Year Inducted: 2011
Born in Los Angeles in 1937, Sellers moved at a young age with his family to Oklahoma where he was raised on a farm near Claremore. He was first introduced to racing while competing aboard Quarter Horses.
Sellers became associated with Thoroughbreds in 1953, coming up under the watchful expertise of National Hall of Fame trainer Harry Trotsek. In 1955 he made his official debut in a race at Sunshine Park in Florida. He enjoyed a breakout year in 1960 when he won many rich stakes races that were nationally televised, drawing the attention of race fans and horsemen alike. The next year would set the standard for which Sellers was most remembered.
1961 was a dream season for Sellers as he led North American racing in victories with 328 and was second overall in mount earnings with $2.14 million. The year was highlighted by winning the first two jewels of the Triple Crown on Carry Back. Sellers let Carry Back settle early in the Kentucky Derby, running 11th in the 15-horse field for the first six of 10 furlongs. The move was called “slow to begin with as usual” in the official chart comments. In order to avoid getting caught in traffic, Sellers kept Carry Back wide once he began his run through the final turn. At the top of the stretch, the brown colt was asked for his best and wore down his foes, defeating Crozier by three-quarters of a length for victory. Carry Back provided Sellers his only Kentucky Derby triumph in six career attempts. He came within a half-length of a second derby in 1966 aboard Advocator, beaten by Kauai King.
Carry Back would win the Preakness Stakes under Sellers, setting up a Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes, trying to become the first winner of the three prestigious races since Citation in 1948. Unfortunately, Carry Back would not have his name etched into the Triple Crown trophy, running seventh in the Belmont. Sellers did complete his personal Triple Crown by winning the Belmont on Hail To All in 1965. The colt also carried him to victory that summer in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
The association with Carry Back, especially during his 3-year-old year when he won the Florida Derby, Flamingo Derby and Garden State Derby in addition to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, helped propel Sellers into the national sporting spotlight. He was
featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated on August 28, 1961, a tribute afforded few jockeys in the history of the storied magazine.
The decade of the 1960s would come to a close with Sellers receiving the prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, presented annually at Santa Anita Park, voted on by members of the Jockeys’ Guild of America. The award recognizes high standards of professionalism both on and off the racetrack.
Sellers retired from the saddle in 1977 with 2,797 victories, winning 15% of his career races. His lifetime mount earnings totaled $17,948,436.
After concluding his riding career, Sellers was heavily involved in racing for the remainder of his life as a bloodstock agent. He emerged in the news in 1999 when he recovered his Kentucky Derby jockey’s trophy, won with Carry Back. It had been stolen 21 years earlier from his California home. Sellers regained possession of the award after it was found for sale on the internet site EBay.
Sellers returned to Oklahoma often in the early years of Remington Park, even serving as a television co-host for the very first Oklahoma Classics in 1993. In 2007, 30 years after he retired as a jockey, Sellers was honored with induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
John Sellers passed in 2010 at the age of 72.