Ranking the Top Ten Eclipse Award-Winning Apprentice Jockeys

Legends
From left to right: Chris McCarron, Kent Desormeaux, and Steve Cauthen all won Eclipse Awards as outstanding apprentice and went on to Hall of Fame careers. (Coglianese photos/Eclipse Sportswire/BloodHorse Library)

At the end of the month, the 50th annual Eclipse Awards will be presented. There are 17 categories, for both humans and horses, to determine the best in Thoroughbred racing each year.

One such category is the Eclipse Award for outstanding apprentice jockey. The award has been presented every year since the first ceremony in 1971, and has been won by 50 different riders in that stretch (there was a tie in 1997). It’s the equivalent of a Rookie of the Year award in other sports, and many of its recipients have gone on to achieve great success in the saddle.

Let’s take a look back at the top ten riders to win this prestigious award.

All statistics here are as of Jan. 4, 2021, and include North American totals only.


10. DRAYDEN VAN DYKE (2014 OUTSTANDING APPRENTICE)

CAREER WINS: 719

CAREER EARNINGS: $45,074,274

Van Dyke burst onto the scene in Southern California in his rookie year, winning 192 races from 1,178 mounts. Since then, he’s gone on to establish himself as one of the leading riders on the circuit. In 2014, he won his first graded stakes, taking the Pucker Up Stakes on Sistas Stroll, and added his first Grade 1 win a few months later on Ring Weekend in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes.

Van Dyke had his best year to date in 2018. That year, he won both the summer and fall riding titles at the prestigious Del Mar meet, and won his first Breeders’ Cup race on Stormy Liberal in the Turf Sprint. His 22% winning percentage that year is the highest of his career to date.


9. SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN (1998)

CAREER WINS: 3,321

CAREER EARNINGS: $140,224,177

Bridgmohan (Eclipse Sportswire)

A native of Jamaica, Bridgmohan moved to the United States in the early 1990s, and began riding at Calder Race Course in Miami in 1997. In early 1998, he began riding on the tough New York circuit, but immediately began to establish his presence. On Feb. 15, he won six races on the day at Aqueduct. At year’s end, he had won 199 races, earning him the apprentice Eclipse.

After spending his first few years in New York, Bridgmohan has spent most of his career riding in the Midwest. He spends his winters riding at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and usually rides at Churchill Downs in the spring and fall. Perhaps his biggest moment in the saddle came in 2002, when he guided the gray New York veteran Evening Attire to victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Bridgmohan’s 3,321 wins are fifth among jockeys to win the apprentice Eclipse.


8. PACO LOPEZ (2008)

CAREER WINS: 2,925

CAREER EARNINGS: $104,453,586

Lopez (Eclipse Sportswire)

A native of Mexico, Lopez also started off on the South Florida circuit. He rode his first winner at Calder in 2007 and earned the apprentice Eclipse the following year with a 229-win season. His 22% win rate that year remains tied for the third-highest of his career.

Lopez has done his best work at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. He’s been the leading rider there seven times, the second-most titles in track history. During the 2019 meet, he won 109 races from 325 mounts for an incredible 34% win rate. That year, he set career highs for wins (283) and earnings ($10.9 million). At some point this year, he’s very likely to become the seventh apprentice Eclipse Award-winning jockey to reach 3,000 career wins.


7. TYLER GAFFALIONE (2015)

CAREER WINS: 1,457

CAREER EARNINGS: $67,498,482

The son of former jockey Steve Gaffalione, Tyler began riding at Gulfstream Park in 2014 and almost instantly became one of Florida’s top riders. In 2015, he won 217 races from 1,419 mounts, with almost all of them at Gulfstream. In 2016, he won the summer meet riding title at Gulfstream for the first of three consecutive times.

In recent years, Gaffalione has taken his riding talents to a national stage. In 2018, he began riding at Keeneland during their fall and spring meets, and he rode at Saratoga Race Course for their entire meet for the first time the next year. He won his first Grade 1 on Salty in the 2018 La Troienne Stakes presented by Twinspires.com and earned his first Triple Crown race win on War of Will in the 2019 Preakness Stakes. Currently, he’s in fifth place in the standings at the Gulfstream winter meet with 24 wins.


