Sir Gordon Richards
Born on 5 May 1904, Sir Gordon Richards is widely considered to be the best jockey that the world has ever seen. Born in England, his love of horses started early at his family home where his father reared a number of pit ponies in the village of Donnington Wood in Shropshire. It wasn’t long before young Richards wormed his way onto a pony’s bare back and by the time he was seven he was driving his family’s pony and trap passenger service between Wrockwardine Wood and Oakengates station. It is surmised that it was during this time period of his life that Gordon Richards started to develop his unique riding style. Throughout his career Richards would be known for using a long rein and having a rather upright stance.
Shortly after leaving school, Richards started working towards his goal of becoming a jockey. He managed to get himself a position as a stable boy at the age of 15 at Fox Hollies Stable in Wiltshire. Before long, his riding ability was spotted by his new employer Jimmy White who soon had him riding in his first race at Lincoln. Not long afterwards he won his first race and so his journey to fame and fortune began. From the start it was clear that Richards only had one goal in mind and he pursued that goal with dogged determination. By the time he was 21 he had become a fully-fledged jockey and within his first year as such, he became Champion Jockey with 118 wins under his belt.
It must have seemed that Gordon Richards was unstoppable but just five years after making his racing debut in 1921, Richards contracted tuberculosis and had to stop racing for a while. Whilst recuperating in a Norfolk sanatorium he met Bill Rowell – a fellow patient who became the mentor Richards would need to cope with the success he met in later life. By the end of the end of the year Richards had recovered sufficiently to start racing again and by 1927 he had started to enjoy significant success once again. In 1932, as a stable jockey to Fred Darling, he broke the fifty-year-old record for ‘greatest number of wins in a year’ with a staggering 259 victories under his belt for the season. Just a few years later he won the Two Thousand Guineas at the Newmarket Racecourse by 8 lengths – a feat not accomplished since 1900.
In 1953, Gordon Richards became the first and only jockey to have ever been knighted. Shortly afterwards he was able to claim first place at the Epson Derby – the one race which he had been unable to win during his racing career. The crowds were ecstatic and Sir Richards was personally congratulated by the Queen. Unfortunately his riding career as a jockey ended just one year later when a pelvis injury inhibited his ability to ride. He made the transition to training and advising and lived out the rest of his life a well-liked and respected man. His record for greatest number of wins in a year was only beaten in 2002 by Tony McCoy who was able to participate in more races due to the convenience of modern transportation methods. His total of 4,870 wins is still the record in Britain and he was also awarded the Champion Jockey award a staggering 26 times. Sir Gordon Richards passed away in 1988 but his memory lives on in the minds of those who once witnessed his greatness and in the Champion Jockey pub in Donnington Wood which has been named in his honor.