Horse racing is considered one of the world’s oldest sports. Throughout the centuries, this fascinating activity has essentially undergone no change. It was originally a somewhat primitive contest of stamina and speed, usually involving only two horses in what would now be considered a “match race.” In modern times, it has become a splendid spectacle involving immense sums of money, sophisticated electronic equipment and large fields of horses, all competing against one another. It has also transformed itself over the years from a leisurely diversion to a giant public-entertainment event.
Those who ride thoroughbred horses in various races for money and prestige are referred to as jockeys, and they play a major role in the outcome of each race. It is the opinion of some experts that to become a great jockey, one must have a balance of courage, talent, physical fitness, horse sense and good self-management skills. Other experts state that a bit of aggressiveness is also required, as well as excellent critical thinking skills. It is exceptionally difficult to measure the success of jockeys, as the topic is very subjective.
Some individuals believe that this success is simply measured by the amount of money each jockey earns, while others believe the number of wins or the winning of big races, such as the Triple Crown, are better indicators of a jockey’s success. The long and interesting history of horse racing with all its changes make it particularly difficult to compare jockeys from different parts of the world or from different eras. However, attempting to keep in mind various criteria, below is a list of some of the most successful jockeys of all time:
Chris McCarron boasts an outstanding 12,831 career wins. McCarron rode six Triple Crown winners, won nine Breeders’ Cup races, and literally dominated California racing for twenty years, winning the highly competitive Del Mar riding title for five years in a row, prior to retiring as thoroughbred racing’s all-time leader. His lifetime earnings are well over $264 million and he now works as a television sports racing analyst with a dedicated following.
Laffit Pincay can boast 9,530 career wins. A great strategist and strong finisher, this native of Panama became a worthy recipient of the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1970. Perhaps best known as the jockey who rode Secretariat’s main rival, “Sham” in 1973, this Panamanian can also boast a Kentucky Derby win in 1984, where he rode “Swale” to the winner’s circle. Additionally, he won the Belmont Stakes race in 1982, 1983, and 1984. However, he will likely always be remembered most for jockeying Sham, who won the Santa Anita Derby in 1973. His lifetime earnings are estimated at $237 milion. Pincay’s career spans five decades and he retired as one of history’s most successful jockeys.
Boasting 8,882 lifetime wins, William Shoemaker won his first race at 18 years of age and his career as a jockey lasted 41 years. He entered virtually every major North American horse race, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Preakness, the Kentucky Derby, and the Belmont Stakes. Although his goal of being a Triple Crown winner was never realized, he did win the George Wolf Memorial Jockey Award, and a mere nine years into his career he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.
Often referred to as the “Shoe,” he is considered an all-time riding legend, with a total of 40,350 races, also referred to as “mounts,” for his lifetime career. He is held in high regard for five Belmont wins and his famous ride aboard “Ferdinand,” in the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Ferdinand was given the Horse of the Year award in 1987. Shoemaker’s estimated lifetime earnings are $123 million as a jockey, as well as an additional $3.7 million as a trainer after his jockeying days were over.
Pat Day is an unforgettable legend in the field of horse racing, boasting 8,080 career wins. He essentially dominated the 1990s, and it was during this decade that he won four Eclipse awards for Outstanding Jockey, 12 Breeders’ Cup races, and nine Triple Crown races. With the exception of Jerry Bailey, Day is the only jockey to win the Preakness Stakes three consecutive times, from 1994 to 1996. He was frequently called “Pat I’ll Wait All Day” by frustrated bettors for his tendency to conservatively ride for most of the race and then push to the wire at the last minute.
Day is credited with one of the Kentucky Derby’s biggest upsets, when in 1992 he won aboard long shot “Lil E. Tee” against odds of 17 to one. This famous Churchill Downs win was one of many for this outstanding jockey, who is still the all-time leading jockey both at Keeneland Downs and Churchill Downs. He is also one of only 11 jockeys who won all three legs of the Canadian Triple Crown. Day’s estimated earnings total just under $300 million.
The career of jockey Russell Baze is perhaps one of the most remarkable in history. With over 50,000 races on his resume and 7,141 wins, he is famous for riding every race as if it were a leg of the Triple Crown. Eleven different times, Baze won 400 races in one year, which is something no jockey in history has ever done more than three times. His high winning percentage earned him 14 Isaac Murphy Awards, the Eclipse Special Award, and an induction into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. His estimated lifetime earnings are approximately $199 million.
The only Puerto Rican to be inducted into the United States Racing Hall of Fame, Angel Cordero has 7,057 career wins on his resume and is remembered as one of the sport’s fiercest competitors. After winning four Breeders’ Cup races and six Triple Crown races, Cordero suffered an injury in 1992 that ended his professional career. However, he has never been forgotten, and his career is still celebrated both in Puerto Rico and the United States. His estimated lifetime earnings are $9.7 million.
