By Dick Jerardi
Josiah “Joe” Hampshire rode horses for 33 years. He was top 10 in wins from 2000-02. His 300 wins in 2002 were third best in the United States. His career began in 1982 and ended in 2014. In between, he rode 23,314 races, with 3,801 wins, 3,278 seconds, 3,139 thirds and mount earnings of $44,567,367.
So, why if he has not been riding for five years is the retired jockey seen just about every morning in the Parx racing office? He is now winning races “through” apprentice rider Felix Pinero and journeyman Mychel Sanchez, who has been in a year-long battle with Frankie Pennington for leading rider at Parx. Sanchez is a terrific talent, but he picked the right agent, a man who understands the game like someone who has lived it since he was 14.
“As a young kid, I was a good athlete in school,” Hampshire remembered. “Didn’t really care for school too much so I decided that I wanted to be a jockey.
“My father got a Lexington, Kentucky phone book and the next thing I know I was supposed to go to Bishop Neumann High school; instead I went to Keeneland Race Track.”
He grew up in South Philly where there obviously were no horse farms or racetracks. He just had this desire.
“Leaving my family at 14 was tough,” Hampshire said. “I remember I was really scared, but I was very fortunate to hook up with a guy named John Ward who kind of took me under his wing and made sure I was okay. After a little while, I was very comfortable there.”
Hampshire had a great mentor, as Ward, who trained 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, was a legendary horseman in Kentucky.
Hampshire’s first race was at Beulah Park in Ohio. He remembered being in “a panic” when he weighed 112 pounds that day. For his second race, he weighed 101.
He was an apprentice rider at what was then called Keystone in 1983. He rode at his home track until 1989 when he took off for Boston and Suffolk Downs.
“Things just snowballed for me,” Hampshire said. “I ended up winning 18 riding titles there. I came back here in 2004. I was successful until (2014). I had a real good career doing this and I wouldn’t change anything.”
When he decided to end his riding career, Hampshire did what was natural. He became an agent, showing young jockeys what he had learned for all those years.
“It’s pretty much the only thing I know how to do,” Hampshire said of his decision to become an agent.
Sanchez asked Hampshire to take his book right after he lost his apprentice allowance.
“We worked really hard, mostly to his credit,” Hampshire said. “Now, we’re one of the top guys.”
Hampshire’s favorite horse to ride was the great sprinter Fire Plug, one of the best ever stabled at Parx, winner of 28 races out of 54 starts from 1986 to 1991.
“I think I rode him eight times,” Hampshire said. “I think I had six stakes wins on him. He was my first real good horse and he just sticks in my heart.”
He actually rode Fire Plug 15 times and won eight stakes, but the point is the point. Fire Plug was a very cool horse who was trained by the late Bob Camac. Horse and trainer are both in the Parx Hall of Fame.
“Bobby was great with me,” Hampshire said. “He treated me like a son. Back in those days, I was kind of a wild kid. Bob stuck with me and put me on a lot of good horses. Bob was an excellent horseman. If I ever needed to go to a sale to buy a horse, that’s the guy I would want with me.”
And, if you ever needed a jockey to win a race or an agent who could put his rider on the right horse, Joe Hampshire was and is a great choice.
He has been around the track forever and is the perfect spokesperson for why it means so much to those who love it.
“We race here all year round, our purses are great, we’ve got a lot of benefits for the horsemen here,” Hampshire said. “Turning for Home is probably one of the greatest organizations in horse racing, the horses that they retire. It’s just a good place to be… I love Parx. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else and I’ll be here until I can’t be here anymore.”