Riding race horses for a living is one of the world’s most dangerous occupations. More than 90% of jockeys will sustain a serious injury at some point in their career. With the risk being so high, you would think jockeys earn a lot of money. The truth is that only a few jockeys in the sport achieve a six-figure income. The majority of riders make much less. Here is a breakdown of how jockeys get paid and how much they earn per race.
The Jock Mount
Every rider that participates in a race is guaranteed to make a sum of money for their efforts regardless of whether they win or lose. This token sum is referred to as a jock mount, and it is one of the lowest wages paid to a professional athlete.
Unless a rider finishes first, second, or third, the fee they receive for riding is an arbitrary amount. At most racing circuits this averages about $50. A jockey is literally risking their life and limb for less than what it costs to fill up many vehicles with gas.
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In order for a jockey to make a living, they must deal in volume. This means they must ride as many horses as possible in a day to make a respectable living. It is not uncommon for a jockey to ride eight or nine races in a single day on a small racing circuit. The best jockeys win 20% of the time or less on average. This means that 80% percent of the time they are earning much less than the winner’s share.
How Much A Jockey Makes for A Win
When a jockey wins a race, his or her earnings go up substantially. The winning jockey in a race is entitled to ten percent of the owner’s share of the purse.
Let’s say that the purse for a race is $50,000. The owner of the winning horse receives 60% of this purse for a total of $30,000. The jockey then receives 10%, or $3,000 of the winner’s purse. Not bad for a single race.
On smaller circuits, though, a $50,000 purse is uncommon. Purses for a claiming race can often be $10,000 or less. Which means the jockey will be taking home less than $1,000 in most cases. Still, this is better than the $50 they will earn if the horse they ride does not perform well.
Jockey Earnings for Second and Third Place
The earnings a jockey receives for second and third place finishes is also 10% of the purse money won by an owner. For second place, owners usually receive 20% of the purse. For third, the number is usually 10%.
Second and third place finishes on a small circuit will usually pay the jockey just a little bit more than a jock mount. As you can imagine, jockeys are trying their best to get a horse to finish “in the money” when they race. An in the money finish is one that earns the jockey additional pay.
Millionaire Racing Jockeys
According to an article in Forbes magazine, only a few jockeys earn millions each year. The top five riders in 2015 earned from $1.3 million to $2.25 million. Most of them had to ride well over 1,000 races during the year on order to break the million dollar mark. And this only represents the top five jockey when there are literally thousands or riders in the United States.
Jockeys that earn millions also ride in the biggest races the country has to offer. These are races like the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup events. Only the best riders in the country are given horses to ride in these races.
Contrast this with other professional sports where even the least-talented athletes make hundreds of thousands:
- Minimum yearly jockey salary based on 1,000 races with no wins: $50,000
- Minimum NFL salary: $465,000
- Minimum MLB salary: $507,500
- Minimum NBA salary: $562,493
- Minimum NHL salary $525,000
The disparity between jockey salaries and the salaries for other athletes is incredible. Consider that athletes in the other sports mentioned are statistically less likely to suffer a life-threatening injury than jockeys.
The Cost of Being a Jockey
Something else that must be considered when it comes to how much a jockey earns is the expenses that they have. The first and largest of these is the pay a jockey must give their agent.
The jockey agent is responsible for finding the horses that a jockey will ride in a race. The lowest fee for an agent is 10% of a jockey’s total earnings. So, if a jockey makes $50,000 per year, the agent will make $5,000.
The best jockeys, though, have the best agents and must pay more. Some agents charge as much as 25%. This can put a serious dent in a jockey’s paycheck from week to week.
Next on the list of expenses is the jockey’s valet. A valet is the person who washes the jockey’s riding clothes between races, shines their boots, and cleans their tack. This person can make between 5 and 10% of a jockey’s total income for the year.
Can Jockeys Make Money From Endorsements?
Unlike athletes in other major sports, jockeys are not generally allowed to have endorsements. Some states like California have recently begun to make exceptions to this rule. Jockeys in California can now wear the logo of a sponsor on their racing pants and be compensated for that.
Of course, there is no rule prohibiting a jockey from being paid to make an advertisement for a product like a sports drink or a car, but no marketing companies hire jockeys for this. The reason is that a jockey is typically less recognized than an athlete in other major sports.
Can Jockeys Bet on the Races?
In many racing circuits, jockeys are not specifically prohibited from making bets on races in which they do not participate. Betting on races they are involved in is a major violation and would get them suspended. However, some jockeys have found ways around this.
The jockey can easily have his or her agent make a bet on a race, but this is risky and might raw suspicion. The other way is to have a friend or relative make the bet from an online racebook. Maybe some jockeys should check out the online racebook recommended by EZ Horse Betting for betting opportunities and bonus money!
How Much Does a Jockey Earn?
The average jockey in the United States earns about $40,000 per year. That is a little over twice what someone would make at the minimum wage of $7.25 in the US if they worked a 40-hour week all year. $40,000 per year barely puts a jockey in the middle class, and that is no where near what they take home.
Do you think you would like to be a jockey based on the amount of pay you could receive? Probably not. Especially when you must ride a moving animal that weighs more than 1,000 pounds and travels at 45 miles-per-hour.
Hopefully, jockeys will someday be given the respect they deserve and their pay increased. These men and women of steel bring us much entertainment. They should be well-compensated for their efforts, even if that means raising the jock mount sum at minor racing circuits.