Kentucky Derby Jockeys

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Meet the Top 10 Kentucky Derby Jockeys

The Kentucky Derby 2024 is on the horizon, and some of the most impressive and popular jockeys in modern times are ready to take it on. The brightest stars within the thoroughbred racing community will gather at Churchill Downs and race to determine the champion. 

If you want to dig a little deeper and learn more about the top 10 Kentucky Derby jockeys gathering at Churchill Downs and competing this year, read on! One thing to note is that this list is in no particular order. Some of the jockeys covered were born into the competitive racing landscape, while others rose from humble beginnings.

Jockey 1 — Tyler Gaffalione 

Age: 29

Last Graded Stakes Win: Risen Star Stakes (Grade II)

2023 Kentucky Derby Finish: 16th

Tyler Gaffalione has earned $147,628,461 throughout his jockeying career and is considered a prominent rising star in today’s industry. He’s the son of Steve Gaffalione, who was also a jockey and accrued over 800 wins throughout his 20-year career. He linked up with Mark Casse early on, who has since provided him with a consistent stream of mounts to pursue greatness with. He holds a Triple Crown race win from the 2019 Preakness Stakes while riding War of Will.

Gaffalione has over 13,000 starts with 2,310 first-place positions and extensive experience at Churchill Downs. He began his journey in 2015 when he received the 2015 Eclipse Award for being the leading apprentice rider in the US. He’s always been destined for greatness, as he became the leading rider at the 2015 Gulfstream Park Spring/Summer meet at only 20 years old.

He’s riding the current favorite in Sierra Leone, so he’s in the perfect position to get his very first Kentucky Derby win.

Jockey 2 — Luis Saez

Age: 31

Last Graded Stakes Win: Coolmore Fountain of Youth Stakes (Grade II)

2023 Finish: 7th

Heading into the Kentucky Derby 2024 with hopes of riding Dornoch, Luis Saez is set up for an amazing race by jockeying the second favored horse for the entire event. Born in Panama, Luis Saez grew up on a small farm and attended the infamous Jaffit Pincay Jr. Jockey School. He became a sensation in the horse racing world by winning 37 races in Panama before making the move over to the US, where he started to participate at Calder.

He’s the holder of a Triple Crown race win, which he captured at the 2021 Belmont Stakes on Essential Quality. Saez has also earned two titles as the leading rider at Keeneland in both the 2021 Spring and 2022 Fall events.

Jockey 3 — John Velazquez

Age: 52

Last Graded Stakes Win: Risen Star Stakes (Grade II)

2023 Finish: 13th

Born in Puerto Rico, John R. Velazquez is one of the most decorated Kentucky Derby jockeys in the modern era of racing. He was a three-time Kentucky Derby winner in 2011, 2017, and 2020 respectively. Velazquez is no stranger to rising and coming through in the most competitive events. He initially began his jockey career in his home country, before moving to New York in 1990. He has 7 Triple Crown race wins, including the one at the Kentucky Derby on Animal Kingdom in 2011. Velazquez also won the Preakness Stakes in 2023 with National Treasure under training from Bob Baffert.

He claimed the United States Champion Jockey in 2004 and 2005 by winning the most money among his peers. He’s also been inducted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame as a part of the 2012 class. For Kentucky Derby 2024, he’ll likely be riding Fierceness in an attempt to claim yet another Kentucky Derby trophy. 

Jockey 4 — Joel Rosario

Age: 39

Last Graded Stakes Win: Gotham Stakes (Grade III)

2023 Finish: 4th

Joel Rosario was born in the Dominican Republic. He was impressive early on in his career as the leading rider in his native nation four times over. The first race he won was at the Galapagos Hipódromo V Centenario in 2000. He attended jockey school in the DR and eventually came over to the US in 2006. He first started riding at the Fairplex and then progressed over to Northern California. 

Rosario was also the recipient of the Outstanding Jockey Eclipse Award in 2021 — which is considered one of the most prestigious awards possible within the thoroughbred racing community. 