Jerry Bailey is the only jockey who can boast seven Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Jockey. Bailey’s career was nothing less than extraordinary, with 5,893 wins and his amazing victory streak with Triple Crown winner “Cigar.” Together, Bailey and Cigar won 16 races in a row, thus breaking the North American record. These races included the 1996 Dubai World Cup, and the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic. He was the all-time winningest jockey in the Dubai World Cup, the latter of which is the world’s richest horse race. With five Breeders’ Cup Classic wins and estimated lifetime earnings of $296 million , Bailey had little competition for many years during his career.
Boasting 5,324 career wins, Desormeaux has participated in more than 24,000 races, and still holds the United States’ record for the most races won in a single year. He broke this record with 598 wins in 1989, and can lay claim to three Kentucky Derby wins. The latter include his infamous 1998 victory on “Real Quiet,” who was also the winner of the Preakness Stakes that year. Desormeaux also won the Preakness again in 2000 and 2008, riding “Fusaichi Pegasus”, and “Big Brown”, respectively. Desormeaux’s young life was remarkable, considering he won his first graded stakes at only 16 years of age. Although many jockeys begin their careers at an early age, Desormeaux would push on to achieve the prestigious record of the most wins in a single season in North America. He was also the first foreign jockey to win the Japan Classic Cup. In 1998 and 2008, he won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and his lifetime earnings are estimated at $265 million.
With an impressive 5,231 career wins, Jacinto Vasquez is the first American jockey to win more than 5,000 races. Vasquez is known for his unique racing style, often coming from behind at the last minute to win a high-stakes race. On his resume are two Kentucky Derby wins, “Genuine Risk” in 1980 and “Foolish Pleasure” in 1975. Riding fillies almost exclusively, Vasquez is regarded as one of America’s greatest riders of fillies. Vasquez rode “Princess Rooney”, the Breeders Cup Distaff’s first winter, as well as “Ruffian,” a famous filly racehorse that crushed her competition in more than 30 stakes races. Jacinto Vasquez was inducted to the Jockeys Hall of Fame and boasts $125 million in lifetime earnings.
Gary Stevens can boast an extraordinary career with 4,988 wins, and is also the recipient of the coveted George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. Always reportedly a friendly and affable jockey, Stevens was also highly competitive and won eight Triple Crown races and in 1997 came a nose away from winning all three legs of the Triple Crown aboard “Silver Charm.” With lifetime earnings of an impressive $221 million , it goes without saying that his career was highly successful. Seven Breeders’ Cup wins also grace Stevens’ resume, and he works today as a horse racing analyst for NBC Sports and HRTV.
A terrific judge of pace and a fierce competitor, Eddie Arcaro can lay claim to 4,779 career wins. Always a strong finisher on a horse, Arcaro has won more American Classic Races than any jockey throughout all of history. As of 2018, he is still the only jockey who can boast two wins in all three legs of the Triple Crown, which he accomplished on “Whirlaway” in 1941 and “Citation” in 1948. Arcaro is tied with Bill Hartack for most Kentucky Derby lifetime wins, with both jockeys boasting five. Arccaro also has the most Belmont and Preakness wins, with six in each race. His lifetime earnings are approximately $30 million and he served as one of the most influential leaders of the Jockey’s Guild.
Some individuals may argue that Javier Castellano has not advanced far enough in his lifetime career to be mentioned among the great jockeys of the world. However, what he has accomplished in a mere two decades of racing is nothing less than extraordinary, and therefore does merit that honor. Boasting 4,356 wins, this impressive jockey won his first major race on Horse of the Year, Ghostzapper, in 2004 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where he finished first by four lengths.
Castellano also boasts a Preakness Stakes win and a Kentucky Derby win, and was North America’s highest earning jockey in 2013, 2014 and 2015. As of 2018, he has won almost $30 million and still holds the current earnings record for a single season. Experts predict that if he continues at his current pace, he will almost certainly be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.
Virtually anyone who knows anything about horse racing is familiar with the name “Secretariat,” and his unbelievable 31 length win at the Belmont stakes in 1973. The man who jockeyed Secretariat, Ronald Turcotte, is perhaps somewhat less known, but is a legend in the horse racing arena. He began as a hot walker in Toronto in the 1950s, when he worked for Windfield Farms, owned by E.P Taylor. However, he was soon jockeying, and rode Windfield’s “Northern Dancer” to his first victory while he was still an apprentice. Turcotte gained national recognition with his win on Tom Rolfe in the Preakness States in 1965. Shortly thereafter he began working at Laurel Racetrack in Maryland with Lucien Laurin, a well-known Canadian trainer.
