Who are, or were, the most successful Flat jockeys in the United Kingdom?
Of the five most successful jockeys in the history of Flat racing in the United Kingdom, two are deceased and two are long retired, but all five had, or have, riding careers spanning at least four decades. As such, they are well-known and much-respected figures.
The most successful of all was Sir Gordon Richards, who was the first jockey to be knighted and rode 4,870 winners between 1921 and 1954, thereby setting a world record. Richards was champion jockey in 26 of his 34 seasons and, in 1943, rode 269 winners, thereby setting a British single-season record that would stand until broken by Sir Anthony McCoy in 2002.
Second on the all-time list comes the late Pat Eddery, who died of a heart attack in November, 2015, after a long, well-publicised battle with alcoholism. Between 1969 and 2003, Eddery rode 4,633 winners and was champion jockey 11 times in Britain and once, during a spell as stable jockey to Vincent O’Brien at Ballydoyle, Co. Tipperary, in Ireland.
Next up is Lester Piggott who, to readers of a certain age, requires little or no introduction. Nicknamed ‘The Long Fella’, due to his height and idiosyncratic riding style, Piggott was a force majeure in British Flat racing for most of his career. Between 1948 and 1994, he rode 4,493 winners, including an unprecedented 30 British Classic winners. Like Pat Eddery, he was champion jockey 11 times.
Younger than Piggott and older than Eddery, but a direct contemporary of both as far as his riding career was concerned, Willie Carson rode 3,828 winners between 1962 and 1996. He was champion jockey five times between 1972 and 1983 and rode 17 British Classic winners.
Last, but by no means least, comes Italian-born Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori, who rode his first winner on British soil in June, 1987, at the age of 16, and is still going strong nearly three-and-a-half decades later. Dettori has been champion jockey just three times, in 1994, 1995 and 2004, and has 17 British Classic wins to his name. As of March, 2021, he had ridden 3,286 winners and, having add just 41 to that total in the rest of the year, clearly has some work to do if he is to make further progress up the all-time list.