Working as a jockey has the feel of a job that is for the young, largely on account of the physical toll that you have to put yourself through to do it. The riding of the horses and learning to take a fall is physically exhausting, but so is needing to keep your weight below a certain amount and having to get up early in the morning. Of course, what constitutes ‘old’ and ‘young’ will be a matter of personal opinion and will differ from case to case.
Even so, one way of identifying whether a jockey is old is by looking at the average age of jockeys and seeing where someone fits in that bracket. If most jockeys were to retire from the sport at 25, for example, then one who is 40 would be considered old in comparison. Equally, if most jockeys retire are 50 then a 40-year-old would be considered a whippersnapper. Here’s a look at the oldest jockeys history has to offer.
What Is A Jockey’s Average Retirement Age?
The reality of horse racing is such that flat racing is much less demanding than jump racing, meaning that jockeys can last that little bit longer in one discipline over the other. Take Frankie Dettori as an example, born in 1970 he has raced into his 50’s and continued to win the biggest races throughout. The very act of getting a horse to jump and then taking in a landing means that National Hunt racing asks physical demands of jockeys that staying on the flat will simply never do. Jockeys begin their careers aged between 16 and 22, though they’ll have started riding sooner than that.
Working as a jockey is not a career that has a strict upper age, so it’s just a matter of whether or not those taking part in it feel as though they can cope with the rigours of the sport once they have passed a certain point. Jump jockeys will usually start to consider retirement at about the age of 35, whilst flat racing jockeys will often last for about ten years longer. That doesn’t meant that there aren’t jump jockeys that are older than that, of course.
As jockeys age, maintaining the correct levels of physical fitness becomes harder and harder. A jockey’s day will often start early in the morning and last for many hours, including a fair amount of travel, so it’s not uncommon for that to start to take its toll over the years. There’s also the fact that the average are of a jockey will differ from country to country, making it hard to pin-point an accurate average age.
The Standout Older Jockeys
When we’re considering the plight of a jockey, it’s worth looking at the fact that there’s a difference between a jockey that is slightly older than the average and one that is so old that they make the news. John Forth, for example, won the Epsom Derby in 1829; on its own hardly a fact worthy of mentioning, until you realise that he was born in 1769, meaning that he was 60-years-old when he did so.
Here we’re looking at the jockeys that not only decided that age is just a number but that actively ignored the point at which most of their peers were retiring. We’re looking for interesting stories that help to set them apart from the rest. Ruby Walsh retired from the sport when he was 40, for example, which is old for a jump racing jockey, but it’s hardly as headline grabbing as the sheer number of wins that he enjoyed in his career.
Lester Piggott – Retired At 59
One of the most famous names in horse racing kept on riding on the flat until he was 59. Considered by many to be one of the sport’s greatest names, he was aged a mere 12 when he achieved his first win at Haydock Park in a race called ‘The Chase’. That was in 1948, but he kept on riding well after that and was so good that he was named the Champion Jockey 11 times during his racing career.
Piggott won 5,300 times as a jockey, with 4,493 of those wins coming in the United Kingdom. By the time he retired, he won 30 Class races, including nine Epsom Derby victories. Whilst he was predominantly a flat racing jockey, he did take part in the occasional jump race and won 20 times over hurdles, demonstrating his sheer command of a horse irrespective of the discipline that he was racing in.
Known as ‘the Long Fellow’ on account of the fact that he was tall for a flat racing jockey, all five foot and eight inches of Lester Piggott worked hard to keep himself 30 pounds below his natural weight. Part of Piggott’s fame came about from his sheer ability, but another part of it was due to the fact that he revolutionised racing thanks to his unique riding style. Even after he’d retired, he decided to race again between 1990 and 1995, prolonging his career by a few years. Of course, with all of that success he is also one of the richest jockeys in racing history.
Trond Jørgensen – Retired At 61
It tells you something about Trond Jørgensen’s racing career that the man himself felt as though he could have carried on racing well into his 70s, only for the battle he fought with his weight to cause him to call time on a career sooner than he’d have liked. He was one of the best Scandinavian jockeys of all time, getting in the saddle for the first time in 1973 when he was just 17-years-old.
The fact that he fell off the horse at the first time of asking might have deterred many people, but Jørgensen was built of sturdier stuff and just climbed right back into the saddle so that he could try again. He won more than 500 times during his racing career, which lasted for several decades until he could no longer battle against his own weight issues and decided that he simply had to call it a day.
That decision came just days before his 62nd birthday, so you can decide for yourself whether he was 61 or 62 when he announced his retirement. He was quite lucky as a jockey in many ways, being in a position where he didn’t suffer particularly serious damage from his falls and only really tended to case problems to his soft tissue. The man himself said, “Wear and tear is something that you can’t avoid.”
