By Nicholas Godfrey
Brazil: Legendary jockey Jorge Ricardo, the all-time record holder in career victories, became the first rider in history to partner 13,000 winners at his hometown racetrack, the Hipodromo da Gavea in Rio.
The extraordinary rider known affectionately as Ricardinho had returned home to Rio de Janeiro from Argentina earlier this month to complete his ascent to the 13,000-winner mark.
Ricardo, who turns 59 on September 30, reached the incredible landmark when he partnered Gloriosa Negra to win the opener on Friday’s card, a 1,100 metre (5½f) event.
“This means a lot to me,” said Ricardo, who has been the world leader in career victories since February 7, 2018, when he rode the 12,845th winner of an utterly amazing career.
Jockeys’ all-time top ten (as at Sept 25, 2020)
Ricardo has overcome serious illness and career-threatening injury to reach the landmark, which lay behind his decision to return to his native Rio earlier this month amid dwindling opportunities in Buenos Aires, his permanent base since 2006. Racing in Argentina has suffered one of the longest shutdowns in the world amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There were many years of love and sacrifice for my profession,” added Ricardo. “I’ve been doing this since a very young age.
“I usually say that I was born predestined, I was born to do what I do. My love for it all grows every year. I keep riding because it’s my life. I can’t live without it.”
Ricardo started riding as a 15-year-old apprentice in 1976. He rode his first winner in November 1976 on a horse trained by his father Antonio – a former jockey, like two of Ricardo’s uncles – at the famous Gavea racecourse, in the shadow of Rio’s statue of Christ the Redeemer.
He won his first jockeys’ championship in Brazil in 1982 – and retained the title every season afterwards until he moved permanently to Argentina in June 2006, since when he has twice been top rider in Buenos Aires.
Ricardo partnered South American champion Much Better to finish 14th to Carnegie in the 1994 Arc and rode at the Shergar Cup in 2008. Generally speaking, however, his prodigious feats largely slipped under the international racing radar until he moved to Buenos Aires in the summer of 2006, after which news of his staggering achievements finally reached a wider audience.
Ricardo’s best season was 1992/93 when posted an incredible 477 winners; he reached the 400-mark on five occasions altogether. He won the title 26 years in a row, often riding more than 400 winners in a season, a multitude of G1s among them. He has won the continental championship, the Gran Premio Latinoamericano, five times.
Before returning to his native Brazil earlier this month, he had ridden more than 3,300 winners in Argentina; he was twice named jockey of the year.
In February 2006 Ricardo broke the world record for career victories when he rode his 9,591st winner to surpass his arch-rival Russell Baze for the first time.
Thereafter for several years Ricardo was involved in a ding-dong struggle across two continents with his US-based rival Baze, who retired in June 2016. The world record changed hands several times: Ricardo, who won 26 riding titles in his native Rio before moving to Argentina, became the first jockey in the world to reach 10,000 wins in January 2008, but Baze beat him to 11,000, which he reached in August 2010.
The lead flip-flopped several times in the following months until Ricardo established a decent gap – only to forfeit his advantage when he was forced to spend more than six months on the sidelines with lymphoma in 2009.
In September 2013, he was out for several months after suffering a fractured shoulder and broken jaw in a horror fall that forced him to scale back his riding following his return and slowed his remarkable output.
He missed another ten months when he fractured his left femur in December 2016 in a fall at the Hipodromo Palermo in Buenos Aires: another fall in May 2019 resulted in seven broken vertebrae, a collapsed lung and facial fractures.
However, following Baze’s retirement, Ricardo regained first spot in the world all-time list on February 7, 2018, at San Isidro when he scored on Hope Glory for the 12,845th winner of his career.
• Nicholas Godfrey on Jorge Ricardo at Thoroughbred Racing Commentary