Who are the most important people in horse-racing and where are they now? Here’s our round-up of some of the most emblematic figures in horse-racing history. From the voice of horse-racing to successful jockeys, from pioneers of software to the UK’s current female sports presenter.
John ‘Bet a Million’ Gates
An industrialist who promoted and invested in barbed wire, John Warne Gates became famous for his successful investments in metals and roadwork stocks. In 1900 he was said to have won a million dollars on a horse race, and from then on was dubbed John ‘Bet a Million’ Gates.
This familiar voice of horse-racing led the audio waves from the 1940s through to 1997. His coverage of the Grand National for around five decades made him a household name and voice. Known as the “voice of racing”, he used his French knowledge to his advantage at the French stables to get stories that other journalists would find more difficult.
Later days saw him buy his own horses and advocate for less use of the whip by jockeys, as an official member of the Jockey Club.
A well-regarded jockey with a stunning 4,358 wins overall, McCoy was handed the Champion Jockey title in the National Hunt field a commendable 20 times. He gained even more respect for his wins as he’s over the seemingly optimum height for jockeys in the National Hunt. He’s 5’10, but still managed to beat his shorter competitors many times. He even grabbed a BBC Sports Personality of the Year award to add to his accolades.
In 2016 he was rewarded for his efforts by Her Majesty the Queen when he was knighted for his contributions. McCoy retired from the sport in 2015 and consequently piled on the pounds without having to restrain himself before races. The legendary jockey has recently been seen in the lineup for the Irish Open Pro-Am golf tournament, along with other celebs. He has also been seen showing his support at the Hurling for Cancer charity event.
A former tic-tac bet signaller, McCririck became famous for his animated TV appearances on ITV and Channel 4. A somewhat controversial live racing commentator, McCririck wasn’t re-hired after a Channel 4 program refresh. During his work for Channel 4, he proposed himself as an on-the-spot reporter and was assigned the role.
At the time, the well-known entertainer was the first person you saw talking about the latest horse-racing and betting news. Not surprisingly, due to his over-enthusiastic and direct manner, he was invited onto other TV shows that saw his personality as a big draw for audiences. Memorable appearances included ‘Celebrity Wife Swap’, ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ and Sharon Osbourne throwing water over him on her own show. Sadly John Michael McCririck passed away this July.
Known for raking in millions from his blackjack wins at casinos, former corporate executive Don Johnson began managing racetracks in his 30s. He began at Philadelphia Park. After managing a number of racetracks, he acted as a state regulator in four US states, and then went on to create a horseracing software design company.
This multi-talented entrepreneur also has his own fashion company, Scrapbook Originals, which he started in 2013. He is also known to host lavish parties.
Friendly-faced Clare Balding has become a familiar personality in horse racing in recent years. The female TV sports presenter became the lead horse racing presenter for the BBC in 1997. With close ties to horse-racing, as her father Ian Balding and brother Andrew both had success in the sport, Clare has an air of authenticity on screen.
An avid supporter of women’s rights, she has presented Secrets of the Suffragettes and enforces her opinion that women in sports increases how serious they are taken in areas like politics. These days she hosts her own The Clare Balding Show where she chats with sporting celebrities, such as jockey Frankie Dettori, F1 driver Lewis Hamilton, and boxing champion Mike Tyson.