Despite spanning the globe, the world of major horse racing actually features a tight-knit community of fans, pundits, breeders, trainers, owners, and jockeys. From the Royal Ascot in the UK to the Dubai World Cup, millions of horse racing fans zero in on intriguing stories and promising underdogs.
In early 2021, a young jockey hailing from Niaga, Senegal made international news after photojournalist Zohra Bensemra completed a profile on an athlete, named Fallou Diop. Despite being young, aged only 19, Diop is the country’s most promising jockey. And, in a nation that works closely with its equine inhabitants, Diop has become something of a national hero.
With Diop planning for an early 2022 trip to a horse breeder in France, his opportunities in the horse racing world expand greatly. As an ancient sport with a dedicated following, fans and pundits bet online when it’s time for a major race like the Grand National or the Saudi Cup.
However, they’re also on the lookout for stories of passion and dedication behind each horse, jockey, and trainer. With a keen connectionwith hisfavorite horse, Raissa Betty, and a drive to improve his technique, Diop could be one of horse racing’s up-and-coming heroes.
A Promising Start in Senegal
Diop lives and trains in Niaga, Senegal, where he inherited his love of horses from his elders. Given that most Senegalese workers, those in Niaga included, rely on horses to draw buggies and deliver goods, Diop grew up close to horses.
His love for riding was encouraged by local Lambafar stable owner Adama Bao. Bao trains Diop, along with a slew of other locals, with early-morning training routines. A natural-born rider, Bao believes that Diop has a bright future as a jockey.
In fact, it was Bao who pushed Diop to look for opportunities in France. In the past year, Diop has slowly overtaken the competition at the Hippodrome Ndiaw Macodou DIOP racing track in Thies, Senegel. In fact, he’s become the country’s best jockey, bringing home prize after prize before setting his sights abroad. He’s even started training other jockeys with a passion for riding.
With a firm hold on Senegal’s racing circuit, Diop (with the help and tutelage of Bao) has set his eyes on France—but that’s not likely to be the end of the road for the young jockey. Though Diop will face challenges in the future, especially related to the highly expensive and exclusive world of thoroughbred racing, he’s not the only jockey to jump from a small racetrack to the big leagues.
Learning from the Greats
Many riders, including jockey David Egan of recent Saudi Cup fame, spend their formative jockey years closely following major races and other developments in the equine world. In other words, they’re more closely exposed to the dynamics and politics of horseracing—often just as important as the jockey’s technical skills.
However, not all successful jockeys hail from such backgrounds. Most notably, Joel Rosario and Ricardo Santana Jr. have become household names in the world of elite jockeys—and neither grew up near the more glamorous side of horseracing.
Joel Rosario moved from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Much like Diop’s move to France, Rosario’s move to the US in his early 20s helped catapult his career. By working closely with trainers and breeders, Rosario was able to get a leg up on the competition because of his winning attitude (in addition to his skill on horseback).
Riccardo Santana Jr., close in age to Diop, comes from Panama City, Panama. Like Rosario, Santana Jr. moved from his home city to the US in order to continue developing his skills as a jockey—though he first partnered with the local training school founded by Laffit Pincay Jr. Should Diop find success in the world of thoroughbred racing, he may even face off against Rosario or Santana Jr. someday.