tony McCoy’s career happened in December 2013, when he officially became a Guinness World Record holder for three categories. One record was for marking his 289 jump wins in 2001/2002, and the second was to mark his 18 Champion Jump titles. The third was for having the most career jump winners, which was 4022 as of December 2013. McCoy retired in 2015 with 4,348 career wins, making him one of the most famous horse racing jockeys.
9. Ruby Walsh
- Born: May 14, 1979, Kill, County Kildare, Ireland
- Career wins: 2756
- Years active: 23 years (1992-2015)
- Earnings: €23,835,989
Another dominant name that made our list of famous horse jockeys is Ruby Walsh, an Irish former National Hunt jockey. He is the third most successful winner in the history of British and Irish racing, trailing behind the accomplishments of Sir Tony McCoy and Richard Johnson.
Being the son of an Irish amateur jockey turned racehorse trainer, Walsh showed talent from a young age and won the Irish amateur title twice consecutively before going pro. At age 20, he won the English Grand National in 2000 on his first attempt atop a horse trained by his father.
Throughout his illustrious career, Ruby Walsh managed to make several impressive achievements. He has been the Irish Jump Jockey champion 12 times. Walsh is also the most successful jockey in the Cheltenham Festival, with 59 wins from 2004 to 2017. This record also made him earn the leading rider’s award eleven times. He received the Horse Racing Ireland National Hunt award for five consecutive years, from 2004 to 2008, and also won the International Jockey of the Year Lester award three times.
Walsh announced his retirement in 2019 after a 24-year career that delivered 2756 wins, cementing his status as a true legend of the track.
8. Russell Baze
- Born: Aug. 7, 1958, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
- Career wins: 12,844
- Years active: 1995-2019 (24 years)
- Earnings: $199,334,219
Russell Avery Baze is one of the most successful and famous horse jockeys in North America’s horse racing history. Born and raised in a horse racing family, Baze began his career at 16 at the Yakima racetrack in Walla Walla, Washington, winning his first race there in 1974.
During his illustrious career, Baze won several major races and got many awards, including the United States Champion Jockey by Wins 10 times. He fully made his mark at the Bay Meadows racetrack, where he won 36 titles and the Golden Gate Fields, where he won 27 titles. Perhaps, the biggest highlight of Baze’s long career was when he surpassed Laffit Pincay Jr to set the record for the most career victories in 2006. In April 2010, Baze achieved a personal milestone when he won the San Francisco Breeders’ Cup mile, a prestigious race at the Golden Gate Fields that had always eluded him.
Russel Baze also got several special awards and honors during his career, including being inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (1999). After over four decades, Baze retired from horse racing in 2016 at 57 with 12,844, stamping his status as America’s all-time winningest jockey.
7. Laffit Pincay
- Born: Dec. 29, 1946, Panama City, Panama
- Career wins: 9,530
- Years active: 1966-2003 (37 years)
- Earnings: $237,120,625
The next name on our list of most famous horse jockeys is Laffit Pincay Jr., a Panama-born jockey. Pincay got into racing while watching his jockey father race at many tracks in Panama and Venezuela. Seeing his promising talent, renowned horseman Fred W. Hooper took Pincay to the United States under contract in 1966. His career in America began at Arlington Park, where he promptly demonstrated his prowess by winning eight of his eleven races. It didn’t take long for him to gain nationwide recognition while securing riding titles and major stakes on both the East and West coasts.
During his long career, Pincay won almost every major race on the US Calendar, including two of the three American classic races, Breeders’ Cups, the Hollywood Gold Cup, and many others. He also received several awards and honors, including the United States Champion Jockey by Earnings (7 times), the United States Champion Jockey by Wins (once), and an induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (1975), among others.
With his 8,834th win in December 1999 at California’s Hollywood Park Racetrack, Pincay overtook Bill Shoemaker’s record to be the winningest jockey in the world. He still held on to this title in 2003, when he retired with 9,530 career wins, a record that has since then been broken by Russel Baze.