Turcotte rode “Riva Ridge” to victory in 1972 in both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, and gained international fame in 1973, when he won all three legs of the Triple Crown on Secretariat. The latter was a racehorse owned by Penny Chenery, who allowed Turcotte to “let the horse run,” as Turcotte put it, when he sensed Secretariat would not tire in the final stretch as do most thoroughbred racehorses. His theory certainly proved out with his legendary 31 length win for which Secretariat and Turcotte are still celebrated around the world.
Turcotte was also North America’s top stakes-winning jockey from 1971 to 1974 and was the first jockey to win back-to-back Kentucky Derbies since 1902, when Jimmy Winkfield boasted such a performance. It was not until 2015 that Turcotte’s record of winning five out of six Triple Crown races was matched by Victor Espinoza. Although his exact number of wins and earnings are disputed among experts, Turcotte’s contribution to the sport of horse racing is extraordinary and will never be forgotten.
George Woolf first made horse racing history in 1935, when he won the first Santa Anita Handicap on “Azucar”. His career was somewhat short and included only 721 wins, but his record was impressive, particularly his almost otherworldly ability to predict the way a specific race would play out. A great judge of pace and a man with nerves of steel, he is world famous for his 1938 performance in the spectacular match race between “War Admiral” and “Seabiscuit”. War Admiral was a Triple Crown champion, but lost to Seabiscuit by more than four lengths in this now-legendary race at Pimlico. An outstanding professional, Woolf was the jockey of the era, although he could only lay claim to 3,749 mounts in his lifetime. He is still revered by numerous jockeys, racing fans and trainers as one of the greatest talents in the field of horse racing.
The Long and Interesting History of Racing
Following the Civil War, interest in horse racing exploded in the United States. By the late 1800s, there were more than 300 racetracks operating in various states across the country. Anti-gambling coalitions were incensed over this trend, as wagering was obviously a big part of the fun for most horse racing enthusiasts. These coalitions pushed through regulations in many areas of the United States, and by the early 1900s, a mere 26 racetracks remained in operation.
Eventually, even racetracks in the state of New York were forced to shut down, when in 1911, state laws made it illegal to quote odds, solicit or record bets, or conduct any similar activities in a fixed location. Numerous jockeys, trainers and owners simply shifted their operations to Europe. In 1913, however, most New York racetracks reopened.
In what was almost a complete about-face, during the 1920s and 1930s, horse racing became an essential source of tax revenue, and from 1951 on, this type of racing became a popular sport for fans and a lucrative business for owners, trainers and jockeys. Fields often numbered more than 10 horses, and race meets frequently lasted for several days.
In some states, racing was held throughout the year, and purses grew excessively, especially after World War II commenced. The purse is simply payment given to the horse’s owner for allowing their animal to take part in the race.
In the early 1980s, the Arlington Million, which was held at Arlington Park on the outskirts of Chicago, was the first race ever run in the United States with a purse of $1 million. However, this trend caught on quickly, and in the 21st century, purses routinely topped this amount, ballooning to over $10 million for specific high-profile races.
Although many individuals enjoy gaming as a hobby or sport, where there is gambling, cheating is always a possibility. Therefore, there have always been fixed races and other shady practices throughout history. Some horses were even drugged to ensure a win. However, in the late 20th century, these practices were scrutinized and the appropriate regulatory boards made virtually all use of performance-enhancing medications illegal.
Horses were regularly tested if a particular win seemed outlandishly unrealistic for the horse’s previously known ability or if a horse died from heart failure shortly after an impressive win. As with any sport, although there is no way to control every unscrupulous owner or trainer from attempting to implement such measures, the incidence of cheating has significantly decreased over the past four decades.
Breeding Theory and Practice
Racehorse breeding theory and practice is a fascinating subject, and involves much more than simply raising a horse and entering it into a race. To be a registered thoroughbred, a foal must have come from live cover. The latter is a term that refers to a witnessed mating of a mare and a stallion so that the lineage of the foal is confirmed. This controls the population of the breed, which in turn assures a high monetary value for each newborn foal.
Racehorses are all assigned the same birth date, which is January 1st, as this facilitates the age groups by which thoroughbred races are defined. It is essential that mares foal at the earliest possible time in a calendar year, as this guarantees maximum time for the foal’s development before being trained and entered into a competition.
The guiding breeding principle for successful racehorses is essentially to breed top-of-the-line horses and then hope for the best. No one can predict the future, but breeding from champion lines is obviously the wisest course of action for anyone who wants to be successful in the field of horse racing. Breeders have long since learned that crossing bloodlines is often an effective way to overcome flaws in each foal. For example, if one breed is renowned for speed and another for stamina, interbreeding may result in the perfect mix of these two qualities, although this is not an absolute guarantee.
The Development of Racing Strategy
Interestingly, the earliest racehorses in American history were usually straight, quarter-mile sprinters. Although this type of racing still exists, American jockeys created a riding style that revolutionized the sport. It involved a crouching posture and a short stirrup, which eventually made it possible to ride for longer distances.
