Who was the youngest-ever professional jockey?

Of course, nowadays, no-one under the age of 16 is permitted to ride in public, but it wasn’t always that way. The legendary Lester Piggott, for example, famously had his first ride on The Chase, for his father, Keith, at Salisbury on April 7, 1948, having turned 12 on November 5, 1947.

However, the ‘Long Fella’, who went on to ride 4,493 winners in Britain in a career spanning six decades, was not the youngest-ever professional jockey. Details from a century, or longer, ago are understandably sketchy, but certainly one of the youngest, if not the youngest, professional jockey was George Hoy Booth, who was born in Wigan, Lancashire on May 26, 1904. Booth never rode a winner but, as a teenager, took his stage name from his father, George Formby Snr., and would later win global acclaim as a cheeky, ukulele-playing singer, actor and comedian. Yes, it really was that George Formby!

Remarkable though it may seem, George Formby Jnr. was apprenticed to Epsom trainer Thomas Schofield, for whom he had his first ride in public, on the three-year-old filly Eliza, owned by his father and named after his mother, in an apprentices’ race over a mile at Lingfield Park on April 6, 1915; he 10 years, 10 months and 11 months old at the time. Weighing just 3st 13lb and with his face still swollen from a recent bout of mumps, Formby missed the break and finished unplaced. Schofield, though, reportedly had no complaints about young George other than his ‘ fondness for sweets and pastry’.

Later the same year, with the Flat season in England curtailed by World War I, George Formby Snr. sent a handful of his horses, Eliza included, across the Irish Sea to Naas trainer Johnny Burns, so that George Jr. could continue his riding career. That he did, in Ireland until November, 1918, and in England until the premature death of his father in February, 1921.