Greatest Jewish Horse Jockeys In History

There have been few sports throughout history that have been able to write Hollywood scripts on a more regular basis than horse racing. The sport sees major events such as the Kentucky Derby and Grand National held on the schedule annually, and there is a bigger Jewish imprint on the action on track than many would have believed.

Jews have played key roles in professional fields such as medicine, tech, and law throughout history, and that has spread into the world of sport. Jewish horse racing success has been evident throughout time, with a memorable example coming in the form of Ahmed Zayat, who is one of the most powerful figures within the sport, and was owner of the legendary American Pharoah. 

But, who are some of the most successful Jewish athletes that have achieved success as a jockey?

William Harmatz

William Harmatz was one of the first Jewish jockeys to make a breakthrough at the highest level of horse racing, landing the 1959 Preakness Stakes aboard Royal Orbit. 

His success within the sport was also highlighted after being awarded the George Woolf Memorial Jockey award in the following year due to his high professional and personal conduct. Harmatz was also acknowledged for his success on track in 1999 when being inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. 

Throughout his career, he would ride over 1,700 winners, which included a memorable six straight wins on a card at Bay Meadows in 1954. As well as winning the Preakness, Harmatz would also achieve big race victories in the Del Mar Derby, San Diego Handicap, and Ashland Stakes. 

Sam Waley-Cohen

There have been few more successful Jewish jockeys in the United Kingdom and Ireland throughout history than Sam Waley-Cohen. He achieved memorable victories at the top level of the sport throughout his career, and despite racing as an amateur, he was always given massive opportunities. 

His first big win would be achieved in the delayed 2010 edition of the King George VI Chase aboard Long Run, denying Kauto Star from a historic fifth straight win in the race in the process. He would achieve a huge 2011 with the same horse, becoming the first amateur in 30 years to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. 

Long Run would also finish third in each of the 2012 and 2013 editions of the famous race. More history was made in his final ever ride aboard Noble Yeats, as Waley-Cohen became the first amateur since 1990 to win the Grand National. 

Isaac Burns Murphy

Isaac Burns Murphy remains one of the most significant jockeys to have competed in the United States, as he transcended a trail for other African Americans to follow. Murphy was born into slavery in January 1861, ad he would remain in Kentucky throughout his career. 

He would begin riding competitively in 1875 when aged just 14, and he would achieve success that few other riders would be able to emulate. Murphy rode the winner of the Kentucky Derby on three occasions, with his most successful winner coming in 1891 with Kingman, which was also the first African-American-owned victor in the race. 

The jockey would also make history, as he became the only rider to claim victories in the Clark Handicap, Kentucky Derby, and Kentucky Oaks in the same season. Such was his influence on the sport, he was the first jockey in history to be inducted into the National Museum of racing and Hall of Fame following its inception in 1955. Murphy was renowned for his commitment to the sport, which was evident in 1879 when refusing to take bribes from gamblers in order for Falsetto to lose. 

Walter Blum

Walter Blum is widely recognised as one of the most successful Jewish riders in history. Throughout his career, he would be acknowledged for his performances on track, winning the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1964. Across his 22-year career in the saddle, Blum would claim over 4,300 victories across North America. 

However, one of his most famous wins came aboard 34/1 chance Pass Catcher 1971, as the outsider in the Belmont Stakes contenders denied Canonero II from winning the Triple Crown. 

His dominance on track saw him inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, before gaining entry into the United States Racing Hall of Fame in the following year. Blum’s records remain in tact to this day, as he is one of just four riders to have won all six races on a card at Monmouth Park. 

Meanwhile, he would claim victories in almost all major graded races in New York, which included victories in the Coaching Club American Oaks, Whitney Handicap, and the Metropolitan Handicap. Blum sadly passed away following a long battle with cancer in March 2024, aged 89.