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Top 10 Greatest Jockeys of All-Time

The Top 10 Greatest Jockeys of All-Time

So what individual characteristics make a good racehorse jockey? 

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Some say, in order to become great, a jockey has to have a balance of good management, horse sense, skill, and courage. Others will add perhaps a little aggressiveness and even insanity.

While the debate about what makes a jockey great goes on, so does the argument of who is the greatest jock of all time. Let alone a list of the top 10 greatest of all time.

Do you factor in wins? Where do you fit in the number of mounts a rider rode?

Does character make a difference in the meaning of greatness? In addition, how much do you factor in regional versus national success?

For example, jockey Russell Baze holds the record for most career wins with 11,260, but has never won an American Classic Race.

Also, where might you rank Edward "Snapper" Garrison, who was one of the all-time great finishers, and for whom the term "Garrison finish," meaning a finish where the winner comes storming from out of nowhere to win by a small margin at the last moment.

It is a difficult comparison, but I have managed to put together a list, and here are my choices.

No. 10: Jacinto Vasquez. 5,231 career wins. The first American jockey to ever win 5,000 races. Among those, Kentucky Derby winners, Foolish Pleasure in 1975, and Genuine Risk in 1980. Vasquez might have been the greatest rider of fillies in American history, guiding great filly Ruffian for her entire career, as well as Princess Rooney--winner of the first Breeders' Cup Distaff.

No. 9: Kent Desormeaux. 5,324 career wins. Holding the U.S. record for most races won in a single year in 1989, with 598, this Ragin’ Cajun has ridden over 24,000 races, and has been in the irons on three Kentucky Derby winners--Real Quiet in 1998, (also that year’s Preakness Stakes winner), Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, and aboard Big Brown, in 2008.

No. 8: Angel Cordero. 7,057 career wins. Being the only Puerto Rican to date to be inducted into the United States' Racing Hall of Fame, Cordero was a fierce competitor always willing to push the envelope of what was legal race riding and what drew a suspension for fouling someone. The winner of six Triple Crown races, and four Breeders' Cup races, Cordero suffered a career-ending injury in 1992.

No. 7: Chris McCarron. 7,141 career wins. McCarron won nine Breeders' Cup races, including a record-tying five Breeders' Cup Classics, and rode six Triple Crown winners, nearly achieving the Triple Crown aboard Alysheba in 1987. The now TVG analyst  dominated California racing for two decades, winning the very competitive Del Mar riding title five times before retiring as thoroughbred racing's all-time leader in purse earnings, with more than $264 million in winnings.

No. 6: Pat Day. 8,083 career wins.  One of the most dominant jockey’s of the 1990s, the recipient of four Eclipse Awards for outstanding jockey of the year won nine Triple Crown races and 12 Breeders' Cup races. More than anyone, except Jerry Bailey. He is the only jockey to win three consecutive Preakness Stakes, having done so from 1994 to 1996.

No. 5: Gary Stevens. 4,888 career wins. Winner of the prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1996, the always affable yet competitive Stevens won eight Triple Crown races, coming the closest to winning the entire Triple Crown in 1997 aboard Silver Charm. Stevens also won seven Breeders' Cup races. Today he is a horseracing analyst for HRTV and NBC Sports.

No. 4: Willie Shoemaker. 8,833 career wins. The “Shoe” is a giant in horseracing and one of the all-time legends riding a total of 40,350 races and winning the United States Champion Jockey by earnings, a record 10 times before retiring in 1990. The praiseworthy recipient of the coveted George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1951, rode his first professional race in March 1949, winning his first outing a month later before going on the win four Kentucky Derbies, a pair of Preakness Stakes wins, five Belmont wins, and a Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1987 aboard Ferdinand. Who later captured Horse of the Year honors.

No. 3:  Eddie Arcaro. 4,779 career wins. A fierce competitor, a great judge of pace, and a strong finisher on a horse, the six-time winner of the United States Champion Jockey by earnings, won more American Classic Races than any other jockey in history, and is the only rider to have won the Triple Crown twice -- in 1941 on Whirlaway and again in 1948 on Citation. He is tied with Bill Hartack for most Derby wins at five, and has the most wins in the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes with six.

No. 2: George Woolf. 721 career wins. With nerves of steel, a great judgment of pace, and the uncanny ability to foresee how a race would play out, the “Iceman” made horse racing history in 1935 when he rode Azucar to victory in the first $100,000 horse race --the Santa Anita Handicap. While only registering 3,784 mounts in his career, the Canadian-born jockey is perhaps best known for his performance in the famous 1938 match race when he rode Seabiscuit to victory over the heavily favored Triple Crown champion War Admiral at Pimlico. A consummate professional, he was the jockey of his era and is still revered by many as one of the greatest talents ever to grace the Sport of Kings.

No. 1: Laffit Pincay. 9,530 career wins. A strong finisher, great strategist, and worthy recipient of the  George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1970, the native Panamanian won the Kentucky Derby in 1984 aboard Swale and also took three consecutive Belmont Stakes between 1982 and 1984. However, he will be most remembered for his days aboard 1973 Santa Anita Derby winner, Sham, as the two battled their archenemy--super horse Secretariat—coming up second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, before a disappointing fifth at Pimlico.

Honorable Mentions:  Russell Baze, Jerry Bailey, Bill Hartack, and Calvin Borel.


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