UK Horse Racing Legends: Champion Jockey - Joe Mercer

Published: 22nd December 2011
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Joseph Mercer (nickname 'Smokin. Joe') was born on 25th October in Bradford, Yorkshire in the UK. He started his career as a Thoroughbred race horse jockey in 1947 and rode a total of 2,810 winners in Britain, a number only exceeded by Sir Gordon Richards, Lester Piggot and Douglas Smith at the time of Joseph's retirement, as a jockey, in 1985. Subsequently, in later years, this amount of wins was beaten by Pat Eddery and Willie Carson. Whilst still apprenticed to trainer Frederick Sneyd, Joe Mercer won his first British Classic race on a horse called 'Ambiguity' in the 1953 Epson Oaks and achieved the accolade of being British Flat Racing Champion Apprentice twice, in 1952 and 1953.

As time went on, he worked as a stable jockey for trainers, Jack Colling, Dick Hern, Henry Cecil and Peter Walwyn and during his time at Henry Cecil's yard he won the British flat racing Champion Jockey's title in 1979. 'Brigadier Gerard' was the most successful horse he rode during his career and won 17 out of 18 races on this horse between 1970 and 1972. His final ride, before retiring as a jockey, was on a horse called 'Bold Rex' when they romped home to victory in the November Handicap in 1985 and after that he worked as a jockey's agent for Brent Thompson and Tony McGlone. He went on to work as racing manager for Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in Gainsborough in 1987 before finally retiring in March 2006.

Joe Mercer had his first win, as an apprentice in the 1950s, on a horse called 'Elforet' in a handicap race at Bath Racecourse in September 1950. When he achieved British flat racing Champion Apprentice in 1952 he rode 26 winners and then when he was awarded it again in 1953 he rode 61 winners. Also, while an apprentice he won his first English Classic, aged just eighteen. When he rode owner Lord Astor's horse 'Ambiguity' to win the 1953 Oaks, this gave the trainer, Jack Colling, for whom Joe was stable jockey, his only 'classic' victory. Whilst working for Jack Colling, Joe had many important wins and this was a very successful time for them both.

Jack Colling retired at the end of 1962 and Dick Hern took over as trainer at the West Ilsley stable, which was now owned by John Jacob Astor and had several top owner-breeders. Joe's relationship with the West Ilsley stable, under Dick Hern, went on to be the most successful and most famous time for Joe, with a string of 'stayers', the best probably being 'Grey of Falloden' who won several stakes races and the 1964 Cesarewitch Handicap. The next year the stable was on top form, winning the English St. Leger Stakes and the Irish St. Leger Stakes and in 1964 and 1965 Joe rode the incredible sum of 108 winners in Britain. In 1966 an equine virus infected the stable and with the horses not fit to compete, everything was quiet until 1967 when things improved and 60 races were won, but then unfortunately, Joe had a fall and broke several vertebrae at Folkestone Racecourse, meaning that he couldn't compete for the rest of the season. 1968 was looking better for Joe but the virus was hanging on and wasn't completely alleviated until the end of the 1969 season. During this terrible time, Joe rode 'The Accuser' to win the Doncaster Cup, to bring some relief to the stable.

During the 1970s Joe Mercer had many, many, successes right up to the end of the decade and in September and October of 1979 he rode winners for Reg Akehurst, Henry Cecil, Mick Musson, Bill Wightman, Denys Smith, Ron Smyth, William Hastings Bass, Jeremy Tree, Charles Nelson, John Sutcliffe, Neil Adam, John Tierney, Ryan Jarvis, Scobie Breasley and Andy Turnell. The decade culminated with Joe being in the New Year's Honours List when he was awarded the OBE, which obviously complimented this wonderful time for Joseph Mercer, champion UK flat racing jockey.

Finally, on retiring from his post as racing manager to the Gainsborough Stud, at the end of March 2006, aged 71, Joe said "I have had a most wonderful time in racing, first as a jockey and then doing this. The sport has given me some fantastic memories, but it has also taken up 57 years of my life, and the time has come for me to enjoy my grandchildren."

Major racing wins include:

The Epsom Oaks in 1953
St Leger Stakes in 1965, 1974, 1980 and 1988
2,000 Guineas Stakes in 1971
1,000 Guineas Stakes in 1974 and 1979
Irish 2,000 Guineas Stakes in 1973
Irish Derby in 1959
Irish St.Leger Stakes in 1965
Prix de Diane in 1974.

Racing awards:

British flat racing Champion Apprentice in 1952 and 1953
British flat racing Champion Jockey in 1979

Most significant horses:

Brigadier Gerard, Bustino, Highclere, Kris and Le Moss.


Pippa Brown is an Affiliate Marketer based in the UK. Her website focuses on UK horse racing, including champion jockeys, famous trainers, racetracks and famous races. There is also a large selection of horse racing collectables, books, pictures and gifts to choose from.

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