Famous jockeys are part and parcel of horse racing. Measuring their success is extremely subjective, however. There are different ways of looking at who is the “best” horse jockey ever without settling the debate.
One metric for ranking famous horse jockeys is the prize money they rake in. You can also look at quality and quantity of horse races won. There’s also career longevity to consider, international success in big events and striking up memorable partnerships with famous racehorses too. Comparing jockeys from different eras and places, and with different riding styles is always difficult. We thought we’d have a go anyway. With honorable mentions for Eddie Arcaro, Javier Castellano, Pat Day and Chris McCarron, this is our list of the top 10 jockeys of all-time.
A 12-time Irish champion jumps jockey, Ruby Walsh retired from the saddle in 2019 as the rider with the most wins in Cheltenham Festival history. Thanks to 59 race victories at the premier event of British Isles National Hunt horse racing, he was also top jockey at the Festival 11 times. Walsh is best known for long associations with champion trainers Paul Nicholls in the UK and Willie Mullins in Ireland. His memorable race partnerships include Hurricane Fly and Kauto Star. These horses regained the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup respectively to rapturous ovations. Ruby partnered two Grand National winners – Papillon for his father Ted Walsh in 2000 on his first-ever ride over the Aintree fences, and Hedgehunter for Mullins in 2005.
Russell Baze may not be as high-profile as others on our list of famous jockeys, but there isn’t a professional horse rider who can claim to have won more races. He has almost 13,000 winning rides at an almost 25 percent strike rate. Nearly one in ever four of the racehorses Baze has sat on in his career, he has partnered to victory. It’s an incredible achievement and, while there aren’t any major wins in US Triple Crown or Breeders’ Cup races on his CV, he is well worth his place on this list. Born in Canada to an American family, Baze is a 10-time American champion jockey by most winners. Lost in the Fog, the US champion sprinter from 2005, is perhaps his most famous equine partner.
Sir Tony McCoy
As a record 20-time British champion jumps jockey in consecutive years, McCoy’s desire and will to win was unparalleled. He set a new record for most National Hunt winners in a single season in the UK in 2001-02. McCoy steered 289 rides past the post first in that memorable campaign. Best known for his association with trainer Martin Pipe, he became retained rider to leading Irish owner JP McManus. That supplied McCoy with a raft of big rides, but he still went for quantity over quality. No jumps jockey in British horse racing history has ridden more winners than this man. McCoy’s most famous equine partnerships include Brave Inca, Binocular and 2010 Grand National winner Don’t Push It.
Laffit Pincay, Jr
A seven-time champion jockey stateside in terms of prize money, he dominated the sport in the early 1970s and rode the most winners in 1971. Pincay Jr. partnered Affirmed to US Triple Crown glory in 1978. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, he started riding in his native Panama before making it big in America. An incredible mark of 9.530 career wins saw Pincay Jr. retire then as the most successful jockey ever in terms of winners. Only Baze has surpassed him since, so he just had to be included in this list that puts forward names for the best horse jockey ever.
Frankie is best known for his flying dismounts and 20-year association with powerful worldwide thoroughbred racehorse operation Godolphin. He was retained rider to Sheikh Mohammed for a golden period. Dettori has pretty much done it all in a career that continues to this day. For that reason, he has to be in the conversation for best horse jockey ever. Nobody has ridden more winners of France’s most famous race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, than Frankie with six. His partnerships with Stradivarius, Enable, Golden Horn, Authorized, Shamardal, Singspiel and a whole host of other Flat luminaries in Europe and beyond ensure Dettori’s place among famous jockeys.
These are the best jockeys in the world.