The Top 10 Horse Jockeys of All Time

When ranking famous horse jockeys in thoroughbred racing, the combination of success and the jockey’s visibility can be used to create a “fame” measurement.

I’ve seen famous jockeys in person and know that the great ones rise to the occasion – the bigger the race, the better they ride — but there is certainly something to be said for longevity and career accomplishments.

Whether it’s the amount of money or the number of top-level races they win, an accounting of the very best jockeys of all time is subjective. We’re here for it.

Read on to find out the names that make up our top 10 jockeys list.

Famous Horse Jockeys Mike Smith, Laffit Pincay Jr., Frankie Dettori
Image: Twitter/Frankie Dettori (with Mike Smith and Laffit Pincay Jr.)

10. Pat Eddery

Born in 1952, Eddery became quite accomplished at a young age, riding as a talented apprentice in his mid-teens.

By 1969, Eddery was winning regularly and rode more than 4,600 winners over the next 30+ years to rank second behind only Sir Gordon Richards’ 4,870 victories.

Eddery earned Champion Jockey honors 11 times. Eddery won the biggest events multiple times. For example, he is a six-time winner of the Coronation Cup, the Sussex Stakes, and Dewhurst Stakes.

He also captured the Arc De Triomphe four times.

9. Russell Baze

This Canadian-born star qualifies as a top-10 rider primarily because of the staggering number of lifetime victories: 12,842, which is first among all of the best horse jockeys of all time.

They weren’t always the biggest events, as his career earnings of “only” $199,334,219 would attest, but his longevity and ability to get to the line first place him on our top 10 list.

His win rate was about 25% and he led all US riders in yearly victories on 10 occasions.

Keeping him from climbing higher is the fact that he did not win any Triple Crown races or Breeders’ Cup races.

8. John Velazquez

A native of Puerto Rico who reportedly learned to speak English by repeatedly watching The Little Mermaid, Velazquez has won more than 6,000 races and north of $400 million in prize money.

Velazquez can yet become a career Triple Crown champ. He still needs a Preakness victory before he hangs up his tack for good, having already twice won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.

He’s another who has shined brightly on the biggest North American stage, the Breeders’ Cup. Among his 6,000+ victories, Velazquez has won 16 Breeders’ Cup races.

8. Sir Gordon Richards

Among UK-based jockeys, Richards is a standout — and a terrific story. He amassed 4,870 career victories, including 14 in British Classic events.

The most important victory for Richards came at the age of 49 when he finally captured his first Epsom Derby, aboard Pinza, and about the same time was the first rider to be knighted.

He guided Sun Chariot to sweep the UK Fillies’ Triple Crown.

7. Pat Day

Pay Day - horse jockey
Image: Twitter/Ray Colevas

He wanted to be a rodeo cowboy but instead became one of our 10 best jockeys of all time.

Day grew up in Colorado and notched his first riding victory in 1973 at Prescott Downs in Arizona. He made 40,305 starts, winning 8,803 races and earning just short of $300 million.

Day was honored as an Eclipse Award-winning jockey in 1984, 1986, 1987 and 1991.

He also captured the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, four Breeders’ Cup Classics and eight other Breeders’ Cup races.

6. Laffit Pincay Jr.

Pincay, born and raised in Panama, collected 9,530 career victories, including seven in the Breeders’ Cup and three career-defining victories making up the Triple Crown aboard the famous Affirmed in 1978.

Earning more than a quarter-billion in career prize money, Pincay collected the most annual winnings in North America seven times, and, on a personal note, produced a son (also named Laffit) who is among the prominent horse racing broadcasters in the US today.

5. Jerry Bailey

Jerry Bailey makes our list of famous jockeys because of a decorated riding career. As a complement, he continues to leave his mark in the horse racing broadcast world.

As a jockey, Bailey began his career in 1974 with a winner at Sunland Park Racecourse in New Mexico.

He expanded the boundaries for US-based jockeys by tackling the Dubai World Cup, winning in 1996, 1997, 2001, and 2002.

Bailey was a star in the US, certainly, twice winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in addition to his 15 Breeders’ Cup championships.

Bailey was honored with an Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey seven times and led all US riders in prize money six times.

4. Frankie Dettori

Frankie Dettori - Horse Jockey
Image: Twitter/Paulick Report

When considering world-famous jockeys, Frankie Dettori usually sits near the top of the list. Dettori’s talent and flair have pushed him into best-ever jockey discussions for years.

Following big wins, Dettori is well known to frequently employ his “flying dismount” near the winner’s circle. He leaps from the saddle and lands like a gymnast completing a routine.

Dettori’s success was accelerated by his longtime association with world power Godolphin Racing.

He has won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe six times.

A champion UK jockey three times, the Italian-born star has more than 3,000 wins (more than 250 of the Grade 1 variety) and approximately $200 million in earnings.

Dettori made history in 1996 when he guided the winner in each of the seven races at the British Festival of Racing (later changed to British Champions’ Day) at Royal Ascot.

3. Mike Smith

Smith has “only” 5,000+ lifetime victories but he’s won at the highest levels of North American racing – how does 26 Breeders’ Cup wins sound?

Speaking of big-event success, Smith rode Justify to the 2018 US Triple Crown at the ripe age of 52.

He has career earnings of $330 million+ and continues to take assignments today.

High-stakes champ Arrogate was among Smith’s leading mounts and accounted for a few of Smith’s record amount of American Grade 1 victories. Smith passed Jerry Bailey for the honor in 2019.

2. Lester Piggott

A superstar among the best jockeys of all time, Lester Piggott won 30 British Classic titles among his 4,493 career victories.

Piggott, who died in 2022, captured the UK Triple Crown (2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, and St. Leger) in 1970 aboard the world-famous Nijinsky and was named the UK’s Champion Flat rider 11 times.

Owner of a distinguished career, Piggott has won more times than any other rider at the Ascot Gold Cup (11), Dewhurst Stakes and July Cup (10), Epsom Derby and Coronation Cup (nine).

No measure of greatness and fame can be more impressive than Piggott’s having the British horse racing awards named for him.

“The Lesters” are an integral part of today’s British racing honors.

1. William Shoemaker

Famous Horse Jockeys
Image: Twitter/David Bilinsky

    Bill Shoemaker owns the best qualities in several categories that help define famous jockeys. He won almost 9,000 career races and clicked at better than 21% – and a great many of those races were in top competition.

    He won 11 Triple Crown races in the US and ranks third in all-time North American victories.

    Shoemaker, who died in 2003, won his first Kentucky Derby in 1955, guiding Swaps to the winner’s circle; his last Derby win came in 1986 at the age of 54 when he rode Ferdinand to the wire first at Churchill Downs.

    Shoemaker made his big-event appearances count, leading the prize money standings 10 times and receiving the highest US honor – champion US jockey – five times.

    He won big races and he won lesser races. Shoemaker won 485 races in 1953, a record for one year that wasn’t broken until the 1970s.

    The advent of $1 million races began in 1981 with the first Arlington Million outside of Chicago. In that race, Shoemaker rode John Henry to a victory – by a nose.

    We believe Shoemaker has won the top spot in our top 10 by more than just a nose.

    Jay Dieffenbach
    Sports Betting Expert

    Jay is a Sports Betting Writer at Techopedia.com, and has been working in US sports for more than 20 years. He's worked for Daily Racing Form, the Arizona Republic, The Athletic and FanDuel among other sports and gambling positions.