By Martha Claussen for JockeyTalk360.com
In Thoroughbred horseracing, Eddie Arcaro, Ron Turcotte, Willie Shoemaker, Angel Cordero, Jr., Chris McCarron, Pat Day, Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens and Mike Smith are enshrined in the Hall of Fame as legendary jockeys. In American Quarter Horse racing, there have also been celebrated riders for their wins in the marquee events with only seven men who have eclipsed 3,000 career wins.
One of these athletes has done much more than win races and delight the public with his celebrated Frankie Dettori dismount. He has shown courage, determination and unprecedented leadership in the industry. The man is simply known as G. R.
Quarter Horse jockey George Robert Carter, Jr. has been on top of his game for over three decades. He has ridden close to 24,000 horses in his illustrious career, is the sport’s all-time rider by wins, and at age 47, has announced his retirement at the end of 2015. He is the all-time leading money earning jockey in American Quarter Horse racing history, surpassing the $69 million mark. On July 6, 2013, Carter won his 3,632nd race, topping the previous leader in wins, Alvin “Bubba” Brossette. He has been honored as AQHA Champion jockey a record 10 times.
His career milestone are numerous, with wins in pretty much all the graded stakes in the sport. He won the All American Futurity (G1) at Ruidoso Downs, Quarter Horse racing’s equivalent to the Kentucky Derby twice, piloting Falling In Loveagain for Jack Brooks in 1998 and Stolis Winner for Heath Taylor in 2008. Carter had victories in all the major races at Los Alamitos including the Ed Burke Million Futurity(G1), Go Man Go Handicap(G1), Los Al Two Million Futurity(G1), Los Al Winter Derby(G1), Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap(G1), and PCQHRA Breeders Futurity(G1).
Carter was born in Pawhuska, Oklahoma and resides near Oklahoma City. With 18 leading rider titles, his tenure at Remington Park is unsurpassed in the record books. He has won the Heritage Place Futurity(G1) five times as well as four wins in the Leo Stakes(G1) and two victories in the prestigious Remington Park Invitational Championship(G1).
Scott Wells, president and general manager at Remington Park, has high regard for the noted rider. “I don’t throw around the term superstar very often, but for the past 20 years G.R. Carter has been a superstar of quarter horse racing,” stated Wells. “He has all the attributes one thinks of when hearing that term. He’s one of the most intensely competitive people I’ve ever known. That’s why he’s been a champion wrestler, a champion gymnast, a champion at rodeo and a ten time world champion quarter horse jockey. But while there are some superstars in other sports who wouldn’t give a normal person the time of day, G.R. has always been generous with his time, especially when it has come to the promotion of the sport. I have called on him on many, many occasions over the past 20 years to help us with some aspect of promoting the sport, and he has never failed to help us out. His trademark back flips off of grade one winners is one of the most entertaining spectacles in all of quarter horse racing. The day we distributed bobble head dolls of GR Carter we had some of the longest lines in the history of Remington Park! To put it simply, he’s a great guy a great rider and a great example for those who may try to emulate his success.”
Giving back is something Carter takes to heart, with fans and charitable events, and also with his tireless efforts for the Jockeys’ Guild. He serves as vice-chairman of the board, along with fellow riders, John Velazquez, Mike Smith, Glen Murphy, Julian Leparoux and Joe Bravo. Carter is the lone Quarter Horse representative, and is passionate about the work that is done behind the scenes to ensure the health and welfare of professional jockeys.
“It might be shocking to fans that there was no protection for jockeys until 1970,” said Carter. “Not even a standard method of payment; you could ride 30-40 races a week and have to track down people to get paid. The Guild has fought for jockeys for 75 years and we have made great strides.”
What few people know is that serving on the board requires a considerable time commitment. There are conference calls that can go on for hours and the Jockeys’ Guild Annual Assembly.
“I have always believed in giving back,” states Carter. “This game has been very good to me, and it was important that I represented Quarter Horse jockeys; that we wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.”
Despite announcing that 2015 would be the final year of his noteworthy career, Carter has not slowed down a bit. Take for example, his schedule on Saturday, November 14. He ran second in the $310,000 Black Gold 440 Futurity (G3) Saturday afternoon at Will Rogers Downs on Brave Heart Won. Then he hit the road to Texas where he had mounts in several of the races on the final night of the 2015 Lone Star Park Meeting of Champions. He finished fifth aboard A Tres of Paint in the $1,1 million Texas Classic Futurity (G1). Then he finished the evening with a win for trainer Sleepy Gilbreath on Pyc Laveaux.