6. RICHARD MIGLIORE (1981)

CAREER WINS: 4,450

CAREER EARNINGS: $160,205,725

Migliore (Eclipse Sportswire)

Although perhaps better-known now as an analyst on America’s Day at the Races, Migliore was an established presence in the New York jockey colony for decades. A native of Long Island, N.Y., Migliore won the apprentice Eclipse in 1981 with 298 wins. That mark remained a career-high throughout Migliore’s career, although he won 200-plus races in a year three more times.

With the exception of some years in Southern California toward the end of his career, Migliore spent virtually his entire 30-year career in New York. He won 25 Grade 1 races in his career, including three on the John Kimmel-trained mare Hidden Lake in 1997. In 2008, he won his first Breeders’ Cup race by guiding Desert Code to an upset win in the inaugural Turf Sprint.

During his tenure in New York, Migliore was the recipient of several awards. In 1981 and 1985, he won the Eddie Arcaro Award as the outstanding rider in New York. In 2003, he won the Mike Venezia Award, for outstanding sportsmanship and citizenship.

An accident in January 2010 ended Migliore’s riding career. In addition to his work on FS1, he’s also worked for HRTV and XBTV.


5. JULIEN LEPAROUX (2006)

CAREER WINS: 2,776

CAREER EARNINGS: $172,896,222

The French-born Leparoux moved to the United States in 2003 and began his riding career at Saratoga in 2005. In 2006, he won three riding titles, taking the winter title at Turfway Park, the spring title at Keeneland, and the spring-summer title at Churchill Downs. He won 12 graded stakes that year with three of them coming on the top grass mare Gorella. He won 403 races in total in 2006 to lead all American jockeys. For that season, he was a nearly unanimous winner of the outstanding apprentice Eclipse Award, while finishing in fourth place in the voting for outstanding jockey.

Since then, Leparoux has established himself as one of the top grass jockeys in the country. He’s won 10 riding titles at Keeneland alone and has finished in the top 10 in yearly earnings for American jockeys eight times. He enjoyed perhaps his greatest success as the regular rider of the great racemare Tepin. In 2015, they teamed up to win four graded stakes, including the Breeders’ Cup Mile, one of seven Breeders’ Cup wins in Leparoux’s career. In 2016, Tepin and Leparoux won the Queen Anne Stakes at the prestigious Royal Ascot meet.


4. CASH ASMUSSEN (1979)

CAREER WINS: 923

CAREER EARNINGS: $24,406,833

Asmussen is one of the few riders to experience great success on two continents. Born in South Dakota and raised in Texas, Asmussen began his career in 1978 at the age of 16, spending the summer riding at Monmouth Park. That fall, he would often pull doubleheaders, riding at Belmont Park during the day and at the Meadowlands at night.

In 1979, he captured the outstanding apprentice Eclipse Award with a 236-win season, while riding almost exclusively in New York. He was even better the following year, winning 279 races while earning more than $5.3 million.

In 1982, Asmussen moved his tack to France, riding first call for the legendary owner Stavros Niarchos. Almost immediately, Asmussen enjoyed great success in Europe. In 1985, he won the Cravache d’Or award as France’s top jockey, an award he would win five times. He won the French Derby four times and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe once, guiding Suave Dancer home in 1991. Asmussen brought a different riding style to Europe, keeping himself low and crouched on the horse. This was in contrast to the common style in Europe at the time, but Asmussen’s style was quickly adopted by many of the local riders.

Asmussen spent his winters on his ranch in Laredo, Texas, and occasionally picked up mounts in major American races. Many of his American rides were on horses trained by his younger brother, Steve. He won his lone Breeders’ Cup race in 1997 when guiding Spinning World to victory in the Mile for trainer Jonathan Pease. He also won the Arlington Million twice (1988 and 1992).

In 2000, Asmussen retired from the saddle, at age 39. He retired having won more than 3,000 races, including Grade or Group 1 wins in seven countries.


3. KENT DESORMEAUX (1987)

CAREER WINS: 6,059

CAREER EARNINGS: $286,358,985

A native of Maurice, La., Desormeaux got his start riding on small, non-wagering tracks in Cajun country at age 12. In 1986, when he was 16, he began riding at Evangeline Downs. Four months later, he began riding in Maryland, and almost instantly became the top jockey on the circuit.

Desormeaux (Eclipse Sportswire)

His Eclipse Award-winning season in 1987 was impressive, as he won 450 races from more than 2,200 mounts. After a dominant year in 1988, Desormeaux set one of racing’s unbreakable records in 1989. That year, Desormeaux won an incredible 597 races, breaking Chris McCarron’s record by 50 wins. To put that in perspective, only three jockeys have won 400 races in a year over the past decade. He won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey that year, becoming the third rider to win the Eclipse for outstanding apprentice and outstanding jockey. He also won the award without winning a Grade 1 race, the last jockey to date to do so.

