Whilst there is obviously plenty of money washing around the world of horse racing, you don’t tend to think of jockeys as being big earners in the same way that you’d think of, say, Premier League footballers. That some of the best jockeys keep riding even late on in their career seems to tell its own story.
Yet how much money does a jockey actually earn? What’s the difference between a top jockey and a jobbing one that might not be a household name but will still be seen riding a horse at most venues up and down the country? They’re the sort of questions we’ll try to answer here.
Jockeys Are Paid Per Race
The first thing to realise is that jockeys are mostly all self-employed, which makes them different from Premier League footballers or rugby players, for example. Whilst some are on retainers with specific owners or trainers, meaning that they are paid a set amount of money to work exclusively for them, most just need to find work on a week-by-week basis.
The amount offered to riders is set depending on whether they are taking part in jump racing or flat racing. The riding fees are set at £164.74 for jump riders and £120.66 for flat racing jockeys at the time of writing. This money is paid to them regardless of where they finish in the race, so it is, at least, some form of guaranteed income.
The amount paid means that a jockey that is able to fill their books with races would be able to earn around £1,000 per day, though it isn’t common for riders to fill up their books every single day of the week. It’s also worth noting that they lose a good chunk of that money to their agent, the Professional Jockeys Association and so on.
Jockeys can expect to lose around a quarter of their racing fees to numerous quarters before they can think about how much profit they’ll be able to take home. The best way of thinking about that is by looking at an average jockey.
An average jockey will tend to ride about 215 times in a year. If they then take three-quarters of the payment for each ride then they’ll have a gross income of more than £26,000 per year from riding fees alone. That, of course, is the jump jockey fees.
If you’re looking at flat racing then that take home pay is a little more because they tend to have around 300 rides during the course of a year. That means that they’ll likely get around £27,000 in riding fees as a gross income.
Of course, jockeys aren’t limited just to their riding fees in terms of the money that they earn. The biggest earner for the best jockeys comes in the form of the prize money percentage that they’re offered. The better the jockey, the more they’ll be able to negotiate a higher percentage fee.
Most of the time the range for jump racing jockeys sits between 8 and 9 percent, whilst flat racing jockeys find their prize money cut sitting at around 7 percent. Regardless of whether you’re talking about jump racing or flat racing, they’ll receive 3.5 percent of a placed finish’s prize money.
The reason that the percentage is higher in jump racing is that the prize money is lower than on the flat, so by taking a larger percentage there’s more chance that things will even out over the course of a year.
As with any other sport, the better a jockey is the higher their percentage will be and the more money they’ll earn in their career. As an example, Dane O’Neill worked with Muhaarar to achieve a Commonwealth Cup win in 2015, taking home more than £1 million.
When he picked up an injury the year after he ended up missing most of the summer’s racing and took home less than half a million in prize money. It’s a sign of how dependent jockeys are on their ability to remain fit, which is a testing thing when you consider most will pick up serious injuries during their careers.
The other chief way that jockeys can earn themselves some money is via sponsorship. The main sponsor of all jockeys is the logistics group Stobart. They have an advert that goes across the bottom of riders and for that they fund the insurance that covers jockeys when they careers are ended.
Other companies also look to work with jockeys in order to get their name out in the public eye, which allows them to take home more money than just the basics. From betting companies to equine welfare organisations, there are a host of sponsorship opportunities for jockeys of any standard.
Obviously the better jockeys are more likely to be seen on television and photographed to go in newspapers, so it is they that are paid the most on this front too. The better their agent is the more likely they’ll be able to negotiate on their behalf, so how much they earn is always dependent on numerous factors.
The other thing to remember when it comes to jockeys is that most of them specialise in one form of racing or another. That isn’t to say that a jump racing jockey is unable to compete on the flat, it’s just not all that common. The result is that what they earn might sound like a lot, but it’s got to sustain them for the whole year.
With the jump racing season being during the winter, it means that a summer can often be bereft of earning opportunities for jump racers. That’s why many jockeys will tend to move from country to country, following the racing to wherever they’re needed. This can be a positive as well as a negative thing, though.
In the United States of America and the Far East, for example, the prize money tends to be a lot higher. That means that successful jump jockeys can end up taking home decent money because they’ve had to move abroad to find some racing.
What’s The Bottom Line?
As you might well imagine, there is no set amount of money that we can point to and say that it is an average for a jockey. A flat racing rider who took on 1,000 races in a year and won £100,000 worth of prize money would have £190,000 to their name before tax and expenses, for example.
Yet if we were to say that jockeys would be expected to earn £190,000 before tax then a journeyman jump jockey who barely manages to ride 200 horses in a year and adds £20,000 in prize money on top of that would point to their £42,000 before tax and wonder what went wrong.
There’s no doubt that the very best riders are able to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds during the course of a year, if not even more than that. Depending on where it is they ply their trade, they could be looking at millions in a successful season.
The reality, though, is that there are thousands of jockeys trying to earn a living across both the flat and jump racing disciplines. It would be impossible to offer any sort of definitive answer as to what they’re likely to earn during their career, with apprentice jockeys likely to start on around £15,000.
The key question for anyone thinking of becoming a jockey is whether the early starts, the need to travel the country and the physical danger that they put themselves in every single time they take the saddle is worth what they’re likely to earn in terms of prize money. That they’ll then lose plenty of that to fuel costs and other fees is also painful to accept.