Sue Martin – Retired At 64
If Trond Jørgensen was lucky in terms of the injuries that he suffered, the opposite could be said of Sue Martin. During her career she had injuries including, but not limited to, breaking both of her cheekbones, puncturing her lung, breaking four vertebrae, having her left arm fixed with plates and screws, dislocating her shoulder, having a titanium rod put in her shin and suffering countless concussions.
Martin’s story isn’t particularly unique, insomuch as most jockeys have similar tales to tell about the damage that they’ve done to their bodies. What makes her stand out from the crowd, though, is the fact that she enjoyed her first win on a horse in 1976 and her last in 2019. That is a career that spanned 43 years, with the ‘galloping grandma’ continuing to ride until she turned 64 years of age.
As a professional jockey she won around $150,000 during those 43 years, with one of the final wins of her career coming at Florida’s Tampa Bay Downs Race Track. The seven-time great-grandmother rode Blue Haze Of Fire to victory, defying odds of 25/1 when doing so. When you consider the fact that she travelled all around the United States of America to take part in races, you can forgive her for deciding it was time to call it a day.
Fumio Matoba – 64+
The rest of the jockeys on this list had retired by the time we came to write it, but that is not true of Fumio Matoba. The man known as the ‘Dancing Jockey’ made history in July of 2021, becoming the oldest person ever to win a race on the National Association of Racing circuit. He did so as a 64-year-old, partnering Noteworthy in the Tokyo City Keiba ‘Twinkle’ meeting’s 12th race.
To be more specific, he was 64 years, ten months and seven days old, meaning that he took the record of oldest winning jockey from Hiroshi Morishta by seven days. Matoba has so far enjoyed a career total of 7,351 winners, though that might have increased by the time that you read this, having ridden his first horse on the 16th of October in 1973. He is, unsurprisingly, a legend of Japanese racing.
Matoba’s nickname comes from the fact that he bounces high in his saddle during his drive at the end of a race, which can appear odd to those that have never seen him ride before. His win in the Twinkle meeting came on the back of a three-year-old colt that had been trained by Teronobu Fujita and went off with odds of 7/1. Respecting your elders is a thing in Japan, but Matoba works hard to ensure that that respect is earned when it comes to him.
David Robinson – Retired At 66
Being a jockey isn’t just about winning, as odd as that might sounds to those of us on the outside looking in. It is a point that is proved by the career of David Robinson, however, given that he continued to work as a beef farmer even whilst he was Britain’s oldest licensed jockey. In 2008 he rode just his 43rd winner in a point-to-point event at Godstone, receiving an excellent reception from the crowd as he did so.
He led throughout the event, proving that being an older head can sometimes provide a jockey with the experience needed to keep on winning. There’s something in the fact that Robinson declared himself to be ‘absolutely knackered’ after the race, demonstrating exactly why it is that jockeys normally call it quits well before he decided to. Point-to-point is demanding discipline, of course, so it’s no wonder it took his toll on him.
Though Robinson was most closely associated with point-to-point racing, it wasn’t the only form of jump racing that he was involved in. In 2000 he took his horse Struggles Glory to the Grand National Festival, taking part in the Foxhunters’ Chase and falling at the first hurdle. The horse itself took part in the Grand National proper two years later, though Robinson wisely decided to allow someone else to enjoy the ride on that occasion.
Danny Miller – Retired At 70
Danny Miller might have continued to ride well into his 70s if he hadn’t essentially been begged to give up riding by his doctors at the age of 70. It eventually took a notification form the Wagering WA of Australian Racing that he would need a doctor’s clearance before he’d be allowed to take a ride to force him out of the saddle. Having ridden horses for 56 years, it’s perhaps not a surprise that he was loathed to walk away.
Miller was a well-known name on the Australian circuit, having ridden in the Melbourne Cup in 1967 and travelled to Ascot five years later. He was the country’s oldest jockey when he eventually stopped riding, though he still wrote to the Shadow Minister for Racing & Gaming, John McGrath, declaring that his licence allowed him to keep on riding horses until the end of the season and so he did so.
Even as recently as 2000 Miller was taking part in races, winning the Group 1 Railway Stakes on the back of Northerly. Nicknamed ‘Dashing’, Miller declared himself ‘fit and well’ and with ‘no intention of retiring’ in the build-up to the moment that he actually had to do so. He’d turned to McGrath because he desperately hoped that he could carry on riding, but in the end the sport wouldn’t let him carry on doing what he loved.