For decades, the racing world has been graced by one of the sport’s most endearing and headline-grabbing jockeys, the Italian Stallion Frankie Dettori, but sadly the time has finally come to bid farewell.
Back in December at the age of 52, the legendary jockey announced his retirement from the sport following the conclusion of this season as he began his 11-month farewell tour. The Breeders’ Cup meeting at Santa Anita on November 4th will likely be the site of his final race, the track where he steered Raven’s Pass to the first and only success for a British-trained runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Flying Frankie will bow out on top having enjoyed a run that includes three British flat racing Champion wins, 287 Group 1 race wins and 23 British Classic race wins. Racing fans will be hoping his legendary career will feature a fitting finale but regardless, Dettori will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest jockeys the sport has ever seen.
But where exactly does he rank in that debate? And who are the other contenders who could lay claim to the moniker of G.O.A.T jockeys? Here’s our look at where Dettori sits amongst the all-time greats.
#5 Sir Tony McCoy
Widely considered the most prolific and best National Hunt jockey of modern times, McCoy’s place as one of the greatest jockeys of all time is guaranteed.
The young Irish jockey burst onto the scene in 1992 after recording his first win at Thurles Racecourse and never looked back. McCoy holds the record for most winners ridden within a season by a National Hunt jockey, 253, and was the fastest jockey to collect 1000 winners. He is also the only jump jockey to win more than 2,500 races.
He was made to wait for his first win at the Aintree Grand National but eventually earned the momentous victory in 2010 riding Don’t Push It to the win and realizing a life-long ambition in the process. But his career earned truly legendary status amongst racing fans during a sensational run from the 1995/96 season until 2014/15 saw him named British Jump Racing Champion Jockey an astonishing 20 seasons in a row.
His accomplishments were recognised as he was awarded an MBE in 2003 and an OBE in 2010, and knighted in 2016. His lengthy list of accolades earns McCoy the fifth spot on our list.
#4 Frankie Dettori
Coming in at number four on our list is the man of the hour Dettori. While his list of accomplishments accrued over the last 35 years are what he’ll be remembered for, he has also had a great year in 2023 and top horse racing betting sites have him at 5/2 to win the Sports Personality of the Year award.
While the Italian’s 35-year coming to a close in 2023 you’d suspect might invoke a sense of nostalgic bias, fourth on our list seems a fair reflection of his accomplishments and standing in the sport as a whole. Dettori’s potential was evident from his early having quit school at the age of 13 to pursue a jockeying career. He first garnered attention in 1990 for becoming the first teenager to reach over 100 wins in a season since the great Lester Piggott.
Perhaps his most impressive achievement though is his record at Ascot in 1996 where he managed to claim victory in all seven races on one day. He has pretty much done it all in the sport and his successful partnerships with Stradivarius, Enable, Golden Horn, Authorized, Shamardal, Singspiel, and a whole host of others the world over ensure Dettori’s place among racing’s most famous jockeys.
#3 Laffit Pincay Jr.
Fewer jockeys have enjoyed such success to begin their career as Pincay Jr., with an astounding eight wins from his first 11 races, but even fewer have gone on to sustain that success throughout.
The Panamanian Hall of Famer was one jockey who managed to pull it off though in a career that spanned four decades and amassed a mind-boggling 9530 career wins, placing him third on the flat racing all-time career wins list. Pincay won almost every major race on the US calendar, including nine wins in the Hollywood Gold Cup, three consecutive wins in the Belmont Stakes, and one precious win in the Kentucky Derby.
After retiring in 2003, Pincay’s influence on the sport did not wane. His sportsmanship left an indelible mark on the sport and as such the Laffit Pincay Jr. Award is awarded annually on Hollywood Gold Cup Day to a member of the racing community who has displayed outstanding ‘integrity, dedication, determination, and distinction’. He is a legend in every sense of the word.
#2 Lester Piggott
Piggott earns second spot on our list not only for his career wins tally but for his well-earned nickname, ‘The Long Fellow’. Piggott began racing at the young age of 12, with his background in
Thoroughbreds giving him an advantage but did not retire from the track until he was almost sixty years old. Piggott was born into a long lineage of jockeys and horsemen, a legacy he seemed eager to add to and did. Over the course of his career, he amassed over 4000 wins, with 30 British Classics that included the UK Triple Crown of 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby, and St Leger with Nijinsky in 1970.
Despite standing at 5 foot 8 inches, his style has been imitated ever since and has seen him regarded by many as the greatest jockey in the history of the sport.
#1 William Shoemaker
That honour can only go to one on our list however and the jockey who earns top spot on this occasion is the American Bill Shoemaker. His career as a jockey took off almost immediately becoming the US Champion Jockey within just a year of becoming a professional. Although he is only third on the all-time wins list of American Flat jockeys, Shoemaker had a career strike rate over 20%, with over 8000 wins in 40,350 races. As a result of his small stature, Shoemaker was able to top the earnings table 10 times in his career in the saddle with estimates suggesting that the American won close to $120 million as a jockey. In 1958, he was deservedly inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and his career as the most successful jockey to ever grace the sport remains intact.