Athletic achievement in horse racing doesn’t depend on age and there is no better example of than than the Triple Crown jockeys who continue to race well past their prime and still add titles to their names. From Mike Smith to Stewart Elliott, here is a list of jockeys who defy analysts, medicine, and common sense.
Competing past one’s 40s is really not all that much of a challenge, but when people begin to race after they are 50, with some jockeys pushing that number up to 70 or even 80 years of age, then things are definitely worth a closer look. So, who are the jockeys who still compete today despite their age?
1. Mike Smith – 53
Mike Smith is 53 and very much alive. The jockey has had multiple great seasons starting back in 1993 when he topped the Preakness Stakes field of contestants. In 2018, he became the Triple Crown champion riding to victory with Justify. The title fetched him the name of the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown. He rode Improbable in the the Preakness Stakes on May 18, 2019, and he has done quite well in his overall career.
He has had several near-misses at the Triple Crown and he successfully managed to make his way into the Kentucky Derby’s top-three finishes several times. He won the Kentucky Derby in 2005 riding the 50-1 longshot Giacomo, securing an outstanding victory.
2. John Velazquez – 47
John Velazquez is only 47. Having acquired the status of a prime jockey after coming to the mainland from Puerto Rico in 1990, Velazquez’ career has led him two several water-shed victories, including Belmont Stakes and Kentucky Derby achievements.
His Belmont victory in 2007 featured the whimsically named steed Rags to Riches. He soared to an important first in his career when he topped the Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom in 2011. Even though he hasn’t been a Triple Crown champion, his life-long earnings have surpassed $300 million.
He has been inaugurated in the Puerto Rico Horse Racing Hall of Fame. In 2009 he also received the Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in recognition of his contributions to horse racing as well as his exemplary behaviour as an athlete.
3. Jon Court – 58
At 58, Jon Court is the oldest jockey to win the Kentucky Derby and pose a challenge to Smith. In 2019, Court rides on Long Range Toddy trained by Steve Asmussen. Court secured a $1 million victory at the Arkansas Derby in April, 2010.He then won the Derby again in 2011. He sustained an injury in May, 2014 and had to postpone further racing participations until September the same year.
Court is a composed rider who puts equine well-being before securing a title at all costs. Commenting on the the Kentucky Derby disqualified Maximum Security, he noted that younger jockeys were taking too many risks at the expense of fellow riders and their horses. Court has over 30 titles in his career and his most recent victory has been at the Rebel Stakes.
4. Danny Miller – 71
Danny “Dashing” Miller is Australia’s oldest racing jockey until recently. At 71, he is still very much eager to race, but alas he has faced trouble getting the go-ahead. Doctors just wouldn’t just let him engage in his daring frontrunning style any more.
Miller has insisted that he is still very much in his ability to control the situation and the revocation of his license has “broken him,” as he said in his own words.
Still, until 2018, Miller was the oldest jockey to ever compete in an official competition, although there are quite a few contenders of earlier days when foolhardiness was appreciated at the expense of jockeys’ well-being.
Miller first raced at the age of 15 when he pioneered his frontrunning technique which would serve him well for the rest of his career.
5. Frank Amonte – 75
At the age of 72, Frank Amonte dashed through the finishing line at the Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts. He has been a regular at the Suffolk Downs since the 1970s when he moved to Boston. He suffered an accident in 2011 when he fell off his horse.
Upon explaining the situation, it became clear that the muddy race track and his tired steed had made it difficult to keep the horse stable. After falling off, the stewards had rushed to him, to make sure he was okay. Amonte said that their first words to him were “We’ve never seen anybody hit the ground like you did and get up that quick. We’re glad to see you’re all right.”
Amonte isn’t racing in 2019, but his legacy serves as an inspiration to other jockeys who continue to pursue horse racing trophies even at a age when most people think about having a quieter life.
6. Gary Brain – 66
Meet Gary Brain, a man who takes horse racing seriously. A grandfather of six and a father of two, Brain is one of the oldest jockeys to continue racing today. He’s 66, but with age, he says, comes experience, and experience has served him well.
Brain has been a regular at the Gulfstream Park, riding his steeds to victory, year in and year out. Similar to Amonte, he started in the 1970s when he moved to South Florida. It was only in the past decade or so that he has been given his nickname, though – “The Grandfather of Racing”.
He has been all over the place, competing in his adopted South Florida, Louisiana, Illinois, and beyond. Unflinching the face of a proper challenge, Brain participated in the Kentucky Derby Day back in 1996.
7. Javier Castellano – 41
Javier Castellano, aged 41, is not old by jockeys’ standards at all, and he intends to stay on the job. Having been racing in some of the US’ finest competitions, including the Triple Crown, Castellano is a known name. He won Preakness twice in 2006 and 2017 and he is looking good in 2019.
His two victories at the Preakness Stakes made him a unique participant in the event this year as well. Castellano has done quite a bit to set himself apart from most other jockeys. With over 5,000 victories to his name he certainly knows what it is to be a top rider.
He is already a member of the Hall of Fame, and has many good years ahead of him. True, you should always keep your ear to the ground when at the Triple Crown, because you can rest assured Castellano will be advancing on the back of his horse for a decade more.
8. Gary Stevens -54
He is 59 now and Gary Stevens is all about horse racing. He has managed to top all significant competitions in his career including Preakness, Belmonts, the Breeders Cup and more. Stevens did retire briefly from horse racing, choosing to be an analyst instead but it he was too driven to win the Kentucky Derby to call it quits just then.
You won’t see Stevens compete in the 2019 Kentucky Derby or the Triple Crown, but he is nevertheless one of the oldest jockeys to still race on occasion, though certainly not as actively as before.
9. Alex Solis – 55
Alex Solis is 55 and he is still at it. An American jockey, Solis’ successes go back to 1997 when he placed second in the Kentucky Derby on the back of Captain Bogit. He managed to place well in the Derby in 1998 aboard Victory Gallop, the aptly named steed that would help him become the runner-up.
In 2004, he placed fourth nation-wide, an achievement giving him a distinct profile as a jockey, despite his age. He managed to top three independent Breeders’ events, including the Cup Sprint, Cup Turf, and Cup Classic, which just goes to show that Solis has it in him. That was back in 2003, though, and his most recent victory was in 2012 at the Breeders’ Stakes.
He became a Hall of Famer in 2014 and he continues to ride to date. He retired in 2017, but he has been seen racing for pleasure. It seems that jockeys are not quite so prepared to enjoy the comforts of a cushy life after a career in sports – they want more of the same.
10. Stewart Elliott – 54
Stewart Elliott is a worthy last pick. Aged 54, Elliott is a name that commands respect in the world of horse racing. His successes are many and prominent. Elliott appeared in the Kentucky Derby for the first time back in 2004 and rode his horse, Smarty Jones, to an earth-shattering victory.
He almost managed to secure another victory in the Belmonts Stakes in the same year, but was outpaced by Birdstone in the final dash for the finish line.
Elliott holds multiple awards, including the Best Jockey ESPY Award in 2004 and the most recent George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award. He is nowhere near done with racing as well.