5 Famous Jockeys of the 20th Century

Lester Pigott

Racehorse riders remind us of the horsemen who competed in tournaments and demonstrated their aptitude for horsemanship and combat. Fortunately, today’s competitions are friendly, and you don’t have to enter battles to prove your bravery. However, horse racing is a sport where a strong bond between man and animal is needed to function as a winning team. How did this way of comparing forces develop, and who are the famous horsemen who have stood out from the rest? We’ll tell you about it right now.

History and origin of horse racing

Horse racing roots in the culture of nomadic tribes in the 5th century B.C.  and emerged as a beloved and widely practiced form of entertainment. These peoples were the first to domesticate bighorn horses, which they first used for work and fighting, but then used for entertainment activities such as racing.

Moving slowly towards the present day, we make another stop in Antiquity, where horse racing and harness racing were also popular entertainment but were still quite different from today’s competitions.

To discover the origin of horse racing as we know it, we must go a few centuries back to the 12th century when English sailors brought Arabian horses to Europe and began to breed them. In this way, the population of the foreign breed grew and the animals were crossed with other English breeds to improve their characteristics.

Horse racing was declared a professional sport at the beginning of the 18th century and from that moment on, many stables full of racehorses appeared. Under the new circumstances, horsemen needed a central authority and in 1750 the first Jockey Club was established, which became a famous meeting point.

The waves of British emigrants who sailed from England in search of the American dream brought racehorses to the United States. The first racetrack in the U.S. was built in 1665 on Long Island, but the rise of racing began after the Civil War when it was officially recognized as a sport. Thus, by 1890 the number of racetracks in the United States had reached 314.

Inevitably, the rapid development of the sport also led to the flourishing of illegal racing, so in 1894 the owners of the most prestigious racetracks formed a national American Jockey Club.

Although racing had spread throughout the world by the 20th century, the United States and the United Kingdom stood out as the countries with the greatest popularity of horse racing. Betting reached dizzying figures that in 1989 reached around 9 billion dollars, and more than 50 million people attended races.

This passion also took hold of people in Canada, the Middle East, South America, Ireland, Australia, and many other countries. Several styles and types of horse racing emerged, the most popular of which were the one-mile race, the 1 1/14 mile race, and the sleigh race. Below, we will remember the most famous racehorse jockeys of the 20th century.

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Famous jockeys of the 20th century

The events we have told you about so far led to the formation of modern horse racing as we know it today and also to some of the best-known jockeys leaving their marks on the history of this sport so that they currently deserve to be positioned in the top 5 positions in our ranking of famous jockeys of all time.

1. Laffit A. Pincay Jr.

1. Laffit A. Pincay Jr
Laffit A. Pincay Jr.

Our first famous sportsman is Laffit A. Pincay Jr., born in Panama City in 1946. He mainly competed in horse racing in Panama. Still, the reputable breeder Fred W. Hooper appreciated his talent and took him to the United States, where Laffit became one of the best jockeys in history.

His professional riding career lasted 40 years, during which he won almost all the most essential American competitions. He also had 9 victories in the Hollywood Gold Cup, three in the Belmont Stakes, and one in the Kentucky Derby. In 2003 Laffit A. Pincay Jr. retired from professional horse racing.

At Santa Anita Park racetrack in Arcadia, California, a sculpture of Laffit A. Pincay Jr stands. His name is part of the list of jockeys immortalized in the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame, and each year he is honored as an essential member of the National Horsemen’s Hall of Fame.

2. William “Bill” Shoemaker

William "Bill" Shoemaker
William “Bill” Shoemaker

In this case, we are talking about a true hero on the race track and in life. Since his birth in 1931, William Lee Shoemaker, known as Bill Shoemaker, showed himself as a great fighter surviving after being born weighing only 1 kilo. But then, this great little man lived 72 years and became one of the famous riders we include in this ranking today.

His height of only 149 cm had much to do with his success on the racetrack. Bill Shoemaker began his professional career at 18, and a year later, in 1950, he had already won the title of U.S. Champion Jockey for the first time, a prize he was awarded five times in total.

In 1990 he decided to end his career as a professional rider and devote himself to training horses. However, another personal challenge awaited him, as he was paralyzed below the neck after an accident with his car in 1991.

In his 40 years of racing as one of the most famous jockeys in the world, Bill Shoemaker won the three U.S. Classic races, The 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic, The Del Mar Handicap, The Oak Three Invitational Handicap, The Santa Anita Derby, The Hollywood Gold Cup, among many others.

3. Lester Piggott

Lester Pigott
Lester Piggott

To meet another of the most renowned racehorse jockeys, we will travel to the United Kingdom. Lester Piggott is a real “giant” among his competitors, measuring 173 cm, for which he was given the nickname “The Tall Fellow”. He was born in 1935 in Wantage, Berkshire. His being born into a family of horsemen determined his hobbies and pushed him to follow that path.

Lester Piggott achieved more than 100 wins in one season, making him the youngest rider of his time with that impressive number of victories. At 18, he won the Epson Derby for the first time and went on to win it 8 more times throughout his professional career. He also triumphed in other horse races such as the Ascot Gold Cup 11 times, the July Cup 10 times, the St. Leger Stakes 8 times, the Irish Derby 5 times, the German Derby 3 times, he even won the Singapore Derby.

He continued to win until the age of 59 when he took the last victory in his professional career, and in 1995 he retired at the age of 60, an impressive age that shows his commitment and dedication to horse racing. In his honor, the “Oscar” horsemen’s awards were named “Lesters”. But that is not surprising. After all, we are talking about one of the best jockeys in history.

4. Jerry D. Bailey

Jerry D. Bailey
Jerry D. Bailey

Jerry Bailey is a famous jockey from Texas, United Sta

tes, born in 1957. In 1974 he won at Sunland Park racetrack in New Mexico, which started his professional career. Bailey has victories in all classic American races and many others in the Breeders` Cup, as well as in the Dubai World Cup (1996, 1997, 2001, 2002), The Prince of Wales’s Stakes in 2020, and many more.

In 1995 he joined the great names in the United States Racing Hall of Fame. He was also a seven-time recipient of the Eclipse Award in the Outstanding Jockey category and the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1992. He currently commentates on horse races broadcasted on ESPN.

In 2004, at the Kentucky Derby, Jerry Bailey wore a helmet with advertising patches, which contributed to a revolutionary change and allowed racehorse jockeys to promote brands.

5. Russell Baze

Russell Baze
Russell Baze

American jockey Russell BazeDespite being ranked No. 5 on our list of famous jockeys, Russel Baze is a name that stands out with more than 12,800 career wins. In 2006 he even achieved a winning score higher than Laffit A. Pincay Jr. We remind you that the latter tops our rankings.

His professional career began in 1974, at 16, when he achieved his first victory at the Yakima racetrack in Walla Walla, Washington. However, from the earliest age, he could already be predicted a successful future, and the best racehorse jockeys in North America appreciated his talent. In 2010 he won the San Francisco Breeders Club Mile and made it clear that, despite his age of 52, he still had a lot to prove and deserved his place among the best riders in history.

Russel Baze has numerous awards, including the Eclipse Special Award and the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. In 1999 he was inducted into the United States Racing Hall of Fame.

Thanks for reading, we hope you enjoyed the article!

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