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World’s Best Jockeys: Global Stars of Horse Racing

Last updated: December 29, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

The role of a jockey is a blend of art and skill, a fascinating combination of strategy, strength, and an almost telepathic connection with their horse. From the early days of racing in open fields to the modern prestigious tracks, jockeys have always been central to the sport’s allure and excitement.

As we delve into the origins and journeys of the world’s best jockeys, it’s crucial to recognize how the sport has transformed. With advancements in training, strategy, and technology, the contemporary horse racing scene is more dynamic than ever. Keeping abreast of the latest rankings and achievements of top jockeys isn’t just a nod to the sport’s vibrant present; it’s a window into its rich and evolving history.

In this article, we’ll explore the roots of horse racing’s most celebrated jockeys, their rise to fame, and how they’ve shaped the sport. We’ll also bring you up-to-date with the current titans of the track, showcasing the latest rankings that reflect their ongoing quest for glory. Join me on this journey through time and tradition, where the synergy between horse and rider writes history with every race.

Picture of jockeys heading to their mounts for a race. These are some of the best jockeys in the U.S.
Jockeys heading to their mounts.

The Role and Impact of Jockeys in Horse Racing

Jockeys are much more than riders; they are pivotal figures whose skills and decisions directly impact the results of horse races.

Skills and Qualities of Top Jockeys:

  • Strategic Acumen: A top jockey possesses an exceptional understanding of race strategy, knowing precisely when to hold back or push forward.
  • Physical Fitness: Endurance and strength are crucial, allowing jockeys to maintain control and balance at high speeds.
  • Mental Toughness: The ability to make split-second decisions under pressure is essential for success on the track.
  • Deep Connection with the Horse: Top jockeys have an almost intuitive bond with their horses, understanding their nuances and capabilities.

Influence on Race Outcomes:

  • Tactical Decisions: A jockey’s choices during a race, from positioning to pacing, can significantly alter the outcome.
  • Adaptability: Their ability to adapt to changing race conditions and respond to competitors’ strategies often determines their success.
  • Horse Management: Jockeys play a key role in managing the horse’s energy, ensuring they have enough stamina to finish strong.
  • Experience Impact: Veteran jockeys bring a wealth of experience, often leveraging it to outmaneuver less seasoned competitors.
Mike Smith

Mike Smith at the Kentucky Derby Photo by: John Athayde, CC BY 2.0

Global Diversity Among Top Jockeys: A World of Talent

The 2023 Kentucky Derby showcased a diverse group of jockeys from various nationalities, reflecting the global nature of horse racing. Here’s a glimpse of the lineup:

  • Junior Alvarado from Venezuela
  • Rafael Bejarano from Peru
  • Javier Castellano from Venezuela
  • Gerardo Corrales from Panama
  • Manny Franco from Puerto Rico
  • Tyler Gaffalione from Florida, USA
  • Florent Geroux from France
  • James Graham from Ireland
  • Brian Hernandez Jr. from Louisiana, USA
  • Kazushi Kimura from Japan
  • Christophe Lemaire from France
  • Jareth Loveberry from Michigan, USA
  • Irad Ortiz Jr. from Puerto Rico
  • Jose Ortiz from Puerto Rico
  • Flavien Prat from France
  • Joel Rosario from the Dominican Republic
  • Luis Saez from Panama

This lineup illustrates the rich diversity in the sport, with jockeys hailing from different parts of the world, each bringing their unique style and experience to the prestigious race. While jockeys from various countries participate, there’s a notable prominence of Latino jockeys who have consistently risen to the top, marking their presence in major races and leaving an indelible mark on the sport.

Edgar Prado Saratoga

Edgar Prado at Saratoga Photo By ScottEKelly, CC BY-SA 3.0

Spotlight on Latino Jockeys: Pioneers of the Racetrack

The world of horse racing has been profoundly shaped by the rise and impact of Latino jockeys, who have become some of the most influential figures in the sport. Their journey is marked by groundbreaking achievements and inspiring stories of perseverance and skill.

The first Latino to ride in the Triple Crown was Joseph Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez rode Upset to a second-place finish in the 1922 Preakness Stakes. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Latinos put their stamp on horseracing.

In 1958, Ismael Valenzuela became the first Latin to win the Kentucky Derby. He also won the Preakness Stakes and ran second in the Belmont Stakes the same year. From 1958 to the present, there have only been two Triple Crown races without a Latino Jockey.

Picture of jockeys and racehorses getting close the finish line.
Jockeys and their horses closing in on the finish line.

