October 19, 1926 to March 1, 2021
George Taniguchi was born on October 19, 1926 in El Centro, California. He was the first-born son of Yoshito and Kinuko Taniguchi.
Although George originally aspired to be an actor, a failed attempt to meet a movie producer for the movie “Go For Broke” found him at Hollywood Park. Right then, he decided to change his career and become a jockey.
Through hard work and determination, George went on to become one of the most accomplished jockeys of his era, competing with the likes of Willie Shoemaker and Johnny Longden. He was also a pioneer, becoming the very first Japanese American jockey. During his first year of racing, sports page headlines exclaimed “Taniguchi Headed for Greatness” and “Taniguchi New Jockey Sensation.” One sportswriter touted, “George Taniguchi is the hottest piece of talent to hit the U.S. since Willy the Shoe.” He won 230 races in his first season and was the only rookie to rank among the nation’s top five winningest jockeys.
When Laura Hillenbrand published her book “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” she cited George as an example of the strength and athleticism of jockeys when he saved the life of jockey Johnny Longden. Longden was falling off his horse, but George was able to grab him with one hand and right him back upon his saddle. The Daily Racing Form called it “the ultimate impossibility.”
From 1954 to 1968, George rode in 11,534 races and went on to win 1,597 of those races and was ranked among the nation’s leading jockeys based on wins. After he retired as a jockey, he went on the become a racetrack official. He worked as a clerk, placing judge and patrol judge. He was a highly respected racetrack official and retired for good in 1990.
George spent his final years living in Palm Springs. There he spent his time playing golf, bowling, enjoying Japanese samurai DVDs and briefly took up painting and drawing with well-known racehorses as the sole subject of his artwork. He passed away peacefully on March 1, 2021 in his home with his beloved niece, Donna Johnson, caring for him during his final year.
He is survived by his son, Ryan; and his three sisters, Mitzie Tanizawa, Chieko Whittemore and Sachi (Jun) Oyama. Also survived and beloved by his nephews and nieces, Richard (Carol) Tanizawa, Barbara (Rick) Konishi, Laurie Fujitani, Donna Johnson, Ann G. (Jason) Ripley, Jennifer Oyama, Joni (Brent) Figard and Chris (Hyonok) Oyama.
Due to his wishes and Covid restrictions, no funeral service was held. A small visitation for family only will be held at Fukui Mortuary.
Note: The above story of George’s life was largely taken from an article of his life written by Tim Asamen and published in the Imperial Valley Pioneer in August 2006, as well as at www.discovernikkei.org.
The entire article can be found at
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to one or more of the following organizations:
Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund at pdjf.org, Animal Action League at animalactionleague.net or to the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org.