Born in England in 1907, he epitomized the story of the American Dream. He arrived to Canada from England as a small boy, and in time would make his way to the United States. When he began racing in Utah twenty years after his birth, John Longden was in the early part of a career that reached nearly four decades and would make him one of the true immortals of the sport.
In time, Longden made his way onto the California circuit, developing into a top rider. Between the late 1930s and middle part of the 1950s, Longden was the riding champion on multiple occasions at Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Hollywood Park. Those years also saw the man dubbed "The Pumper," (due to his ability to urge horses) win several runnings of the Hollywood Gold Cup, Santa Anita Derby, and Santa Anita Handicap. Those were just a small sampling of the stakes he won in California over the years (he had more than 150 between Hollywood Park and Santa Anita alone). The San Juan Capistrano was another race Longden did well in, winning five times. One of those came in 1955 with St. Vincent, who was trained by none other than Longden's son, Vance, who was also a part-owner of his charge. The father and son duo would also team up to win the 1953 Hollywood Gold Cup with Royal Serenade.
Although he was a force out West, Longden was no stranger to the national stage, either. During the 1943 season, he rode Count Fleet to victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, thus securing the Triple Crown at the age of 36. During the 1952 season, Longden rode his 4,000th career winner, making him just the second jockey to reach that number (and first in North America). Five years later, not long after he turned fifty, Longden reached 5,000 victories, the first rider to accomplish that feat. In between those milestones, he captured the record of most wins by a jockey in Thoroughbred racing, succeeding Sir Gordon Richards.
The 1966 season would be Longden's final one as a jockey. He retired in the spring, but not before going out a champion. The scene was Santa Anita. The race was the San Juan Capistrano, and his mount was George Royal. The duo was back to defend their title in the race, but were not favored to do so. But, Longden had one last victory in him. Living up to his nickname, he urged George Royal in the stretch before a monstrous crowd, getting up to win in the final jumps for his 6,032nd victory, and retiring a winner with the crowd paying tribute to him.
Retirement from riding did not mean retiring from racing, though. Longden set up shop as a trainer, and had success with that chapter of his life in the sport. He also found another Kentucky Derby triumph, saddling Majestic Prince to the title in 1969. That gave Longden the unique distinction of being the only person to win the prestigious event as a jockey and trainer.
In addition to his thousands of wins, Longden's career featured multiple achievements:
-During the 1930s and 1940s, Longden led all jockeys in overall wins.
-On two occasions in the 1940s, Longden was the top jockey in terms of earnings.
-He was heavily involved in the formation of the Jockey's Guild in the early 1940s.
-He was among the first recipients of the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, which he won in 1952.
-Induction into the National Racing Hall of Fame in 1958.
-Induction into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame as one of its first members in 1976.
-A Special Eclipse Award in 1994.
-At now defunct Bay Meadows, the turf course was named after Longden.
Although Longden passed on in 2003, he is still very much a presence in California racing. From his retirement until Hollywood Park's closure in 2013, Longden ranked among the top ten jockeys in wins at the track. As of February 2019, he is also in the top ten in career wins at Santa Anita. Track patrons move past a bust of the iconic rider each day at Santa Anita, not far from the walking ring. Although he has not ridden in a race in Arcadia in more than fifty years, Longden is still at Santa Anita.
He is also a part of racing in the Golden State in the 21st century, and that will continue into the 22nd century and beyond.
Media Guides of Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita.