In a career of more than 30 years John Letts rode 2350 winners. His total of 97 Cup wins – 30 in the city and 67 in the country – has never been bettered.
Born in Adelaide in 1943, John Letts began work with Semaphore trainer, Jack Canavan, at the age of 13, exercising horses on the track and beach each morning before hurrying off to school. At 14 he became indentured to Canavan, and one year later rode his first winner. His first feature race win came in 1961 on Mikadis in the Goodwood Handicap, and in 1962 he captured the Adelaide Apprentices’ Premiership. During the 1960s Letts made his mark as a successful senior jockey on his home-state tracks, winning the 1968 Adelaide Cup on Rain Lover, and a second Goodwood Handicap on Tango Miss, but he was little known to interstate racegoers. The 1972 Melbourne Cup was to change this. Melbourne trainer, George Hanlon, had come to know Letts during his frequent visits to Adelaide.
Looking for a lightweight jockey to ride his Melbourne Cup entry, Piping Lane, he approached Letts who jumped at the opportunity. Despite the fact that it was his first time at Flemington, Letts with a brilliant ride brought Piping Lane home a decisive winner over Magnifique and Gunsynd. During the next decade Letts enjoyed huge success throughout Australia. In 1972-73 he won the first of his eight Adelaide Jockeys’ Premierships. His numerous Cup wins included a second Melbourne Cup on Belldale Ball in 1980, three Adelaide Cups, an Australian Cup, Moonee Valley Cup, Marlboro Cup, Sandown Cup, Hobart Cup and Launceston Cup.
Apart from his Cup wins Letts had a tremendous record in feature races, winning 124, including five SAJC Goodwood Handicaps, the AJC Epsom Handicap and AJC Australasian Champion Stakes, two VATC Futurity Stakes, Victoria Derby, South Australian Derby, and two South Australian Oaks.
Although he hung up his silks in 1988, he is still a familiar and popular figure with racegoers and television audiences as he does his on-track interviews with the winning jockeys at the Melbourne Spring Carnival and other major race meetings.
John Letts was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.