Rosario is a three-time Triple Crown race winner. One was at the 2013 Kentucky Derby on Orb, and the other two were for Belmont (the 2014 Tonalist and 2019 Sir Winston, respectively). He has earned over $313,000,000 throughout his career and is looking to compete on Track Phantom for this year’s event. 

Jockey 5 — Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr.

Age: 38

Last Graded Stakes Win: Southwest Stakes (Grade III)

2023 Finish: 11th

Otherwise known as  B.J. Hernandez Jr., he’s accrued over 500 wins at Churchill Downs and doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. He claimed the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey in 2004 after winning 243 races throughout the year. We think that he’ll be riding Mystik Dan for this year’s event, and he’s looking to take home the trophy for the first time. Despite never winning the Derby, he’s still earned over $122,000,000 throughout his career and has 206 career stakes victories. He hasn’t gone a single year without winning a stakes race ever since he became a professional jockey in 2003! B.J. doesn’t hold any Triple Crown race wins, but that doesn’t take away from his incredibly impressive journey thus far. 

His sister is following in his footsteps, too. She won her very first race as a jockey at Delta Downs on March 14th, 2014. Brian Joseph Hernandez Jr. has come in first 2,547 times overall and is considered to be one of the top jockeys gracing the circuit right now.

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Jockey 6 — Cristian Torres

Age: 27

Last Graded Stakes Win: Rebel Stakes (Grade II)

2023 Finish: N/A

One of the youngest jockeys you’ll see at the Kentucky Derby is Cristian Torres. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for with toughness and a willingness to win. He’s already earned $31,557,324 during his career over 4,418 starts. Born in Puerto Rico, Cristian Torres began his jockey career in 2019, when he had some early success at Gulfstream Park as an apprentice. He gained enough knowledge to move forward and compete in the Midwest circuit and lead the way as the top jockey for the 2022 Remington Park meet. He would end up leading the list of competitors in both wins and earnings that year. 

He continued his rise to the top in 2022-23, where he became the top jockey at the Oaklawn Park meet. This meet is reserved for elite riders, and it was the perfect opportunity to prove his worth. He took advantage and became the fastest jockey to reach $1,000,000 in earnings (which happened during a meet at the Arkansas track early on in 2023). He’ll likely be riding Timberlake for this year’s Kentucky Derby, and despite not possessing a Triple Crown win, he’s a jockey to watch out for. 

Jockey 7 — Pascacio Lopez

Age: 38

Last Graded Stakes Win: Gulfstream Park Mile S. presented by Jack Christopher (Grade II)

2023 Finish: 19th (Scratched)

Paco Lopez was born in Veracruz, Mexico, and rose from the proverbial mud to get where he is today. He has a deep history of racing on unregulated tracks in Mexico, but that’s what fueled him to become such a magnificent rider. Eventually, he made the move to Florida in 2007 and became popular for his aggressive approach on the track. 

Paco has over 18,000 starts in his career, so although he’s never won a Triple Crown race, he’s got experience to fall back on. Paco has been the leader at the New Jersey track for several years now — it seems as if he’s unstoppable when it comes to racing there. He won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey in 2008 and has earned an impressive $143,203,281 throughout his career. It’s quite fitting that the horse he’ll likely be riding in this year’s event is named Hades. We say that because it seems as if he always brings the fire whenever he competes. 

Jockey 8 — Javier Castellano

Age: 46

Last Graded Stakes Win: Herecomesthebride Stakes (Grade III)

2023 Finish: 1st

The reigning champion from the 2023 Kentucky Derby is Javier Castellano. He rode Mage and cashed in on the morning line odds of 15-1! His team earned a total of $1,860,000 from his 2023 Kentucky Derby win, where he donned the number 8 on his silks.

Javier is one of two jockeys to win an Eclipse Award 4 times in a row. He also set an annual record for the most purse earnings accrued by a jockey. Javier also has 12 Breeders’ Cup wins under his belt and has 5,743 career wins! He’s earned an astonishing amount up until this point, with total career earnings summing up to $396,113,035.

His 2023 was incredibly impressive, to say the least. He went through a newfound resurgence by becoming the Kentucky Derby winner, as well as winning the Belmont to earn his first personal Triple Crown. He’s not only one of the most renowned jockeys around at the moment, but he’s certifiably a living legend. 