6. Frankie Dettori
- Born: Dec. 15, 1970, Milan, Italy
- Career wins: Approximately 3,000+
- Years active: 1987 till date (36 years)
- Earnings: $212,479,167
One of the biggest and most famous jockeys in horse racing is the Italian-born British flat racing jockey Frankie Dettori. Born as the son of a 13 times Italian Champion jockey, Dettori was introduced to the art of horse racing lifestyle at a young age. When he was nine, he even rode in the Pony Derby at the San Siro Racecourse. At 13 years of age, Dettori quit school and started working in the racing stables to chase a career as a jockey and later relocated to England to work as a jockey apprentice.
As a teenager, Dettori started making his mark in the horse racing scene, winning races here and there. At age 18, he became the first teenager to have won 100 races in a season since Lester Piggott. However, the achievement that made Dettori one of the greatest and most famous horse jockeys names happened in 1996 when he won seven out of seven races at the British Festival of Racing at Ascot, a remarkable achievement.
So far, Frankie Dettori has had an incredibly remarkable career, having participated and won in many races worldwide, from Italy to Britain, the United States, Ireland, France, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates, among others. He has also been crowned the British flat racing Champion Jockey three times.
Unlike the other names mentioned above, Dettori is still active in the horse racing scene and won’t retire until November 2023. Currently, he has well over 3,000 career wins under his belt.
5. Lester Piggott
- Born: Nov. 5, 1935, Wantage, Berkshire, England
- Career wins: 4,493
- Years active: 1954-1985 (31 years)
- Earnings: £20 million
The next most famous jockey on our list is Lester Piggott, an English professional jockey and trainer and the originator of a much-imitated race-riding style popularly called “The Long Fellow.” Born into a long lineage of jockeys and trainers, Piggott began racing horses very early. At the young age of 12, he won his very first race in 1948 at Haydock Park. By his teens, he fully embraced his family’s legacy and became a sensation in horse racing. Not long after his career started, Piggott became the youngest jockey to ride and win over 100 races in one season.
During his career, Piggott participated in and won just about every worthwhile race in the United Kingdom and many others in France, Ireland, and other countries. Piggott managed to achieve many incredible feats, such as his record as the leading jockey in numerous races, including the Epsom Derby (9), Ascot Gold Cup (11), July Cup (10), the Coronation Cup (9), and many others.
Piggott was the British flat racing Champion Jockey 11 times, won thirty British Classic races from 1954 to 1992, and got a prestigious British award named in his honor. In 2021, Piggott became one of the first two entries in the British Champions Series Hall of Fame, marking his great achievements. Lester Piggott officially retired in 1995 as one of the greatest flat racing jockeys ever, with 4,493 career wins under his belt.
4. John R. Velazquez
- Born: Nov. 24, 1971, Carolina, Puerto Rico
- Career wins: 6,472
- Years active: 1990 till date
- Earnings: $ $468,546,357
Another great jockey that made our list of most famous horse jockeys of all time is the Puerto Rico-born jockey John R. Velazquez. Velazquez got into the horse racing scene by attending a jockey school for a year and a half. He won his first race at El Nuevo Comandante racetrack in Canóvanas, Puerto Rico, in 1990. He moved to the United States that same year to receive guidance from renowned leading jockey Angel Cordero Jr. Soon after, Velazquez won his first stake race at the Aqueduct Racetrack, and his first graded win came a year later. Things only went up for him since then.
During his illustrious career, Velazquez participated in and won several major graded stakes, including the Kentucky Oaks, Dubai World Cup, Woodbine Mile, and many others. Like all the other great jockeys, Velazquez has achieved many feats, including winning 15 Breeders’ Cups. He also achieved a few American Classic wins, including the Kentucky Derby (3 times), Belmont Stakes (2 times), and Preakness Stakes (once).
Velazquez received many special awards and honors, including the United States Champion Jockey by Earnings for two years and an induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (2012). Even today, Velazquez is still active in the horse racing scene and has over 6,000 career wins.
3. Mike E. Smith
- Born: Aug. 10, 1965, Roswell, New Mexico, United States
- Career wins: 5,692
- Years active: 1982 till date
- Earnings: $346,099,932
The American-born Mike E. Smith is another name on our list of most famous horse jockeys of all time. Smith got into horse racing in his youth while living with his maternal grandparents’ horse farm, where he began breaking horses as an eight years old boy. At 11, Smith began racing horses in New Mexico and got a jockey’s license when he was 16. He soon quit school and began riding the Midwestern circuit. In 1991, Smith made the list of the few American jockeys to have won a European classic by winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas. He also became the leading jockey in New York.
