The 2023 Flat campaign continues to follow the familiar trajectory – from the Guineas Meeting to Epsom, through the big summer festivals, and on to the late season highlights of the St. Leger Stakes and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. 2023 does, however, feel a little different, as running through the season, and acting as a subplot to many of the major events, is the knowledge that this will be the last year in which we see Frankie Dettori in the saddle.
Always an energetic and engaging presence in the media, Dettori is undoubtedly one of the greatest jockeys of the modern era, but with his slippers now beginning to warm in front of the fire, where does he stand on the all-time list? Here we take a look at the riders with the most wins in the history of British Flat racing.
5. Frankie Dettori
- Career Wins – 3,500+
- British Classic Wins – 22
- Jockeys Championship – 3
First up, none other than Lanfranco himself. Following in the footsteps of his father Gianfranco – a successful jockey back home in Italy – “Frankie” has gone on to light up racecourses around the world. Almost as famous for his flying dismount as his cool judgement in the saddle, Dettori has incredibly ridden at least one winner in 24 different countries.
Career highs include at least two wins in all five British Classics, a record-setting six successes in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, over 500 Group Class wins in total, and of course, the remarkable Magnificent Seven at Ascot in 1996. Not done with quite yet, Dettori has already added to his Classic tally in 2023 and, given his track record, few would bet against him further embellishing his impressive stats before heading into a well-earned retirement.
4. Willie Carson
- Career Wins – 3,828
- British Classic Wins – 17
- Jockeys Championship – 5
Fourth on the list is Scotland’s greatest ever rider, the diminutive (even for a jockey) Willie Carson. Riding his first winner at Catterick in 1962, Carson went on to enjoy a sparkling career in the saddle, winning five Champion Jockey titles, and being associated with all-time greats such as Nashwan, Danehill, and Troy.
Retiring in 1996, Carson remained in the public eye via stints as a team captain on A Question of Sport, and as a presenter of the BBC Racing Coverage – regularly needing to stand on a box alongside co-host Claire Balding. Those born after the heyday of this brilliant rider may recall Willie from his fifth-place finish in the 2011 edition of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, with his “ping assisted” cricket flicking technique, in particular, living long in the memory.
3. Lester Piggott
- Career Wins – 4,493
- British Classic Wins – 30
- Jockeys Championship – 11
He may be only third when measured by total winners but, for many, Lester Piggott is both the most famous, and greatest rider of all. Son of successful rider Keith Piggott, and grandson of the three-time Grand National-winning jockey Ernest Piggott, Lester was born for a life in the saddle and went on to rewrite the history books.
Incredibly riding his first winner at Haydock in 1948 at just 12 years of age, by his late teens, it became clear that Lester was the most talented rider of his generation. Comparatively tall for a jockey at 5ft 8in, Piggott earned the nickname of “the long fellow” and became the go-to rider for the biggest races on the biggest stages. The man aboard Nijinsky for all three legs of the Triple Crown in 1970, Piggott won 30 Classics in total, including nine Derbies, both totals which remain unsurpassed. Leaving an indelible mark on the sport, the annual Jockey Awards Ceremony is known simply as “The Lesters”.
2. Pat Eddery
- Career Wins – 4,633
- British Classic Wins – 14
- Jockeys Championship – 11
Filling the runners-up spot is the first, and only, Irishman on our list – the great Pat Eddery. Another jockey for whom riding was in the genes, Pat was the son of Irish Derby-winning rider, Jimmy Eddery.
Impressive as his father’s feats were, Pat went on to surpass them. In his lengthy career he won almost all there was to win, including every British and Irish Classic – bar the Irish 1000 Guineas – and four Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes.
The man aboard the winner in the famous Grundy vs Bustino, “Race of the Century”, Eddery is also fondly remembered for his perfectly judged ride aboard Dancing Brave in the 1986 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. In addition to his impressive tally of 11 British Champion Jockey titles, Eddery was also crowned Irish Champion Jockey in 1982 during his stint with the legendary Vincent O’Brien and, in 1990, became the inaugural winner of the Flat Jockey of the Year “Lester Award”.
1. Sir Gordon Richards
- Career Wins – 4,870
- British Classic Wins – 14
- Jockeys Championship Wins – 26
Well out in front in terms of overall race wins is the man who, to this day, is the only Flat rider to earn a knighthood. Born to a coal miner and a dressmaker, Richards’s love for all things equine was cultivated during his time driving a pony and trap taxi during the early 1900s – a period which is believed to have forged his distinctive riding style.
Despite those humble beginnings and unusual technique, Richards was bound for greatness. Gaining his first job within the industry by answering an advert in the local newspaper, his first ride was earned as a reward for firing in the winning penalty kick in an inter-stable football match.
It’s fair to say things snowballed from there. In addition to his record-setting number of victories, Richard’s total of 269 wins during the 1947 season remains a Flat racing record, whilst in 1933, he achieved the singular feat of entering the winner’s enclosure in 12 consecutive races – a record unmatched, even by Frankie!