William Fisher Hunter “Willie” Carson was the fourth most successful jockey, numerically, in the history of British horse racing. Between 1962 and 1996, he rode 3,828 domestic winners, placing him behind only Sir Gordon Richards, Pat Eddery and Lester Piggott in the all-time list.
Carson was apprenticed to Gerard Armstrong at Middleham, North Yorkshire in 1957, but didn’t ride his first winner, Pinkers Pond, at Catterick until 1962. Nevertheless, a decade later, in 1972, the diminutive Scot – who stands just five feet tall and could ride at 7st 10lb throughout his career – had ridden his first British Classic winner, High Top, in the 2,000 Guineas and become Champion Jockey for the first time, with 132 winners.
Carson defended his title in 1973, increasing his seasonal aggregate to 164 winners, but wasn’t Champion Jockey again until 1978. By that time, having controversially replaced Joe Mercer as first jockey to Dick Hern, a.k.a. ‘The Major’, at the end of the 1976 season, Carson had formed a professionally close relationship with the West Isley trainer. Indeed, thanks, in part, to victories for Cistus in the Falmouth Stakes at Newmarket and the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood, he recorded his highest seasonal aggregate, of 182 winners, in any of his title-winning seasons; he did, in fact, surpass that total in 1990, but his 187 winners that year were only good enough for second place behind Pat Eddery.
The Hern-Carson partnership enjoyed another particularly lucrative campaign in 1980, a year in which Carson rode 166 winners to become Champion Jockey for the fourth time. Known Fact won the 2,000 Guineas in the stewards’ room after first-past-the-post Nureyev was disqualified and placed last and, later in the season, beat Kris fair and square in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Bireme won the Oaks and Ela-Mana-Mou, whom Hern had acquired from Guy Harwood at the end of his three-year-old campaign, won the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, before finishing a close third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on his final start.
It was a similar story in 1983, when Carson won the Gold Cup at Ascot and the Goodwood Cup on Little Wolf, along with the Oaks, the Yorkshire Oaks and the St. Leger on Sun Princess, both trained by Dick Hern. Arundel trainer John Dunlop also played his part, saddling British Horse of the Year, Habibti, to win the July Cup, the Nunthorpe Stakes, the Haydock Sprint Cup and the Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp. Collectively, they contributed towards a seasonal total of 159 winners in Britain, which was enough to make Carson Champion Jockey for the fifth and final time, nine winners ahead of Lester Piggott.