Shortly thereafter, elliptical tracks were invented, which enable jockeys to pace their horses and provided a way to hold longer races. Due to the fact that thoroughbred horses are capable of running a mere quarter-mile at top speed, learning how to pace the horse and then allow it to sprint at the “11th hour” was a crucial skill of early American jockeys.
Isaac Murphy, who became one of the first U.S. jockeys, even though there is not much recorded about him, created what is now called the “grandstand finish.” This simply refers to the “final stretch,” of the race, which obviously determines the winner.
Simply expressed, the training of racehorses is nothing more than exercising, feeding and caring for a horse so that it is in top condition to race. Feeding and exercise programs and knowledge of the characteristics and personality of each horse are also aspects that are involved in every good trainer’s program. Additionally, trainers often have the task of choosing a jockey who best suits the horse, and must also make wise selections when entering the horse in a race. A little-known fact about horse trainers is that they must develop the horse in a way that its condition, strength and stamina peak on a particular day in time, which is undoubtedly the most challenging task faced by all the world’s horse trainers.
The Rationale Behind Racing Silks
Colorful racing silks are something with which virtually every horse racing fan is familiar, and the use of these colored silks dates back to the 1700s. Although in the modern sport they are typically used for aesthetic purposes, their initial use in racing was to provide a way for spectators to distinguish one horse from another prior to the age of public address systems and television, which ultimately made this task much easier. Nevertheless, even in modern times, horse owners are required to register a specific set of colors and a unique pattern with a regulatory board. These are generally worn on the jockey’s helmet cover and jacket.
In the United States, racetracks are considered complete private enterprises, where they are owned and operated for profit. Jockeys and trainers are typically independent contractors. In other countries, the national government may own horses and tracks and employ grooms, jockeys, trainers and other vital personnel. The majority of racetracks are either “turf” or “dirt,” depending on the individual establishment. Turf refers to a grass-covered race track of a specific thickness, while dirt, as its name implies, refers to a race course made from soil.
The Role of a Jockey
A jockey is a person who races horses, typically for a living. Jockeys are almost always self-employed, and are solicited by horse owners and trainers to race their horses for a specific fee. In addition, most jockeys receive a percentage of the purse winnings. Jockeys almost always begin as apprentices when they are young, and complete tasks such as exercising horses in the morning so that they are warmed up when the trainer arrives. They must also usually ride a minimum of 20 successful barrier trials prior to being allowed to ride in bona fide races.
Jockey weight typically ranges from 108 to 118 pounds for thoroughbred racing. Nevertheless, despite their relatively low weight, they are required to properly control horses that weigh between 1200 and 1400 pounds. Quarter horses usually have a top speed of 50 mph, while thoroughbred racehorses are generally able to sustain a speed of 40 mph for one mile.
Horse racing jockeys almost always specialize in one kind of racing. Thoroughbred racing is the most popular, and involves jockeys racing around an elliptical ring for varying lengths, depending on the specific race track on which the horse will be running. The primary goal of the jockey is to ultimately win the race by getting the horse over the finish line before his or her competitors.
Jockeys are highly-skilled riders who are very physically fit, and can control their horses at high speeds. This requires skills such as agility, strength, and appropriate critical thinking at all times. For this reason, it is a mistake to consider a jockey a horse “rider,” as the jockey is doing much more than simply taking a ride. Rather, he or she is pushing the horse to do its best possible performance without injuring the animal or breaking any rules on the race track.
It is also essential for jockeys to understand each horse they ride. This is because certain horses are considered “speed horses,” and prefer to stay in front of the pack for the entire race, while others need extra room to pass on the right and sprint to the finish at the last minute.
In order for each horse to run its best, the jockey must understand which type of horse it is and how best to bring out its talents. Jockeys and trainers work closely together so they can develop strategies about what each horse needs to be successful. A certain amount of research is also required from jockeys, who must understand the trends of other horses and jockeys, and trends at specific racetracks, as these all factor into future races.
A Day in the Life of a Racing Jockey
Jockeys generally begin their day early, particularly on a race day. They usually begin by warming up whichever horse they plan to ride later in the day. Prior to an afternoon race, jockeys also typically use a steam room in order to relax their muscles and shed water weight before the race. This is because losing even a few pounds can make a big difference at the finish line.
Jockeys are usually reimbursed with something referred to as a jock mount fee, which is the term for the monetary payment they receive each time they race a horse. Depending on their placement at the finish line, most jockeys also receive a percentage of the purse, which varies depending on whether the horse finishes first, second or third.
Jockeys spend the majority of their time outdoors riding horses, or in the gym to keep their bodies in great physical condition for the stamina they need to race. Ultimately, the career of a racehorse jockey is fun, lucrative and fulfilling, if he or she has a talent for the sport.