Off that incredible season, Desormeaux moved to Southern California in 1990. That year, he won his first Grade 1 on Delegant in the San Juan Capistrano. He won his second outstanding jockey Eclipse Award in 1992 and was the regular rider on 1993 Horse of the Year Kotashaan. That same year, he won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, as voted upon by his fellow jockeys, for demonstrating high standards of conduct on and off the track.

Over the years, Desormeaux has won six Breeders’ Cup races and seven Triple Crown races. Three of those Triple Crown wins came in the Kentucky Derby on Real Quiet in 1998, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, and Big Brown in 2008. In 2004, Desormeaux was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame. In 2019, he won his 6,000th race and is one of only 20 North American jockeys to achieve that milestone.


2. STEVE CAUTHEN (1977)

CAREER WINS: 954

CAREER EARNINGS: $13,526,857

Cauthen in 1977. (Bob Coglianese/NYRA)

Few, if any, jockeys have captured the imagination of the American public the way Steve Cauthen did in 1977. He began his riding career just 10 days after his 16th birthday, riding at Churchill Downs in May 1976. Six months later, he began riding at Aqueduct, and immediately set the racing world on fire.

Cauthen brought the racing world to full attention in January 1977. From Jan. 11 to Jan. 15, he won 21 races in just five days at Aqueduct, winning five races in a day three times in that stretch. He never slowed down all year, winning 487 races, including 18 graded stakes, at a 24% strike rate. Not only did he win the outstanding apprentice Eclipse Award, he also won the award for outstanding jockey, becoming the only jockey to date to win both awards in the same year. He was also given a special Eclipse Award of Merit, one of only two active jockeys to win one. His presence extended beyond the racing world: he was voted the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, the Sporting News Sportsman of the Year, and the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. Cauthen had become one of the highest-profile sports figures in the country before he turned 18.

It didn’t seem possible for his profile to grow bigger in 1978, but he achieved even greater heights that year. He won the Triple Crown on the great colt Affirmed, guiding him to victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes over his archrival Alydar.

Unfortunately, the American magic ended for Cauthen not long after the Triple Crown. In 1979, he struggled through a disastrous Santa Anita meet, which included a 110-race losing streak. That stretch cost him the mount on Affirmed, who was ridden by Laffit Pincay Jr. for the rest of his career. Looking for a fresh start, Cauthen decided to relocate his career to Europe. With the exception of a brief sojourn at Santa Anita in the winter of 1984, he never again rode regularly in the United States.

In Europe, Cauthen once again found his stride. He was voted champion jockey in England three times and won six English Triple Crown races. He is the only jockey to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Epsom Derby. Over his 12 years riding in Europe, he added the One Thousand Guineas, Epsom Oaks, Irish One Thousand Guineas, Irish Oaks, Irish Derby, Irish St. Leger, French Derby, and Italian Derby to his resume.

Cauthen retired from the saddle in 1992. He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1994.


1. CHRIS MCCARRON (1974)

CAREER WINS: 7,141

CAREER EARNINGS: $263,986,005

McCarron in 2017 (Eclipse Sportswire)

For almost three decades, McCarron was one of the top jockeys in the United States. He burst onto the scene with style in 1974, when he set the all-time record for most wins in a season with 547 victories. That record stood for 15 years until Desormeaux broke it in 1989.

That season was just the start of an incredible career. McCarron led the country in wins two more times and in earnings four times. He won six Triple Crown races, including two Kentucky Derbys (Alysheba, 1987; Go for Gin, 1994), five Breeders’ Cup Classics, and the Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey in 1980. In his entire career, most of which was spent on the tough Southern California circuit, he never won at a rate below 15%. He was the regular rider for three Horses of the Year: John Henry in 1984, Alysheba in 1988, and Tiznow in 2000.

In 1989, McCarron was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame. He rode for a while after that, retiring from full-time riding after winning the 2002 Affirmed Handicap with Came Home. His 7,141 wins rank seventh on the all-time list for North America jockeys, while his $263.9 million in earnings rank eighth. Of the seven ahead of him on that list, only Pat Day has a higher career winning percentage than McCarron’s 21%.

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