Riding For Glory: British Jockeys at the Breeders’ Cup- A Legacy of Success

There are few more notable end-of-season events on the horse racing schedule than the Breeders’ Cup. The two-day event in the United States brings down the curtain on the flat season before the attention switches back to the jumps for the winter months.

There has been no shortage of success stories on American soil for British connections, especially when it comes to recent success, with Aidan O’Brien and Charlie Appleby clearing up in the turf races at Keeneland in 2022.

But, who have been some of the standout British jockeys that overcame the Breeders’ Cup predictions and made a name for themselves on American soil throughout history?

Lester Piggott

There are few more celebrated British jockeys in history than Lester Piggott, and his notable victories were spread out throughout the world. While his skill was always evident in the United Kingdom and Ireland, he finally landed victory at the Breeders’ Cup in 1990, by becoming the first Brit to land a victory at the event when riding Royal Academy to glory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile for Vincent O’Brien.

In terms of major wins in the United States, this was one of just a handful of victories for Piggott, with his only other major victories in the nation coming on board Sir Ivor, Karabas and Argument in the 1968, 1969, and 1980 editions of the Washington D.C. International.

Walter Swinburn

The main prize on offer at the Breeders’ Cup for runners on the grass comes in the form of the Turf, which is typically the penultimate race before the Classic. The first British jockey to land victory in the race was Walter Swinburn, as he captured Turf glory on board Pisudksi for trainer Sir Michael Stoute in 1996.

Swinburn landed notable prizes throughout his career, including one of his Derby wins by a record ten-lengths in 1981. International prizes also standout on his CV, including his excellent ride on All Along to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1983.

Ryan Moore

There are few more successful jockeys in modern history than Ryan Moore, as his partnership with Aidan O’Brien has seen the connections team up with some of the standout equine stars in the modern era. Moore has won the Champion Jockey title on three occasions, and is the stable jockey for the O’Brien yard. During his career, he has rode over 170 Group or Grade 1 winners, and he has recorded more group and listed British winners than any other active jockey.

The Englishman has won the Derby on three occasions, and the Arc twice. Meanwhile, further international glory has been found on American soil. To date, he has recorded four victories in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, including most recently in 2015 when taking the ride on Found. The first week in November could be a standout time for Moore, as he rides the hot favourites in both the Turf and Melbourne Cup in the forms of Auguste Rodin and Vauban.

William Buick

The Godolphin operation sees runners take the track in all four corners of the world, with Charlie Appleby landing the lionshare of huge international victories. That has been evident in recent editions of the Breeders’ Cup, with William Buick landing victories for the trainer. Buick has landed victories in four British Classics, including the Derby for the first time in 2018. Appleby and Buick’s dominance on American soil was evident at the 2021 Breeders’ Cup, as the pair landed the Juvenile Turf with Modern Games, before landing both the Mile, with Space Blues, and Turf, with Yibir.

That success continued at Keeneland in 2022, with Modern Games landing the Mile. Further Godolphin success was achieved with Rebel’s Romance in the Turf, but Buick took the ride on the other runner in the race, meaning James Doyle landed a first victory at the Breeders’ Cup.

Oisin Murphy

Oisin Murphy is one of the most celebrated jockeys in the United Kingdom, as he has been named Champion Jockey on three occasions. The jockey has landed victories in two British Classics, and has made a name for himself as one of the top big-race performers overseas. That has been evident with victories in the Belmont Oaks, Japan Cup, Dubai Turf, and the E.P. Taylor Stakes.

His first victory was widely celebrated in Japan, as he masterminded the shock Breeders’ Cup Distaff victory of Marche Lorraine in 2021. He will head to Santa Anita this year with a standout chance in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, as 1,000 Guineas winner Mawj looked sensational on her return to action at Keeneland in the QE II Challenge Cup Stakes. The 28-year-old could be one of the jockeys to follow with interest at the Breeders’ Cup 2023.

How do I register my own racing colours?

Interestingly, according to Weatherbys, which administers British horse racing under contract to the regulatory authority, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), you do not need to be a registered owner under the Rules of Racing to register your own racing colours. Nevertheless, if you do own a racehorse outright, or as part of a partnership or syndicate that allows horses to run in the colours of individual owners, one of the perks of the ownership experience is to see your horse run in colours of your choosing.

Fairly obviously, no two sets of colours can be exactly the same. Standard racing colours, which can be registered on the BHA website, are available in 18 colours, but any combination of body, sleeve and cap is allowed, provided it is unique. Alternatively, prospective owners can design their own ‘bespoke’ colours, completely from scratch, which can be registered, subject to acceptance, for a fee of £5,000 plus VAT.

Historically, once an owner registered a set of colours, or ‘silks’, to be worn by a jockey riding any of his horses, he was entitled to those colours for life. However, that entitlement was removed during the inter-war years and nowadays owners must register their colours annually, or for a period of five, ten or twenty years. Consequently, the BHA offers the facility to buy the rights to so-called ‘vintage’ silks, which have been registered for five years or more and are no longer required by the original registrant.

Who coined the phrase ‘dark horse’?

One dictionary definition of the phrase ‘dark horse’, in the idiomatic sense – that is, when used to describe something more than just the colour of a horse – is ‘someone who wins a race, competition, election etc. that no-one expected them to win’. Interestingly, the earliest known reference to the phrase, in this sense, occurs in the high-society novel ‘The Young Duke’, written by Benjamin Disraeli, who would later serve twice as British Prime Minister, in the years before he entered the House of Commons in 1837. In the novel, published in 1831, the titular protagonist, the Duke of St. James, witnesses a horse race, about which Disraeli writes, ‘A dark horse which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph.’

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