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Best Horse Racing Jockeys to Back
Jockeys are the lifeblood of the horse racing industry, yet often we overlook the “drivers” of the animals we love to bet on. A jockey may well go unnoticed when you bet on horse racing, and is often considered an after-thought.
But horse jockeys are hugely important to how this sport operates. In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about a horse racing jockey. You’ll learn what a jockey is, what they do and why they’re so influential to the outcome of races.
Discover how much they get paid, the difference between conditional and apprentice jockey, and who are the greatest in the world.
BetUK's Top 10 UK Jockeys 2022
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Being a jockey
Life as a jockey is hard work. It requires you to be thinking about your weight constantly, eat the right food and stay as healthy and strong as possible. This isn’t easy when you also need to be as light as possible to help reduce the strain on the horses you ride.
A typical training day for a jockey begins at dawn – sometimes even beforehand in the winter months – and is spent riding horses across green countryside, or over training fences, preparing them for upcoming races.
On race day a jockey is expected to be at their racecourse well ahead of time, so they can meet the owners and trainers of the horses they will ride that day, and prepare for what could well be a long afternoon.
In the UK and Ireland, it’s not uncommon for a jockey to ride six or seven horses in a single day at the same meet. Some will even be driven or helicoptered to other racecourses in order to ride the very best horses.
Because of this, it’s not surprising jockeys need energy. You have to be physically and mentally strong simply to do the basic parts of your job.
And then come the injuries. Being a jockey is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Broken ribs, fractured arms, dislocated shoulders, punctured lungs – jockeys will likely suffer all this and more during their career. Falling off a horse as it leaps over a fence at full speed is not fun. Jockeys have died in the past, and the sport can never be 100% safe.
What about free time? Well, you’re probably not going to be taking too many weekends off during the year, and will need to ride at low-key meets on Monday and Tuesday afternoons in the dead of winter if you’re an up-and-coming National Hunt jockey.
In short, being a jockey is not an easy job. The demands never stop and the glory can be short-lived. But people love it and the UK and Ireland produce scores of jockeys every year.
Types of jockey
There are five types of jockey you may encounter in the UK and Ireland. Each jockey meaning is different. They are:
- Flat Jockeys – Professional jockeys who race purely on Flat races in the UK and Ireland, who have a far greater longevity than jump jockeys. They will race primarily in the summer months, and then perhaps race in the US or Australia during the European winter.
- Apprentice Jockeys – Young Flat riders still learning their trade are called apprentices and are given a weight allowance when racing. This gives trainers an incentive to employ an apprentice, which helps them develop. The weight allowance decreases as they begin to win races.
- Jump Jockeys – The professional jockeys during the National Hunt season. Jump jockeys must tackle fences and hurdles, and somehow stay on their horse. They’re a tough breed and suffer many injuries over the course of their careers.
- Conditional Jockeys – The National Hunt equivalent to apprentices, conditional jockeys are also up-and-coming riders who are given weight allowances. This allowance steadily falls the more races they win.
- Amateurs – Riders who race without being paid, but for the fun of the sport. Amateurs can usually be found racing at low-key events in the UK and Ireland.
What a jockey does on race day
A typical race day for a jockey starts early. Sometimes before the sun has even come up. The jockey could be posted to race halfway across the country, or perhaps on the other side of the Irish Sea. A long drive eventually results in them arriving at their racecourse for the day at some point in the morning, and then the work truly begins.
Jockeys are able to assess the going and see what the course conditions are like, and also meet the trainers and owners of the horses they’ll be riding. A jockey will try and spend some time with their horse if they can – although multiple races in a day means this might not be possible.
Once a race is called, the jockey will dress in their riding gear and don the silks of the owner. This is why each jockey is so brightly coloured – because the owner has their own unique pattern.
A few minutes before the race the jockey will be asked to “weigh out”. This is where they and their saddle and riding equipment is weighed, to ensure the horse is carrying the correct weight in the race. If the jockey is too light, lead plates will be added to the saddle bag. If they’re too heavy, then that’s simply unfortunate.
The jockey will then head over to their horse in the parade ring, saddle up and jump on. A couple more turns of the ring and the jockey and horse will head to the starting position, which will either be an area of the racecourse, or a specific gate.
The race itself is never easy. A horse racing jockey must position themselves correctly during the race, deal with obstacles on the course such as fences, and keep the horse ticking over nicely. At a specific point they will decide to go for the win, and this means breaking from the pack. Some horses need encouragement, while others need reining in.
Once the race is over the jockey dismounts the horse and “weighs in” to ensure they didn’t cheat with the weight. And from here they might go straight to the next race, changing silks if required and getting ready to ride a new horse.
