“You need fear and doubt to drive you on. Without it, you end up living in the past and being happy with what you have achieved.” So said Tony McCoy when reflecting on the better aspects of his illustrious jockey career, and why he kept wanting more despite having already won multiple Champion Jockey titles.
The UK and Ireland have produced some remarkable riders down the years. Most peak for a few seasons after training hard to meet the required standard, while others sadly never even get that far.
But a handful kick on and become iconic jockeys in much the same way as Michael Schumacher came to dominate F1, Diogo Maradona lit up football pitches, and Dan Carter ruled rugby union.
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Jockeys are often the afterthought when betting on horse racing. They’re the mannequins in multi-coloured silks on top of the horse that no-one bothers about unless they’re breaking records. But thankfully down the years UK and Irish horse racing has witnessed riders who have, deservedly, written their own headlines.
Here’s the list of 8 top retired jockeys to have delivered the goods in the UK and Ireland over their illustrious careers. There are many, many more we perhaps should have added. Some have won everything there is to win, others have pushed boundaries in the sport. All deserve their name on the list.
Arguably the greatest flat-race jockey in history, Lester Piggott was seven short of 5,000 career wins. He was a British Classic stalwart, winning: x5 2000 Guineas, x2 1000 Guineas, x9 Epsom Derby, x6 Epsom Oaks, x8 St Leger Stakes.
Piggott began racing as a teenager and won the Epsom Derby in 1954 to set in motion an illustrious career, which resulted in him being named flat Champion Jockey 11 times.
Very much the Lester Piggott of the jumps scene, AP McCoy’s National Hunt prowess is unlikely to ever be beaten. The Northern Irishman was named jumps Champion Jockey 20 seasons in a row, claimed 31 Cheltenham wins and got his elusive Grand National victory atop Don’t Push It in 2010.
McCoy was so dominant he left everyone else in his wake. He retired in 2015 having won 4,348 jumps races in Great Britain and Ireland.
Retired in 2019 after a 24-year career and now a Paddy Power pundit, Ruby Walsh is a Cheltenham sensation. He rode 59 winners at Cheltenham Festival between 1998 and 2019, including the Gold Cup twice on Kauto Star.
Walsh also won the 2000 Grand National at his first attempt, won it again five years later, and also claimed three Irish Grand National crowns. Always good for a tip, you’ll see plenty of Ruby during Cheltenham Festival right here at Paddy Power!
Winner of the 2011 Irish Grand National, Nina Carberry broke boundaries in the sport on both sides of the Irish Sea and helped pave the way for the likes of Rachael Blackmore and Hollie Doyle to thrive in horse racing.
Carberry rode seven Cheltenham winners, including back-to-back St James’s Place Festival Hunter Chase victories on On The Fringe, with whom she also claimed the 2015 Fox Hunters’ Chase.
An eight-time champion jockey with more than 1,600 race wins to his name, Peter Scudamore is racing personified. He began racing as a teenager and landed 13 Cheltenham victories. Scudamore also won the Welsh and Scottish Grand Nationals multiple times.
Had it not been for AP McCoy, Richard Johnson would have won more than the four Champion Jockey gongs he received during his racing career. The Englishman won more than 3,800 National Hunt races in the UK and Ireland – this included 2x Cheltenham Gold Cups, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Champion Hurdle, Scottish and Welsh Grand Nationals, and 2x Irish Gold Cups. Johnson was a winning machine during a career that spanned 27 years.
Another Irish jockey who went on to dominate the British classics, Pat Eddery was named flat racing Champion Jockey on 11 occasions. His Epsom Oaks triumph on Polygamy in 1974 kick-started what would be an illustrious career, reaching its zenith in 1996 when he claimed the Oaks again alongside the 1000 Guineas in the same year.
Eddery was also a skilled operator across Europe, winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe four times and four Irish Derbies. He gained further international acclaim when winning the 1983 Arlington Million, and landed two Breeders’ Cup wins as well as the Japan Cup.
A 26-time champion jockey, Gordon Richards was the go-to man if you wanted a winner in the UK and Ireland in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. The Telford-born jockey claimed 188 wins in his first professional season at the age of 25.
Cue years upon years of success. Richards became a regular winner at Ascot and Goodwood, and landed five St Legers in a 14-year period. He rode during the Second World War because a pervious bout of tuberculosis meant he couldn’t serve. He completed the British Classics in 1953 with victory in the Derby, and a year later was forced to retire after suffering a broken pelvis.