Jockey 9 — Jose L. Ortiz

Age: 30

Last Graded Stakes Win: TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational Stakes (Grade II)

2023 Finish: 14th

Jose L. Ortiz was born in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, and has been a mainstay within the New York Thoroughbred racing circuit ever since his introduction in 2012. He obtained his first Triple Crown race win in 2017 during the Belmont Stakes while riding Tapwrit, followed by impressive winning performances at both Saratoga and the Alabama Stakes. Ortiz added to his legacy by winning the 2022 Preakness Stakes with Early Voting. Chad Brown was the trainer behind this dynamic duo, and they won with a total time of 1:54.54.

His current leading horse for the Kentucky Derby is Conquest Warrior, who ranks 13th among all of the potential Thoroughbreds for the Derby at the moment. He’s earned approximately $241,229,289 throughout his career and has won 22% of his starts. Not only is that an impressive percentage, but the fact that he’s only 30 years old means he could continue this astonishing feat for much, much longer. That’s why we feel like he’s a jockey to look out for during this year’s competition! 

Jockey 10 — Ryusei Sakai

Age: 26

Last Graded Stakes Win: Mile Championship Nambu Hai (Grade I)

2023 Finish: 20th (Scratched)

The youngest jockey on our top 10 list is the Japanese sensation, Ryusei Sakai. Starting as a hometown hero, he has since grown into an international star within the Thoroughbred racing industry. He made his debut for the Derby last year in 2023 with Continuar and has won multiple group stakes in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. 

He’s ridden Continuar multiple times and the duo is most known for winning the Hanshin race in October 2022. He’s won over 300 races throughout 4,000+ starts in Japan — a number that grows even more impressive when you consider he only started riding in 2016. Don’t let age fool you! Ryusei Sakai is more than capable of winning the Derby, and this year, he’ll probably look to do so while riding Forever Young. 

Honorable Mention — Flavien Prat

Age: 31

Last Graded Stakes Win: Pegasus World Cup Invitational S. presented by Baccarat (Grade I)

2023 Finish: 3rd

Flavien Prat boasts a ludicrous 28% win rate throughout 2024 and has earned $160,165,416 throughout his career as a jockey. He’s the son of a horse trainer, so competing at a top level is in his blood. The Country House’s Derby was Prat’s first victory in a Triple Crown race. His best finish before then was third during the 2017 Kentucky Derby, which he also did again for the 2021 derby (while riding the horse Hot Rod Charlie).

He finished third in the 2023 Kentucky Derby while riding Angel of Empire, and looks to improve upon that performance this year with Nash. 

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How much does a jockey make in the Kentucky Derby?

The first-place purse of $1,860,000 is split up throughout the entire team responsible for developing the winner. The jockey takes home 10%, which means the person riding the horse will take home about $186,000. 

Are there female jockeys in the Kentucky Derby?

Rarely! Diane Crump was the first female to ever ride in the Kentucky Derby in 1970 at only 21 years old. Otherwise referred to as “jockettes” by the media, female jockey applications are few and far between. There have been a total of six women jockeys over the years, and Rosie Napravnik claims the title for the best finish by a female jockey for this race.

Rosie came in fifth place for the 2013 Derby, a feat that hasn’t been seen since. 

Who is the best jockey in the Kentucky Derby?

Some honorable mentions that didn’t make our list would be Irad Ortiz and Flavien Prat. It’s up to the jockeys to get the best performance out of their mounts. The ones we’ve listed are currently in a position to compete with the highest-ranking horses (so far). Out of the ones we’ve listed, John Velazquez is one of the more popular choices for bettors. He’s already won a ridiculous amount of money throughout his career and has bested the competition for this event three times over in the past.

If you want to bet on experience and past wins, we’d argue that John Velazquez is the top choice at the moment. 

What is the weight limit for a jockey?

There isn’t a set limit for jockeys, but it’s quite obvious that you want the lightest rider possible. The best jockeys tend to weigh anywhere between 100 to 125 pounds and aren’t much taller than 5 feet. If you’re too large, you’ll weigh down your mount, and provide lackluster results come race day. 


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