LQHBA Insider - By Martha Claussen June  20, 2024


How many professional athletes are in their prime when they turn 50? Certainly none in the NFL, NBA, NHL or Major League Soccer. But right here in Louisiana, there is a seemingly ageless wonder! That is Quarter Horse jockey John Hamilton, showing his best stuff and loving what Louisiana has brought to his career.

Hamilton was born in Baytown, Texas on June 9, 1964. When he was 14-years-old, a Texas horseman, aptly named Jim Dandy, asked if he was interested in riding horses. The next morning, he arrived at his ranch at 4:30 a.m., and his future was sealed.

The Numbers…Wow!

AQHA statistics show that Hamilton, who began riding professionally in 1984, has ridden 12,723 races with a record of 1,630 wins on mounts who have earned over $20 million. Over the years, he has ridden in Texas with stakes wins at Los Alamitos, but now chooses to ride exclusively in Louisiana.

He credits the state's lucrative Quarter Horse program offering 148 days of racing at the four tracks. And ride he does; last year he was the nation's leading Quarter Horse rider by wins, posing for his picture 161 times.

"It is all about the preparation," explains Hamilton. "I work hard in the mornings and know my horses, the gate crew, my routine on race day. My wife is with me, we cook at home and I can control the distractions. "

Hamilton was the leading rider at each of the four tracks in 2014, besting some notable veterans including Eddie Cox and Gilbert Ortiz as well as the young guns such as David Alvarez and Donell Blake.

"I had set a goal and really wanted to accomplish that," he admitted. "Not at the expense of my fellow riders, but I love that years from now, my grandchildren will have great memories." Hamilton has won major championships, including a victory on Feature Jess Rockin in the 2010 AQHA Challenge Championships and the 2012 Delta Jackpot with Ronnie James. He does not hesitate when acknowledging his most cherished racehorse.

"Fast Talkin Henry is an awesome horse and has meant a great deal to me," Hamilton says of the six-time stakes winner, owned by Eric P. Johnson and trained by Heath Taylor. "My whole family has been in the winner's circle for those wins and that has been so special."

Despite his banner year, Hamilton was not named AQHA Champion Jockey; that honor went to Cody Jensen.

"I understand that," said Hamilton. "Those guys travel all over the country to ride the big races. They make a lot of sacrifices to win that title. Cody deserved it, for sure."

Strong Family Bonds, On and Off the Racetrack

Hamilton and his wife, Sharon, have four children: Quincy; Matt; Joe and Holly. The kids grew up in Houston, but home is now Port Barre, Louisiana.

"We have always been really, really lucky," he added. "I always say we because it is me and my family. We thank God for everything that is sent our way."

There are six grandchildren and Hamilton relishes the time he spends with each of the growing brood.

"We love to take the entire family to Colorado for vacations," he said. "Two years ago we rented a house in the Cascade Mountains and everyone skied and snowboarded. We've been to Telluride and Park City, Utah, but my favorite spot is Breckenridge."

Hamilton acknowledges the Louisiana Quarter Horse racing community as a second family. Sometimes as many as 60 jockeys, trainers, agents and backside workers join together socially for meals, Bingo and other activities.

His son, Matt is a Youth Minister and has been active in leading Church services.

"I love our time at Delta Downs when Matt comes over," said Hamilton. "We can get 50-60 people together singing, praying and cooking up a storm."

Hamilton is also very involved in charitable endeavors, lending his support to those in need in the racing community.

"It used to be just about me," he admitted. "But this industry has taken care of me and given me so much. It means a lot to me to lead by example, to help those who are injured or need assistance."

Lifelong friendships have evolved. His former valet and good friend, Thad Briley, bestowed the nickname of "Hambone", which he treasures.

Interestingly, Hamilton has one idea about how he could continue to serve the racing community when and if he hangs up his tack.

"I could never train," stated Hamilton. "Too many hours and time away from my family. What I could see me doing is serving as a liaison between the casinos and the horsemen. They are a big part of our industry, but there is a gap there. I believe I could bring the two sides closer together."

Age is Just a Number

It is hard to believe that Hamilton is 50; he sure doesn't look it, and whether he will admit it, takes great pride in coming into his prime later than most. Many noted Quarter Horse riders, including Jacky Martin and "Bubba" Brossette, booted home their share of winners in their 50's. Years ago at Sam Houston Race Park, Hamilton delivered an unforgettable line after James "Diamond" Brooks won several races on the card.

"Ever since you got your AARP card, you have been on fire," Hamilton quipped.

Hamilton may even make a joke at his own expense when it comes to crossing the half century mark, but is always serious about giving credit to others for his good fortune.

"I might get the glory for winning a race, but the truth is that I only account for 18 seconds" said Hamilton. "My success is owed to God, my owners, trainers, grooms, gate crew and my wife who has put up with so much! Maybe, I won't ride for another ten years, but I have no intention of stopping anytime soon."

That is terrific news for the Louisiana racing community and countless Quarter Horse racing fans everywhere!

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The LQHBA Insider is a monthly feature written by Martha Claussen. She served as publicity director at Sam Houston Race Park for ten years. She continues to be active in writing, fan education and Quarter Horse racing publicity in Texas, Louisiana and other regions in North America.