Once a jockey’s races are finished they are free to head home. But some might have races elsewhere in the country, while others may stay near the racecourse in preparation for the following day’s action.
Anatomy of a jockey
The physical pressures on jockeys are immense, and they have to be extremely fit and resilient to ensure they can cope with the bumps, bruises and broken bones they suffer. So, here’s how a jockey needs to be built in order to get the most out of his or her career:
- Short stature – Jockeys are generally between 4ft 10in and 5ft 6in. Any taller and it gets hard to maintain balance on the horse, especially when it flies over jumps. The shorter a jockey is, the lighter they will be.
- Thin frame – A jockey needs to be as light but as strong as possible. That means a thin frame with very little body fat. Often teenagers who hope to be jockeys hit puberty and their frames fill out, making them unsuitable for riding in races.
- Powerful legs and hips – A jockey needs to crouch on their haunches when riding a horse at full tilt, and that means being able to squat for many minutes while also riding hard. It’s not easy, and jockeys usually have extremely strong thigh and calf muscles, as well as resilient hips.
- Quick hands – Upper body strength isn’t totally necessary for a jockey but they do need nimble hands. Being able to change the riding whip, switch the reins and keep the horse calm is vital to winning races. Clumsy hands won’t cut it in this business.
- Healthy heart – The physical strain on a jockey means they need to be fit, and it all starts with the heart. A Flat jockey’s heartbeat will fire at around 189 bpm during a race, and settle at 50 bmp.
How much do jockeys earn
Knowing the earnings of jockeys can be difficult because they don’t collect their pay in quite the same way as other sportspeople. Some may be contracted to specific trainers or owners, and so ride solely or predominantly for them. But many effectively act as freelance jockeys and pick up pay packets for every race they enter.
Jockeys get paid a Riding Fee for every race they enter. The 2022 Riding Fees are:
- Flat – £142.90
- Jump – £194.63
The fees are renegotiated every year.
Meanwhile, jockeys also get a share of the prize money if they win or place. There’s a complicated calculation to this but in general a jockey can expect to earn:
- Flat Win – 8.5% of the advertised win prize
- Flat Place – 2.61% of the advertised place prize
- Jump Win – 11.03% of the advertised win prize
- Jump Place – 3.44% of the advertised place prize
Jockeys also receive 50% of their Riding Fee if the horse withdraws after the jockey has been assigned and declared.
World's best jockeys
Some of the world’s best jockeys earn millions of pounds over the course of their careers, as they race in the greatest events on the planet. There are hundreds of elite-level jockeys and legends of their sport – so much so that we can’t detail them all here. So below are five to get you started…
The grandfather of horse racing, Lester Piggott won 30 British Classics and was a Flat Racing Champion Jockey 11 times. Piggott rode primarily in the 1960s and ‘70s and was the first celebrity jockey. He won more than 5,300 races in his career.
The National Hunt’s greatest ever jockey, AP McCoy was named Champion Jockey 20 times and rode an eye-watering 4,358 winners. As a jump jockey McCoy suffered some horrendous injuries in his career. The Irishman won the Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup, among other elite-level races.
America’s Bill Shoemaker dominated the US Triple Crown races in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s and was still winning big events into the 1980s. In fact, Shoemaker won four Kentucky Derbys, two Preakness Stakes and five Belmont Stakes. His 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic triumph at the age of 55 was simply remarkable.
Italy’s iconic jockey has won races the world over and doesn’t look ready to quit just yet. Frankie Detorri’s string of accolades includes the multiple triumphs in all five English Classics, eight Ascot Gold Cup wins, six Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe victories and the 2008 Breeders' Cup Classic. There isn’t a horse racing mad nation in the world that Detorri hasn’t competed in.
John R. Velazquez
John R. Velazquez is one of North America’s most decorated jockeys. The Puerto Rican has won 15 Breeders’ Cup events and six Triple Crown races, three of which have come in the Kentucky Derby. Velazquez boasts more than 6,000 career wins and has earned more than $300m in prize money down the years.
Q. What is a conditional jockey?
A conditional jockey is a young jockey racing in National Hunt events over hurdles and fences. They are not yet professional jockeys and so earn a weight allowance when riding.
Q. How tall are jockeys
Jockeys usually stand between 4ft 10in and 5ft 6in. Any taller and a jockey may struggle to balance properly on their horse.
Q. How much do jockeys weigh?
Jockeys weigh around eight-and-a-half stone, or roughly 55kg.
Q. How much do jockeys get paid?
Jockeys get paid a flat fee of £142.90 (Flat) or £194.63 (National Hunt) for racing in the UK and Ireland. They earn a percentage cut of any prize money, and are also sometimes contracted to specific trainers and owners.