Life as a jockey is a mental and physical challenge, and to succeed takes a number of qualities – horsemanship and the ability to read a race are only small parts of a jockey’s success.
They must be as physically prepared as any elite athlete while surviving on, effectively, rations. Limited food, limited water – it’s all normal for the jockey. And they have to have the mental tenacity to survive it all.
Imagine sending a horse out to contest the Melbourne Cup after feeding it a handful of food every day, and then sending it into a sauna for hours on end. Do you really expect the horse to perform at its peak? And yet, we have the same expectation of jockeys.
Some are blessed with the perfect body shape to make it as a jockey. Many of the tall riders barely eat. It’s a horror existence.
Every jockey suffers this nightmarish existence. Only a select few rise to the top, and it is those riders we salute today. But while we look at the creme de la creme, we do acknowledge every rider – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Honourary mention: Hideaki Miyuki
Speaking of the ugly, how could we leave out the man that inspired this article, Hideaki Miyuki? I doubt Miyuki will make any top 10 jockeys list any time soon, but the chance to show this video again and again cannot be missed. Here, Miyuki rides the Japan Cup Dirt favourite Hokko Tarumae into third behind Belshazzar (he’s the horse in the red cap that challenges at the top of the straight):
I wish I could describe that riding style effectively, but it looks like he’s practising his pole dancing routine on horseback. The best part is, he rides Hokko Tarumae again in Saturday’s World Cup, so hopefully we get some more pole dancing action!
10. Gary Stevens
Gets a guernsey on the basis of his amazing comeback which proves he’s one of the most naturally gifted jockeys the world has seen. He retired in 2005 and embarked upon a successful acting and presenting career, but the allure of the saddle was too great and he returned last year. And not only did he return, but he made a huge statement, winning the Preakness Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic among 69 victories last year.
I generally don’t rate American jockeys too highly at all, but Gary Stevens is undoubtedly among the world’s best on any given day.
9. Frankie Dettori
Until his split with Godolphin, I daresay Frankie would have topped this list. The laidback and irreverent Italian was a beloved figure in world racing, and while he had the pick of mounts from the world’s largest stables, he still was regularly named the world’s best jockey. But towards the end of 2012, it all fell apart – he split with Godolphin and was suspended for six months for taking a prohibited substance. Upon his return, he’s been good without being spectacular, but nonetheless, his prior rides earn him a place in this list.
8. Douglas Whyte
South African jockeys have dominated Hong Kong racing since 1991, with only one Hong Kong Jockeys’ Championship being won by a non-South African in that time (that being by homegrown jockey Tony Cruz, who is now a leading trainer in the jurisdiction).
At first, it was Basil Marcus who dominated, while Robbie Fradd also got in on the spoils. Since 2000, though, it’s all been one-way traffic for the ‘Durban Demon’ Douglas Whyte, who last year notched up his 13th straight premiership. Hong Kong is an environment which attracts the best jockeys in the world, and he has managed time and time again to prove his superiority.
At this stage, it looks likely his run will end at 13 titles – he is 19 wins behind Zac Purton and 15 wins behind Joao Moreira. That said, you can never write off Whyte – he was nine wins behind Brett Prebble with five meetings remaining in 2010 and he still managed to win.
7. Tommy Berry
If you’d said even six months ago that Tommy Berry would make this list, I would have laughed at you. But Berry is now showing a new-found level of maturity – he has a great tactical brain for a jockey, and he is a master at putting a horse in a winning position. And above all, he’s versatile, which is something plenty of Australian jockeys lack. Take Nash Rawiller – he’s probably better on a frontrunner than Berry, but he struggles if he settles off them. Hugh Bowman’s up there too, but Tommy Berry has that x-factor which makes him number one. He’s a worthy addition to this list.
6. Kieren Fallon
If you want controversial, Kieren Fallon is your man. The Irishman who has been stable jockey to three of the biggest trainers in Europe in the late Sir Henry Cecil, Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien is better remembered for scandals, like his race-fixing trial (which was eventually thrown out) and his positive tests.
He’s the closest thing Ireland has to a larrikin jockey. Amongst all the murk, it’s easy to forget he’s an incredibly talented jockey too.
5. Damien Oliver
Yes, Damien Oliver’s recent suspension for betting on another horse than his own in a race in which he was riding is still fresh in our minds. Yes, it was a blight on racing and something no one will condone.
However, Oliver has proven again why he is a champion jockey, not only picking up where he left off 12 months earlier, but almost riding better than he has ever done. For mine, he is the benchmark jockey in Australia, and I’m happy to have him at number five in the world.
4. Ryan Moore
This one required a bit more objective thinking from me, because I’m still filthy at Moore for a number of his rides, in particular his last two Melbourne Cup efforts – both were woeful. But take those out and you have a jockey who is consistently at the top of his game and manages to ride winners all over the world.
His Australian rides are, seemingly, just aberrations. His goal these days is to ride the best horses in the big races, no matter where they are – and it is a modus operandi which gets him high up on this list.
3. Richard Hughes
Whereas Ryan Moore has a bit of x-factor, Richard Hughes is Mr Consistent – the man you want in your corner when everything’s against you. Horses just run for him, and you trust that he’ll give it his all. He’s been a good jockey for a number of seasons, but he’s only really elevated himself into the upper echelon of jockeys since he threatened to give the game away, ironically.
Since that threat, in response to a whip ban in 2011, he has won the last two Champion Jockey titles in Britain and is riding as well as ever.
2. Christophe Soumillon
Christophe Soumillon is the Belgian Ryan Moore, but with a greater understanding of how races are run and won. He can sum up a race perfectly, he knows how much horse he has underneath him, and he rides with that little bit of Belgian exuberance (I would say arrogance, but I don’t think that sums up the man well at all). Soumillon is close to the perfect package for a jockey – he has even won top races over the hurdles too.
1. Joao Moreira
I expect this will cause contention, but the South American has taken Asia by storm. Moreira is, quite simply, a freak. He can read a race perfectly, he has supreme tactical positioning and he has the midas touch – horses just run for him.