For a select few, riding a galloping horse can bring wealth and fame. The United States is home to about 1,200 professional male and female jockeys. There's no barrier to women in this business, who work alongside men on local racing circuits or horsetracks, and secure their races through agents. Jockeys receive regular riding fees as well as bonuses for successful performances. A successful pro jockey can earn millions, but the job has physical demands and dangers.
Per Mount Paydays
The horse-racing business has set up a fairly standard pay scale for jockeys. A horseman's association or track ownership pays a "ride fee" for every race a jockey runs. The fee varies between $30 and $100 at most tracks. Jockeys use agents to negotiate on their behalf, and the agents get a cut on the riding fees. The standard agent fee is 20 percent of earnings, while jockeys also tip the "valets" whose job is to assist them with their mounts.
Winners, Placers, Showers
For race wins, a rider gets a nice bonus: 10 percent of the purse awarded to the horse's owner; this win share runs about 60 percent of the total purse, or cash pool, for the race. A second-place finish brings home 5 percent of the owner's take, which totals 20 percent of the purse total. A third place "show" also earns 5 percent of the owner's winnings, which total 15 percent of the purse total. There are no guaranteed salary or per diem expenses paid; men and women jockeys earn cash only for races run or won.
You can ride a horse to the starting gate, but you can't make him win. To make a decent living, a single jockey might run two or more races in a single day, and ride several days a week. At a busy track, in-demand jockeys can take several hundred rides in a single racing season, with the record in annual races for a single jockey standing at more than 2,300. Javier Castellano, the top-earning jockey for 2013 through October, appeared in 1,433 starts and grossed $23,021,687, with a winning percentage of 21 percent.
Triple Crown Races
The big meets bring the big prizes. Rosie Napravnik, the top female jockey in 2013, has bragging rights as the first woman to ride in all three Triple Crown races -- the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes -- in a single year. Julie Krone, the only female jockey to win a Triple Crown race, rode to the winner's circle at the Belmont Stakes in 1993. The Kentucky Derby, the most prestigious single race on the U.S. calendar, awarded a purse of $1.4 million, with the jockey Joel Rosario taking away $140,000 before agent's commission, valet fees and taxes. After the fifth-place finisher, however, the jockeys individually earned only a standard riding fee.
- Bluegrass community and Technical College: Being a Jockey FAQs
- CNBC: Kentucky Derby Doesn't Make Jockeys Rich
- Bleacher Report: Kentucky Derby 2013 Purse: Complete Payout List for Each Owner, Horse and Jockey
- BloodHorse: 2013 Racing Leaders
- The New York Times: Horses Don't Care if the Jockey's a Woman
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.