Top Mexican Jockeys

Angel and Ismael (Milo) Valenzuela, Mexican brothers, found early success

The advent of successful Latin riders can be traced to two brothers, Angel and Ismael (Milo) Valenzuela. They were born in Texas, raised in Mexico, and began their racing careers on bush league tracks in Arizona.

In 1952, the older brother, Angel, started riding in California at Hollywood Park. Milo followed his brother as a hot walker and a stable hand. By the end of the year, Milo had not only begun riding but rode more winners than Angel.

In 1958, Milo won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and continued winning. He rode the legendary Kelso to twenty-two graded stakes wins and became the number 1 money winner in thoroughbred racing history.

In 1963, Milo won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award given to North America’s top thoroughbred Jockey. In 1968, he once again won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Before he retired, Milo had amassed over 2,500 wins. In 2008, he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.

Victor Espinoza was the first Latino to win the Triple Crown.

California Chrome and Victor Espinoza at 2014 Preakness Stakes

Victor Espinoza at 2014 Preakness. Photo By: Maryland GovPics, CC BY 2.0

Victor Espinoza is the first Latino to win the Triple Crown, thoroughbred racing’s most prestigious accomplishment. The feat requires winning a series of three races, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, against the best three-year-old horses in the world.

Since its inception in 1875, the Triple Crown has only been won 13 times. Mr. Esponoza won the Triple Crown aboard American Pharoah in 2015. This accomplishment made the history books for two reasons: not only did he become the first Latino Jockey to win the award, but he is also the oldest rider to win the triple crown.

Also, in 2015, Espinoza notched another first when he won the Breeders Cup Classic riding American Pharoah, becoming the first Jockey in history to win the Triple Crown and the Breeder’s Cup Classic. In 2018, it looked to many that Espinoza’s career might be over when he was severely injured during a fall riding Bobby Abu Dhabi at the Del Mar racetrack. However, against all the odds, he returned to racing at Santa Anita Park in 2019.

Espinoza has won over 3,200 races, been awarded the Best Jockey award three times, the George Woolf Award, the Kentucky Derby three times, and the Preakness Stakes three times. Victor is one of the most popular and successful Jockeys of all time, despite coming to the United States unable to speak the language and sleeping in tack rooms of Northern California tracks.

Picture of Justify winning the Belmont Stakes.
Belmont stakes winner Justify. Photo By, Mike Lizzi from Nassau County, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0

Panamanian Jockeys

Manuel Ycaza won over 2,300 horse races.

Panamanian Jockeys have a stellar history in American horse racing. Manuel Ycaza was the Latin trailblazer. He immigrated to the United States in 1956 after a successful racing career in Mexico City.

In 1964, he won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, which recognizes the country’s best jockey. He won over 2,300 races and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 1977.

Braulio Baeza is the first Central American to win the Kentucky Derby

Braulio Baeza is another Panamanian Hall of Fame jockey and one of the best jockeys of our time. In 1963, he became the first Central American jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. Baeza began his racing career in Panama, and in 1960, he rode his first race in the U.S.

His inaugural race was on Keeneland’s opening day in 1960, and he won it. Baeza was the leading money earner from 1965-1969. He won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1968 and the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 1972 and 1975.

He won the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes three times. During his illustrious career, Baeza traveled to England and Canada to guide winners in some of their country’s most prestigious races. Braulio Baeza won over 4,000 races by the time he retired.

Laffit Pincay Jr., one of the greatest Jockeys of all time

Laffit Pincay Jr. is arguably the greatest Jockey of all time. In 1999, he broke the legendary Bill Shoemaker’s world record of 8,833 wins to be the World’s winningest jockey. He finished his career with 9,530 career victories.

Laffit began racing in the United States in 1966 after a successful start in his native Panama. He quickly proved himself, winning eight of his first eleven starts. During Pincay’s long career, he won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1970 and the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey five times, more than any other jockey.

Pincay was 28 years old when he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. He led all Jockeys in wins in the United States seven times and won the Kentucky Derby once and the Belmont Stakes three consecutive times.

Laffit Pincay left his stamp in the racing books and on the present and future of Panama’s racing influence. His success planted dreams in the minds and hearts of many young Panamanians. To help make those dreams a reality, he established the Laffit Pincay Jr. Riding Academy, a successful launching pad for prospective jockeys to learn and fine-tune their riding skills.

Picture of a group of horses racing in a turf race.  The jockeys are urging them to go.
Jockeys down on their horses, urging them to the finish line

Luis Saez won $17 million in one season.

