Fit at 50 – Five Of The Best Golden Oldie Jockeys

Features | 6th February 2022

They say the old ones are the best but, when it comes to some of the top Flat jockeys, they really aren’t joking. 

With most elite sportsmen and women retiring in their 30s, horse racing bucks the trend. Plenty of riders are still competing in races well into their 50s.

The current crop of golden oldies show no signs of slowing down or swapping their riding boots for some retirement slippers.

Here’s a look at some of racing’s more senior jockeys still booting home the winners.

Frankie Dettori (52)

Frankie is probably the most famous jockey in the world currently riding. The 52‐year‐old has won every single British Group 1 prize bar Newmarket’s July Cup since arriving from his native Italy as a teenager, unable to speak English, more than 30 years ago.

During his 19 years as number one rider to Sheikh Mohammed’s powerful Godolphin racing operation he was associated with some of the great Flat horses, including Dubai Millennium.

His ‘magnificent seven’ at Ascot in 1996, when he became the first jockey to ride all seven winners at a single meeting, has gone down in racing folklore. But it’s not all been highs. He was lucky to survive a horrific plane crash in 2000 and he was unceremoniously dumped as Godolphin’s stable jockey in 2012.

Just when it looked like his career was coming to an end old ally John Gosden picked him up. There pair enjoyed huge success with the likes of Derby hero Golden Horn and dual Arc de Triomphe heroine Enable.

Charismatic Frankie is one of the few jockeys to transcend the sport into the public affections and his value to racing continues to be invaluable.

Franny Norton (52)

It could have been a career in the ring rather than on the track for Scouser Franny Norton.

He was a talented amateur boxer and was offered a place to compete at the Commonwealth Games before fully committing himself to a career in racing.

The lightweight rider won the stable lads’ boxing title on eight occasions but it’s in the saddle where he’s been a real knockout for more than 30 years.

Like many young jockeys, he struggled after losing his apprentices’ claim in the early 1990s when he considered a career in the ring.

His talents have stood the test of time and the 52‐year‐old even broke a century of winners for the first time in his long career in 2018.

Maybe, he was pigeon‐holed as just a lightweight when the likes of Sir Michael Stoute, John Gosden and Andrew Balding would regularly use Franny’s services.

Now he is firmly in Charlie Johnston’s camp. His association with star stayer Sir Ron Preistley has yielded a couple of Group 2 victories as well as a Group 3 win.

Franny’s career is living proof that if you’re good enough, age is just but a number.

Franny Norton
Franny Norton

Joe Fanning (52)

Softly‐spoken Joe has been the Mr Reliable of the Flat racing weighing room for longer than most can remember.

His association with Mark Johnston stretches back nearly as far but the Irishman first came to Britain with ambitions of becoming a jump jockey. With a handful of rides under his belt he arrived in Middleham, North Yorkshire, to work for Squeak Fairhurst in 1988.

His first winner came in a Sedgefield hurdle race but his luckiest break might well have been when fracturing two vertebrae in a fall at Newcastle.

It prompted him to switch his attentions to the Flat and it was not long before he came across another Middleham trainer making a name for himself – Mark Johnston.

The pair have forged a bond closer than any other jockey‐trainer partnership and it is still going strong after more than 25 years. Joe had to wait until 2016 for his first Group 1 win when The Last Lion landed the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.

Two years ago the 52‐year‐old added another when Subjectivist ran away with the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. It was just reward for one of racing’s good guys.

Joe Fanning
Joe Fanning

John Egan (55)

Globetrotting John is racing’s Phileas Fogg. The main character in Jules Verne’s novel only went Around The World In 80 Days once, but 55‐year-old John has been jetting across the planet in search of winners most of his career.

He started out in his native Ireland in 1988 and, in 34 years, he has racked up winners in around 30 different countries.

His latest foreign jaunt came in Bahrain where he won the Stewards Cup on Magical Wish for British trainer Stan Moore. John’s 23‐year‐old son David was put in his place by dad this time as he could only finish third.

It’s almost unheard of for elite sportsmen to complete against their children. Former champion apprentice David was just a toddler when his dad won the 2003 Irish 2,000 Guineas on Indian Haven.

More Group 1 glory followed for John with Pastoral Pursuits and Les Arcs giving him victories in successive July Cups in 2005 and 2006.

It looked like he would quit the saddle when he set up as a trainer eight years ago but he was soon booting home winners full time again and now he has ambitions to ride into his 60s.

John Egan

Jimmy Quinn (56)

Hardworking Jimmy is one of Flat racing’s grafters. In a career spanning 34 years, he has ridden in more than 1,000 races a season four times and he is still going strong.

The most rides he took in one season was in 2002 when his 1108 races yielded a personal‐best total of 101 winners. Now at the age of 56, he might not be in demand quite as much but the lightweight jockey showed he wasn’t ready for retirement just yet when winning on Encourage in Bahrain recently.

It will be 16 years this summer since he enjoyed his finest hour when he partnered Kingsgate Native to victory in the 2007 Nunthorpe Stakes at York. Being able to comfortably do light weights came in very handy because John Best’s speedster was carrying just 8st 1lb as he was a two‐year‐old taking on – and beating – older horses.

Jimmy was often the go‐to rider for top trainers in big handicaps. He won several valuable races for Sir Henry Cecil, including the John Smith’s Cup on Porto Foricos in 1998.

His son Josh followed his dad into the saddle as a Flat jockey. The pair became another father and son to share the weighing room at the same time.

Jimmy Quinn