Throughout his career, Smith participated in and won many races, including
- 26 Breeders Cup wins (the highest won by a jockey to date)
- 2 Kentucky Derby wins
- 2 Preakness Stakes
- 3 Belmont Stakes.
In 2018, Smith made a new record of becoming the oldest jockey who won the Triple Crown at age 52. A year after that, Smith achieved another incredible milestone when he surpassed Jerry Bailey to become the jockey with the highest number of grade 1 wins, with 217 victories.
As one of the US leading jockeys in Thoroughbred racing since the 1990s, Smith has received several awards and honors and has been inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Smith currently has over 5,623 career wins.
2. Sir Gordon Richards
- Born: May 5, 1904, Donnington Wood, Telford, England
- Career wins: 4,870
- Years active: 1921-1954 (33 years)
- Earnings: £829,650
The next name on our list is an English jockey, often considered the best jockey in the world. Richards’s love for horse racing started at home, where he used to ride pit ponies raised by his father from an early age. In 1920, Richards rode his first race at age 16 in a race at Lincoln and made his first win the following year at Leicester. He became a sensation in the horse racing scene, participating in and winning almost all the races worth winning in Great Britain, from the British Classics to other major races.
During his long career, Sir Gordon Richards achieved many incredible feats and broke many records. He became a 26-time Champion Jockey, a feat that stands to date and may never be equaled. In 1931, Richards broke Fred Archer’s long-standing record of the most wins in a season when he obtained 259 victories, later broken by Tony McCoy in 2002. Richards was also the very first top jockey to have received a knighthood from the crown and, to this date, remains the only knighted flat jockey.
Richards retired in 1954 after an injury with 4,870 career wins on his record. He later became a trainer and was quite successful before he died in 1986.
1. Bill Shoemaker
- Born: Aug. 19, 1931, Fabens, Texas, United States
- Career wins: 8,833
- Years active: 1949-1990 (41 years)
- Earnings: $123,375,524
Regarded as one of the greatest and most famous horse jockeys ever, William (Bill) Shoemaker was an American jockey and an almost unrivaled fighter in the horse racing scene. Shoemaker had always been a fighter by nature, from being a miniature baby weighing roughly one kilo, not expected to make it through the night after his birth. Not only did Shoemaker make it through the night, he went on to become a giant in thoroughbred racing.
At 18, Shoemaker started riding professionally and achieved his first victory a month later at Golden Gate Fields. A year later, Shoemaker clinched the coveted United States Champion Jockey by win title in 1951, a feat he would later achieve four more times during his illustrious career. From then on, it seemed as if Shoemaker’s only purpose was to attain victory in every race worth winning. He won all the American Classic races multiple times and the 1987 Breeders’ Cup. Sadly, the highly coveted Triple Crown itself eluded him.
He also participated in and won many major races, making indelible marks on their record. To date, he is the most win jockey in several major races, including the Hollywood Derby (8 wins), the Der Mar Handicap (8 wins), and the Santa Anita Handicap (11 wins), among others. He won several awards and was also inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1958. Shoemaker officially hung up his spurs in 1990 with 8,833 wins to his record, after which he later returned to the track to become a trainer till his death in 2003.
Winningest Jockey in Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby, also popularly known as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” and “The Run for the Roses, ” is among the world’s most prestigious and highly anticipated horse racing events. Held annually on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, the Derby is an American Grade 1 stakes run by three-year-old Thoroughbreds. This iconic race is one of the three classic American races comprising the highly coveted Triple Crown.
As a prestigious race with a rich history dating back to 1875, the Kentucky Derby has witnessed hundreds of horse jockeys atop their thoroughbreds racing for the Kentucky Derby Trophy, some of whom have succeeded. That said, out of the many jockeys that have won the Kentucky Derby, few stand out as the winningest jockeys the race has ever seen, winning it more than once.
Look at some of the winningest jockeys in this popular horse race event.
3. John Velazquez (2011, 2017, 2020)
The first winningest jockey in history on our list is John Velazquez, one of the most accomplished and respected riders with 3 Kentucky Derby wins.
