Seb Sanders Seb Sanders rode his first winner, Band On The Run, trained by Brian McMahon, in 1990 and was Champion Apprentice in 1995, with 61 winners. However, despite riding out his claim that year and reaching the landmark of a hundred winners in a season for the first time in 1997 – the year in which he also partnered his first Group 1 winner, Compton Place, in the July Cup at Newmarket – Sanders had to wait until 2007 before becoming Champion Jockey for the one and only time.

 

Even then, winning the jockeys’ title was a bittersweet experience because, having started the final day of the turf campaign, November Handicap Day at Doncaster, a single winner ahead of Jamie Spencer, who’d been Champion Jockey in 2005, his younger, more illustrious rival steered the favourite, Inchnadamph, to a ready, 8-length win in the very last race of the season, to tie their seasonal totals at 190 winners each. So, for the first time since 1923, when Steve Donoghue shared the jockeys’ title with Charlie Elliott, there was a dead-heat in the race to become Champion Jockey.

 

Sanders may not have won the jockeys’ title outright, but 2007 was, far and away, the most successful season, numerically, of his riding career, with 213 winners in the calendar year as a whole and over £1.5 million in prize money. His previous best yearly total had been 165 in 2004, the year in which he succeeded George Duffield as stable jockey to Sir Mark Prescott and his subsequent best was 106, in both 2008 and 2009.

 

All in all, Sanders rode over 2,000 winners, reaching a hundred winners in Britain every year between 2002 and 2010 inclusive. The latter years of his riding career were dogged by weight problems, forcing him to ride without boots, of any description, on many occasions. He last rode in Britain at Newmarket in the summer of 2015 and, although he also rode in Qatar in the 2015/16 season, quit the saddle for good in early 2017, opting instead for a role as work rider to Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby at Moulton Paddocks in Newmarket.

Joe Mercer Joseph ‘Smokin’ Joe’ Mercer – his nickname derives from the pipe he habitually smokes – began his riding career in 1947, as a 13-year-old, apprenticed to Major Fred Sneyd at East Manton Stables in Sparsholt, near Wantage, Berkshire. Indeed, Mercer was Champion Apprentice in 1952 and 1953 and, in the latter season, won his first Classic, the Oaks, on Ambiguity, trained by R.J. ‘Jack’ Colling. Colling immediately offered Mercer a retainer at West Isley Stables, near Newbury, where he remained until 1976, with Colling until his retirement in 1962 and subsequently with his successor, William Richard “Dick” Hern.

 

However, the day after finishing second in the 1976 Derby on doubtful stayer Relkino, Mercer was informed, by means of a prepared statement read by the Queen’s racing manager, Lord Porchester, in the Epson Press Office, that he would be replaced as stable jockey at West Isley by Willie Carson at the end of the season. Mercer was subsequently offered a job as stable jockey to Ian Balding, but opted instead to become first jockey to Henry Cecil, who was taking over Warren Place, Newmarket following the retirement of his father-in-law, Noel Murless.

 

The Cecil-Mercer partnership flourished, with Mercer riding 102 winners in 1977 – the first time he had ridden over a hundred winners in a season since 1965 – and 114 winners in 1978. However, the best was yet to come, because Cecil would be instrumental in helping Mercer achieve what famed racing correspondent Richard Baerlain, at that time with the Guardian, described as the “wonderful feat” of becoming Champion Jockey for the first, and only, time at the age of 45.

 

In 1979, Cecil and Mercer won their first Classic with One In A Million in the 1,000 Guineas and although Kris failed by half a length to overhaul Tap On Wood, ridden by Steve Cauthen, in the 2,000 Guineas, he otherwise dominated the mile division, winning the St. James’s Palace Stakes, the Sussex Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, to name but three high-profile races. Other notable victories that season included Lyphard’s Wish in the Dante Stakes at York, Connaught Bridge in the Nassau Stakes, Hello Gorgeous in the Royal Lodge Stakes and the Futurity. All in all, Mercer clocked up 164 winners in 1979, beating reigning Champion Jockey Willie Carson by 24.

Kevin Darley Nowadays, Kevin Darley is best known as the Northern Representative of Qatar Bloodstock and Pearl Bloodstock, which represent the bloodstock interests of the Royal Family of Qatar. Nevertheless, in his younger days, as an apprentice under the tutelage of Reg Hollinshead at Upper Longdon, near Lichfield, Staffordshire, he rode his first winner, Dust Up, at Haydock on his seventeenth birthday in 1977. A year later, as an 18-year-old, Darley became Champion Apprentice with 71 winners.

 

Hollinshead was famed for his ‘production line’ of future top jockeys and, true to form, in 2000, Darley became the first jockey based in the North of England since Elijah Wheatley in 1905 to win the jockeys’ title. His title-winning season, in which he rode 155 winners in Britain, was not, in fact, the most successful of his 31-year career as a jockey. The following season, 2001, he actually rode 161 winners, from fewer rides than in 2000, but came up just five short of the 166 winners ridden by Kieren Fallon.

 

Nevertheless, Champion Jockey he was, winning 14 races at Listed or Pattern level on British soil, including the Sprint Cup at Haydock on Pipalong, trained by Tim Easterby, and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Observatory, trained by John Gosden. Other high-profile victories included Bay Of Islands, trained by Dave Morris, in the Northumberland Plate, a.k.a. the ‘Pitmen’s Derby’, at Newcastle – one of the most valuable races of its kind in the world – and Dim Sums, trained by David Barron, in the Two-Year-Old Trophy at Redcar.

 

Darley was Champion Jockey just once but, when he retired in 2007, he had ridden over 2,500 winners worldwide, including 26 at the highest level, and over a hundred winners in Britain in 11 of the 13 seasons between 1993 and 2005 inclusive.

Michael Roberts Michael ‘Muis’ Roberts was South African Champion Jockey 11 times before turning his attention to Britain in 1986. It was, in fact, his second ‘crack’ at breaking into the elite of British jockeys after his first, abortive attempt in 1978, when he rode just 25 winners.

 

In 1986, with the support of Alec Stewart and Clive Brittain, Roberts rode a ‘quite satisfactory’ 42 winners but, by his own admission, his riding career in Britain really ‘took off’ when he rode Mtoto, trained by Stewart, to victory over the Derby winner, Reference Point, in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in 1987. In fact, Mtoto won the Coral-Eclipse Stakes again in 1988, as well as the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot three weeks later, and is consequently the horse for which Roberts is best remembered internationally.

 

Nevertheless, fast forward five years to 1992 and, having become first jockey to Sheikh Mohammed, Roberts won his first and only jockeys’ title in Britain with 206 winners. He was, in fact, one of the few jockeys born outside the British Isles, and the first since Steve Cauthen, in 1987, to become Champion Jockey. Furthermore, at that time, he became just the fourth jockey since 1840 – after Fred Archer, Tommy Loates and Sir Gordon Richards – to ride over 200 winners in a season.

 

Highlights of his title-winning season include three wins for European Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, Lyric Fantasy, trained by Richard Hannon Snr., in the National Stakes at Sandown, the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Nunthorpe Stakes at York, two more Royal Ascot winners – in the form of Shalford, also trained by Hannon, in the Cork and Orrery Stakes, and Armarama, trained by Clive Brittain, in the Ribblesdale Stakes – and Ivanka, also trained by Brittain, in the Fillies’ Mile at Ascot.