In between races, Wells, who also serves as Lone Star Park’s president and general manager, wanted to honor Carter. Surrounded by his fellow jockeys and Lone Star racing officials, Wells took to the microphone to commend Carter on his contributions to the Quarter Horse industry. He was eloquent and convincing in his sincerity and then shocked the group in the winner’s circle by presenting Carter with a chocolate cake, right in the kisser! It was quite a moment with a gamut of reactions from the onlookers, from total shock to laughter.
“It was pretty surprising to say the least,” admitted Carter. “When I saw everyone gathering in the winner’s circle, I was more worried about Joe Badilla doing something with the cake! But, I’ve known Scott forever; it’s amazing all the good things he’s done for me throughout my career. I guess that was his way of keeping it from getting too emotional.”
All credit goes to the affable and amazingly composed Carter, who kept his sense of humor and then, even with icing hanging off his eyebrow, agreed to do an interview. He spoke very eloquently about his fondness for Texas racing and the many wonderful horses he has ridden in the Lone Star State.
AQHA champion breeder, Jerry Windham is among the many owners who have celebrated victories with Carter in the winner’s circle. Carter piloted Windham’s homebred Stolis Winner in the 2008 All American Futurity.
“I have been fortunate that he has ridden for me,” said Windham. “He has always been very much in demand. Sometimes he picked us and sometimes he didn’t, but you could never get mad at him. Even when he turned you down, he did it with class.”
“He’s a great ambassador for the sport,” said Windham. “He was so giving of his time to the Guild and racing in general. I hate to see him go, but commend him for doing it while he’s healthy and can pursue other interests.”
Cody Jensen is one of the elite jockeys in Quarter Horse racing and has known Carter for over 15 years.
“He is the greatest competitor I have ever ridden against,” said Jensen. “There are many ways G. R. excels, but probably the thing I notice the most is his relentless drive. It’s amazing how hard he works and how he goes after it. Even as he is close to retirement, he is still busting butt.”
Jensen points to the how traveling on the circuit can take its toll.
“One year we were leaving Phoenix after a Challenge race and heading to the airport,” recalled Jensen. “G R’s phone was dead, so he asked to borrow mine to call his wife. He’s getting ready to tell her where we are headed and he looks at me and said ‘Cody, where are we’? Until you ride two tracks in one day or four tracks in a weekend, you’ll never know how tough the travel and logistics can be!”
“He’s an icon in our sport,” states Jensen. “How many people know an athlete by their first name or just initials? “When you say G R, people know who you are talking about. He has earned their respect.”
Carter excelled at gymnastics as a child and has impressed horsemen and racing fans across the country with his signature back flip dismount after winning major championships. But while fans might miss him in the saddle, jockeys across the country will always appreciate his work ethic and commitment to the Jockeys’ Guild.
“He never asked for any recognition, but he has worked very hard behind the scenes on behalf of his fellow riders,” adds Jensen. “In my opinion, that is his true legacy.”
Carter will pilot Louisiana-bred Dashin Brown Streak in Saturday’s $600,000 Champion of Champions (G1) at Los Alamitos. He will likely make his final start at Evangeline Downs on December 19 aboard The Valiant Prince in the $100,000-added EVD Futurity.
He’s fairly stoic in talking about his emotions as he winds down his brilliant career.
“I’m going to miss a lot of this,” he admits. “Probably watching the big races when I am not participating. But more than that, the amazing horsemen I have worked with and the friends I made along the way.”
The only plans he has is to spend Christmas in Ruidoso, New Mexico, snow skiing with Shaena, his wife of 23 years. Chances are that he will not leave the saddle completely as he is an ardent team roper. However, it is the hope of everyone in the Quarter Horse racing industry that he stay involved in some capacity. He is beloved and respected not just as one of the greatest riders in Quarter Horse racing, but as a tremendous role model and ambassador for the sport.
We wish him all the best!
JockeyTalk360.com contributor Martha Claussen served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She is the coordinator of the AQHA Wrangler Racing Aces and continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity throughout North America.