Luis Saez is a native of Panama City, Panama, and a Laffit Pincay Jr. Riding Academy graduate. In 2009, he started racing in the United States and quickly found success. By 2014, he had already ridden 1,000 horses to victory. In 2018, his mounts won $17 million in purse money.

He ran second in the 2018 Preakness Stakes and posted his 2,000 career win later the same year. Luis Saez is one of the best jockeys riding today. Luis’ cousin, Gabriel Saez, also a graduate of the Laffit Pincay Jr. Riding Academy, has also found success riding in the United States.

Top Jockeys from Puerto Rico

Angel Cordero Jr won the Kentucky Derby three times

Puerto Rico has a vibrant horse racing history and is the home to one of the best jockeys of all time, Angel Cordero Jr. He won the Kentucky Derby twice within three years, and two years later, he got his third Derby win.

Cordero became only the eighth Jockey in the history of the Derby ever to win the event three times; he won the Preakness Stakes twice and the Belmont Stakes once. He is the first Puerto Rican ever to win all three of the Triple Crown races.

Cordero’s career ended when he suffered an injury in a riding accident in 1992. But before he stopped riding, he compiled more than 7,000 wins and earned the Eclipse Award as an outstanding jockey in North America three times. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 1988.

John R. Velazquez is the leading money earner in horse racing

John R. Velazquez is another great Jockey from Puerto Rico. He began riding in the United States in 1990. By 2004, he was the United States Champion Jockey by earnings; he won this title again in 2005. He currently ranks fourth in career purse earnings of $262 million.

Velazquez won the Eclipse Award for both the 2004 and 2005 racing seasons. In 2014, he became the leading money-earning jockey in the sport’s history, making him one of the best jockeys during his racing days. He has ridden 15 Breeders Cup winners and four Triple Crown winners, including the two winners of the Kentucky Derby. In 2018, Velazquez won his 6,000th race.

Picture of a jockey with a whip.
Latino jockey heading out of the paddock to the starting gates.

Top Venezuelan Jockeys

Gustavo Ávila is a pioneer of Venezualan Jockeys

Venezuela has produced many of the world’s best jockeys. One of the pioneers is Gustavo Ávila from Caracas, Venezuela. In 1971, he won two legs of the Triple Crown aboard Canonero II, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.

Canonero II was also from Venezuela and became a Latino star. During his trip from Venezuela, the horse lost 70 pounds while being quarantined. The weight loss probably tolled on the horse and cost him the triple crown. Avila is one of only four riders to win the Kentucky Derby and the Caribbean Derby.

Ramón A. Domínguez won 160 graded stakes races.

Ramón A. Domínguez emigrated to the United States in 1996 from Venezuela. In 2001 and 2003, he was the winningest jockey in the U.S. In 2004, he had the highest winning percentage of all American Jockeys. Making him one of the best jockeys.

Ramon Dominguez won three consecutive Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Jockey and led all North American riders in earnings in 2012. He also was the leading jockey in wins in 2001 and 2002. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s 2016 Hall of Fame class.

By the time Dominguez retired, he was just shy of 5,000 wins, including 160 graded races, 44 Grade 1 events, and three Breeders’ Cup races.

Javier Castellano owns the single-season purse record

Javier Castellano is one of the best Jockeys of all time. He has over 5,200 wins and is still riding. Javier Castellano began riding in Venezuela and moved to the United States to ride at race tracks in Florida in 1997. In 2001, he transferred to New York, which offered more opportunities.

In 2004, Castellano won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, becoming a regular in the winners’ circle. By 2016 he amassed seven career Breeder Cup victories, including consecutive wins from 2012-2015.

Castellon won the Preakness in 2006 and set a new record for purse earnings in 2013 with $26,213,507. He won four straight Eclipse Awards from 2013-2016 and led all Jockeys in earnings for each of these years, breaking his own annual earnings record. In 2017, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Picture of a small jockey riding a racehorse.
Horse and jockey at the New Orleans Fairground Race Course.

Current Top Jockeys

Today’s horse racing scene is dynamic, with jockey rankings reflecting more than just statistics. They showcase the dedication, evolving strategies, and commitment to excellence of each rider. Let’s delve into the profiles of the top three jockeys, followed by a snapshot of the top 10 jockeys today.

Ryan Moore: A Legacy of Precision

ライアン・ムーア - Ryan Moore - Hanshin Racecourse (11366721625)

Ryan Moore Photo by: Ogiyoshisan from Japan, CC BY-SA 2.0

British jockey Ryan Moore is not just a rider; he’s a master tactician on the tracks. With a career spanning over two decades, Moore’s name has become synonymous with success. His most notable achievement includes a record-setting victory in the 2010 Derby aboard Workforce. Moore’s strategic acumen and finesse have established him as a standout figure in horse racing.

James McDonald: The Australian Phenom

James McDonald

James McDonald Photo By: nakashi, CC BY-SA 2.0

James McDonald’s journey from a young talent in New Zealand to a top jockey in Australia is a story of relentless ambition and skill. His strategic riding style was prominently displayed in his notable win in the 2016 Melbourne Cup aboard Almandin, showcasing his ability to perform under intense pressure.

Irad Ortiz Jr: The American Dream

Irad Ortiz Jr

Photo By: Jlvsclrk, CC BY-SA 4.0

Irad Ortiz Jr’s rise in American horse racing is a blend of raw talent and sheer determination. His performances in Triple Crown races, especially his 2016 Belmont Stakes win, highlight his aggressive yet calculated approach to racing, making him a prominent figure in the sport.

These individual stories of success and skill lead us to the broader landscape of current top jockeys. Here’s a look at the top 10 jockeys today, ranked based on their recent performances and achievements in major races:

  1. Ryan Moore (GBR)
    • Runners: 291
    • Runs: 626
    • Strike Rate (SR): 20%
    • Rating: 112.7
    • Grade 1 Wins: 49
  2. James McDonald (AUS)
    • Runners: 256
    • Runs: 466
    • SR: 24%
    • Rating: 112.5
    • Grade 1 Wins: 41
  3. Irad Ortiz Jr (USA)
    • Runners: 294
    • Runs: 529
    • SR: 24%
    • Rating: 112.7
    • Grade 1 Wins: 45
  4. Flavien Prat (USA)
    • Runners: 310
    • Runs: 530
    • SR: 25%
    • Rating: 112.1
    • Grade 1 Wins: 39
  5. William Buick (GBR)
    • Runners: 234
    • Runs: 463
    • SR: 24%
    • Rating: 112.0
    • Grade 1 Wins: 29
  6. Christophe Lemaire (JPN)
    • Runners: 133
    • Runs: 230
    • SR: 20%
    • Rating: 116.9
    • Grade 1 Wins: 15
  7. Joel Rosario (USA)
    • Runners: 303
    • Runs: 512
    • SR: 21%
    • Rating: 112.4
    • Grade 1 Wins: 23
  8. Frankie Dettori (GBR)
    • Runners: 235
    • Runs: 398
    • SR: 20%
    • Rating: 113.6
    • Grade 1 Wins: 32
  9. Yuga Kawada (JPN)
    • Runners: 118
    • Runs: 216
    • SR: 20%
    • Rating: 114.5
    • Grade 1 Wins: 15
  10. Juan J Hernandez (USA)
    • Runners: 159
    • Runs: 299
    • SR: 25%
    • Rating: 110.2
    • Grade 1 Wins: 11

This list provides a snapshot of the elite in the world of horse racing, highlighting their remarkable achievements and contributions to the sport.

Check out this insightful YouTube video for an up-close look at the world of Horse Racing Jockeys.

A look into the world of horse racing jockeys.

FAQs About Horse Racing and Jockeys

Who was the first Latino jockey to win the Kentucky Derby?

Ismael Valenzuela became the first Latino jockey to win the Kentucky Derby in 1958, also securing victories in the Preakness Stakes that year.

What is the significance of the Triple Crown in horse racing?

The Triple Crown represents the pinnacle of U.S. horse racing, comprising the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.

What role do jockeys play in horse racing?

Jockeys are crucial in horse racing, combining skill, strategy, and a deep connection with their horses to guide them to victory.

Picture of jockeys waiting to mount their horses.
Jockeys waiting to mount their horses.

Conclusion: The Ongoing Saga of Horse Racing Excellence

As we conclude our exploration of the horse racing world, it’s evident that the sport’s heart beats through its diverse and talented jockeys. Their stories of triumph and perseverance continue to shape the landscape of horse racing, making it a dynamic and ever-evolving spectacle.

Call to Action

As a racehorse owner, I invite you to keep engaging with this thrilling sport. Stay updated with the latest developments, follow the careers of these remarkable jockeys, and witness firsthand the unfolding of new chapters in horse racing history.

Whether you’re trackside or following from afar, your passion and support are what keep this timeless sport galloping forward. Join us in celebrating the achievements of these athletes and in anticipating the exciting races yet to come.

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