Was Sir Gordon Richards the greatest jockey of all time?

‘Greatest’ is obviously a subjective term, but few would disagree that Sir Gordon Richards was one of the greatest jockeys and, arguably, the greatest jockey, of all time. Born in Shropshire in 1904, Richards was the first jockey to ride 4,000 winners and, upon his retirement in 1954, his career total of 4,870 winners was, at the time, a world record and remains a British record. Indeed, in the 1947 season alone, Richards rode 269 winners, thereby setting another record, which would stand until 2002, when broken by Sir Anthony McCoy.

McCoy, who rode 289 winners in the 2001/02 National Hunt season, later reflected on his career, saying, ‘Breaking Sir Gordon Richards’ record will always be my greatest achievement, nothing is even close.’

All told, Richards rode for 34 seasons, between 1921 and 1954, and became Champion Jockey on a record 26 occasions. In 1953, he was knighted in recognition of his services to horse racing – making him the first jockey to be conferred such an honour – and celebrated by winning the Derby for the one and only time, after 27 previous attempts, on Pinza. Lester Piggott, one of the few jockeys worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Sir Gordon Richards, rode the first of his record nine Derby winners, Never Say Die, the following year.