James McLaughlin

James McLaughlin poured his heart and soul into riding racehorses. One of the most aggressive jockeys in the history of American racing, McLaughlin carved out a remarkable legacy in the saddle that has stood the test of time.

Portrait of James McLaughlin by Charles C. Markham (Museum Collection)



Feb. 12, 1861, Hartford, Connecticut


Jan. 19, 1927, New Orleans, Louisiana




James McLaughlin poured his heart and soul into riding racehorses. One of the most aggressive jockeys in the history of American racing, McLaughlin carved out a remarkable legacy in the saddle that has stood the test of time.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, on Feb. 12, 1861, McLaughlin became a professional jockey at the age of 15 and quickly ascended to the top of his profession. During his 17-year career (1876 through 1892), McLaughlin won just about every significant event in America. He was beloved for his fearlessness and respected for his integrity.

When it came to the marquee races, McLaughlin had few peers. By 1888, McLaughlin had won the Belmont Stakes six times and the Travers Stakes four times. Those records stood unmatched for more than 60 years until the great Eddie Arcaro equaled them both. 

Through a 10-year association with prominent owners Mike and Phil Dwyer, McLaughlin was the regular rider for many of the greatest thoroughbreds of the 19th century, including Hall of Fame members Firenze, Hanover, Hindoo, Kingston, Luke Blackburn, and Miss Woodford. McLaughlin considered Luke Blackburn to be his finest mount. In 1880, McLaughlin was aboard every time when Luke Blackburn turned in one of the most remarkable campaigns in racing history with 22 wins in 24 starts.

“Luke Blackburn was the best horse I ever saw,” McLaughlin said. “He could run fast and far. He was a free runner and would jump away from the start and run his company dizzy. He had a fine temper and was a prime favorite, both in the East and in Kentucky.”

Contemporary accounts suggested McLaughlin was not the most picturesque rider of his day, but he more than made up for any technical deficiencies with incredible strength and keen sense of pace.

“McLaughlin’s seat is not artistic,” noted one newspaper account. “It is constrained — ‘doubled up,’ so to speak. He takes a big wrap and rides with a very short rein, sits forward in many cases upon a horse’s back. But as inartistic as it may be, he has a wonderful faculty of winning with it. He is as quick as a flash in starting, it being his principal that a foot of ground gained at the start is equal to a dozen at the finish when the horse is tiring. He is a very hard rider.”

An absence of textbook form certainly didn’t hurt McLaughlin, especially in the sport’s most prestigious races.

McLaughlin won his first Belmont in 1882 aboard Forester. He repeated the feat the next year with George Kinney, and made it three in a row with Panique in 1884. After finishing third in the 1885 Belmont with Tecumseh, McLaughlin returned to the winner’s circle in the Belmont in 1886 (Inspector B.), 1887 (Hanover), and 1888 (Sir Dixon) to conclude a magnificent run of six Belmont wins in seven years. He also won the Kentucky Derby in 1881 with Hindoo and the 1885 Preakness Stakes with Tecumseh.

“He was the only jockey I hated to meet in an important race,” Hall of Fame rider Edward “Snapper” Garrison said of McLaughlin. “He was a master judge of pace.”

At Saratoga, McLaughlin was always on top of his game. He won the Travers in 1881 (Hindoo), 1883 (Barnes), 1886 (Inspector B.), and 1888 (Sir Dixon). At the Spa, McLaughlin also won four editions of the United States Hotel Stakes, and three runnings of the Alabama Stakes and Flash Stakes. Other major wins for McLaughlin at Saratoga included the Saratoga Cup, Spinaway, Miller, and Kenner.

McLaughlin led the national jockey standings in wins each year from 1884 through 1888, but it can be argued that his best year was 1883 when he won 44 percent of his races (95-for-218) and was in the money 79 percent of the time.  

“His success has never exalted him,” reported the Spirit of the Times. “He is quiet, modest and polite, and has the confidence of his employers and the public. He is the best of American jockeys.”

Weight began to become a problem for McLaughlin the early 1890s and eventually forced him into retirement. He embarked on a successful career as a trainer, winning races such as the Metropolitan Handicap and Long Island Handicap. He also spent time as a racetrack official.


North America’s leading rider in wins — 1884, 1885, 1886, 1887

Triple Crown Highlights

Won the 1881 Kentucky Derby — Hindoo
Won the 1885 Preakness Stakes — Tecumseh 
Won the 1882 Belmont Stakes — Forester
Won the 1883 Belmont Stakes — George Kinney
Won the 1884 Belmont Stakes — Panique
Won the 1886 Belmont Stakes — Inspector B. 
Won the 1887 Belmont Stakes — Hanover
Won the 1888 Belmont Stakes — Sir Dixon

Other Highlights

Won the Tidal Stakes — 1880, 1881, 1882, 1883, 1885, 1886, 1887, 1889
Won the Coney Island Derby — 1881, 1882, 1885, 1887
Won the Travers Stakes — 1881, 1883, 1886, 1888
Won the Clark Handicap — 1880, 1881, 1882
Won the Alabama Stakes — 1883, 1886, 1888


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