Born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, in 1971, Velazquez started racing after going to jockey school and won his first race in 1990 at El Nuevo Comandante racetrack in Canóvanas. He soon moved to the United States the same year to continue his jockeying career, winning his first stake race and his first graded stakes the next year.
John Velazquez also made many indelible marks, receiving several recognitions, awards, and honors. You will find some of his noteworthy achievements in our most famous horse jockeys list.
2. Bill Shoemaker (1955, 1959, 1965, 1986)
With four wins, the next winningest jockey in the Derby is William (Bill) Shoemaker, a legend in horse racing. Born in Fabens, Texas, in 1931, Shoemaker started his jockey career at 18 and made his first win the following month at Golden Gates Fields.
Shoemaker’s wins at the Kentucky Derby started in 1955 when he took first place aboard Hall of Famer Swaps. Sadly, Shoemaker narrowly lost his next shot at a Derby win to Bill Hartack in 1957 when he reigned in his horse too early, having misjudged the finish line. His second win eventually came in 1959 aboard Tommy Lee. His next win came six years later, in 1965, when he came first at the Derby aboard Lucky Debonair. Shoemaker clinched his fourth and final Kentucky Derby win aboard Ferdinand In 1986, becoming the oldest jockey to win the race at 54. Shoemaker also rode the other American classic races and won the Preakness Stakes twice and the Belmont Stakes five times.
1. Bill Hartack (1957, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1969)
Popularly known as “Bill” and “Willie”, William John Hartack Jr. is the winningest jockey in the world of Kentucky Derby, right beside Eddie Arcaro with five times wins. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1932, Bill Hartack started his career as a jockey in his teens. He was only 19 when he first won a race at Waterford Park, a West Virginia minor league track. From there, he quickly became a sensation in the US horse racing scene as one of the top riders.
Bill Hartack won his first Kentucky Derby in 1957 atop Iron Liege, which became quite famous in Derby racing history as Iron Liege won against Gallant Man by a nose. Bill Shoemaker, the jockey atop Gallant Man, supposedly misjudged the finish line and stood up in his stirrups too soon, a mistake that cost him the race. Hartack’s next Derby win came three years later 1960, atop Venetian Way. Two years later, in 1962, he achieved his Kentucky Derby hat trick when he won the coveted race again aboard Decidedly.
Hartack’s fourth Kentucky Win aboard Northern Dancer was a monumental one.
Many believed that Northern Dancer didn’t have the stamina to endure the race’s distance, an opinion that the horse thoroughly proved wrong with his performance, ultimately winning by a neck. Hartack made his fifth and final Kentucky win aboard Majestic Prince in 1969. He also won the Preakness Stakes thrice (1956, 1964, 1969) and the Belmont Stakes once (1960).
Hartack’s other noteworthy achievements include winning the United States Champion Jockey by wins award four times and by earnings award twice. By his mid-20s, Hartack already had several achievements few would achieve in their entire career, resulting in his induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at the early age of 26 in 1959.
It concludes our list of the winningest and most famous horse jockeys of all time. The horse racing world has been graced by remarkable jockeys that have made indelible marks on the sport and have their names etched in the annals of history. From the legendary Bill Shoemaker to the iconic Sir Gordon Richards, Mike Smith, Russell Baze, Bill Hartack, etc., these jockeys have shown unmatched performance and skills and made or shattered numerous records.
Frequently Asked Questions
What jockey has won the most Kentucky Derby?Since its inauguration 148 years ago in 1875, several jockeys have won the Kentucky Derby races. Some of the most famous jockeys to have done so include Bill Hartack (5 times), Eddie Arcaro (5 times), Bill Shoemaker (4 times), and John Velazquez (3 times), among others.
What jockey won the Triple Crown?Thirteen jockeys have won the Triple Crown, from Johnny Loftus aboard Sir Barton in 1919 to Mike Smith atop Justify in 2018.
What horse jockey has the most wins?The current holder of the most wins in horse racing is Jorge Ricardo, a Brazilian jockey with 13,216 wins as of July 2022. Previous holders of the record include Russel Baze (12,844), Laffit Pincay Jr. (9,530), and Bill Shoemaker (8,833 wins).