The greatness of Jorge Ricardo extends far beyond becoming the jockey with the most wins in the history of racing. It is in his professionalism, his character and his spirit. He is an idol–someone who sets an example, someone who always has a smile on his face and someone who values a Group 1 winner and a 5-year-old maiden in the same way.
An examination of those unique, different and enviable qualities unearths what makes Jorge Ricardo special. His record-setting achievement Wednesday at San Isidro represented the fulfillment of a dream that guided his life in recent years: to surpass Russell Baze as the winningest jockey of all time. In the magical moments following his 12,845th winning ride aboard Hope Glory (Honour and Glory), “Ricardinho” spoke with humility and passion: “I thank everyone for the support and affection they always gave me. But I also want to thank Russell Baze with all my heart–he is the man who inspired me to move forward. He is a great person without whom I would not have achieved what I achieved. I have respect for an incredible professional who is as much the owner of this record as I am.”
Now 56 years old, Jorge Ricardo is happy–relieved, it could be said–after his dream to be the jockey with most all-time wins became a reality. The road to the record consisted of two steps. His story begun in his native Brazil and wrapped up in Argentina, where he has competed for more than a decade. While everything went according to plan, Ricardo admittedly endured some discomfort in the final days leading up to his crowning accomplishment.
“I was getting anxious, very nervous,” Ricardo said. “At Gavea, in Brazil, Monday’s rain ruined me, because all the races went to the dirt and my horses had [a great] chance on the grass. I lost two incredible races.”
Ricardo’s voice nearly broke when describing the feeling of finally breaking the record.
“I felt happiness, joy, desire to embrace everyone–I remembered everyone,” Ricardo said. “Many people who were there to see it–and another who is no longer there, who were part of my career–[encouraged me] to do what I like the most.”
Ricardo said that, barring the unforeseen, he knew he would eventually capture the record.
“I never doubted that I would tie the record or [surpass] it–never–even in the worst moments,” Ricardo said. “After my last fall, I knew that only death could keep me from realizing my dream. I know that 20, 30 or 40 is not the same as at 56, but I am not finished either. I have good form, I take care of myself more than ever and I am still able to fight.”
Ricardo had a bout with cancer in 2009, and he also won that race. He held the jockey record at the time of his diagnosis, but Baze amassed more victories in the twilight of his career and regained the lead while Ricardo underwent treatment.
The goal of regaining the record was a driving force for “Ricardinho” all these years and, true to form, he said he will attack every future goal with similar motivation.
“Every race that I win from now on will be a new record–it sounds good,” Ricardo said with a laugh. “My goal is now fulfilled and my new goal will be to continue with the same enthusiasm and the same professionalism to get the best advantage possible. At the end of the year, I will decide what to do–I will see how my body and head are and I will decide if I should keep riding or retire. I think it is more likely that I will stay active, but be more selective. But I’ll talk to my family and I’ll decide.”
Ricardo also took a moment to reflect on the attention his accomplishment gained across the globe.
“It brings great emotion and equally great pride,” Ricardo said. “It was not easy to achieve it, and to see that it has been talked about in so many countries [is special]. It’s the same here in South America, having gained so many friends throughout my career. I have nothing but gratitude to all of them.”
The Brazilian waited all his life to reach this sublime moment. With Hope Glory, he finally broke the record with the same passion and heart that have defined him throughout his magnificent and incomparable career. But he always desires more wins, so it came as no surprise that Ricardo quickly registered win number 12,846 aboard Gold Attraction (Lingote de Oro).
Each race that he wins in the future will only add to his legend even more, adding to a sense of pride amongst the South American racing community. The passage of time, which is sure to eventually see “Ricardinho” hang up his tack, will reveal one of the most important jockeys in the history of horse racing and one of the greatest professionals in the history of sport.