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    How much do jockeys earn?
How much do jockeys earn?
Horse racing. Source: Post Stephens Examiner

How much do jockeys earn?

Are jockeys wealthy? Frankie Dettori participates in races with substantial prize winnings, Ryan Moore competes in prestigious international contests, and Rachael Blackmore effortlessly wins Grade 1 races. While a small group of elite jockeys can make a good living at the highest level, their earnings are not remarkable when compared to other sports. For instance, in 2021, only two Flat jockeys in Britain earned as much as the 175th highest-earning golfer on the PGA Tour, who made $399,417/£297,359.97. Additionally, the seven highest-earning Flat jockeys surpassed the top earner in jump racing. However, for the majority of jockeys, the situation is different. In general, the average jockey does not earn a significant amount of money. Explaining the exact earnings can be complex.

Let's analyse it

Jockeys differ from most athletes in that they are predominantly self-employed, although a few top riders may have contractual agreements with individual trainers or owners. Instead of receiving a fixed salary, jockeys charge for each job they undertake.

The primary source of income for jockeys comes from riding fees. For jumps races, the fee is set at £174.63 per ride, while on the Flat it is £127.90. This fee applies regardless of the jockey's reputation. Unlike prominent figures such as Lionel Messi, Lebron James, Beauden Barrett, and Virat Kohli, who can negotiate higher salaries based on their exceptional talent, jockeys on the Flat are all priced the same, whether they are renowned like Frankie Dettori or Ryan Moore. The most successful jockeys earn more by taking on a higher volume of rides, rather than increasing their fees.

As a result, jockeys who have a full schedule of rides can anticipate earning approximately £700 per day on the Flat and £1,000 for jumps races. This estimation does not factor in any prize winnings that they may be entitled to. Naturally, jockeys with fewer rides can expect to earn less, but they still face the same expenses and deductions. Consequently, jockeys with only one ride do not earn much.

Jockey. Source: America’s Best Racing
Jockey. Source: America’s Best Racing

The deductions

Numerous deductions need to be subtracted from the riding fee received by jockeys. The jockey's agent receives 10% of the fee, while the Professional Jockeys Association, which represents the riders, receives 3%.

The jockey's valet, responsible for handling equipment, receives 10% of the first riding fee per day, followed by 7.5% of the second fee and 5% of the third fee.

Additional deductions include insurance, on-course physiotherapists, and the racing bank Weatherbys, which manages the riding fees. Weatherbys also imposes a charge of 50p for each line in a jockey's statement, similar to a bank fee. Consequently, approximately a quarter of the riding fee is immediately deducted, without considering the expenses associated with travelling to racecourses located in different parts of Britain, many of which are remote. Moreover, jockeys must spend mornings riding out to establish connections and earn rides.

On average, a jump jockey participates in 157 rides per year. Assuming they receive three-quarters of each riding fee, their gross annual income from riding fees amounts to £20,500.

On the other hand, a Flat jockey averages 290 rides per year, resulting in a gross annual income of £27,800 from riding fees.

Financial rewards and sponsorship support

Riders are also compensated based on their performance, receiving a percentage of the prize winnings earned by the horses they ride. The specific percentage varies depending on the type of race. For jump races, it ranges from 8.5 to nine per cent of the winning prize money, while on the Flat it is 6.9 per cent. In both cases, riders receive 3.5 per cent of the prize money for placing in the race. The only deduction from their earnings is a ten per cent commission for their agent.

Although prize money is higher on the Flat than in jump races, the earnings from prize money can be highly unpredictable, especially for riders who are not among the top few elite performers in the sport.

To illustrate this, during the 2019-20 season, Sam Twiston-Davies rode horses that earned £1,625,900 in prize money, riding 99 winners out of 589 rides. His earnings dropped to £884,953 in the following season with 83 winners from 637 rides but then increased to £1,767,339 in the 2021-22 season with 105 winners from 731 rides. Gavin Sheehan earned £906,098 in the 2019-20 season from 355 rides, but his earnings decreased to £426,128 the next year from 369 rides. In 2021-22, he earned £656,587 from 396 rides. Tom Scudamore's earnings rose from £524,048 in the 2019-20 season with 413 rides to £875,464 in the following season with 430 rides. In 2021-22, Scudamore's mounts won £846,090, but he took more rides, totalling 507.

Riders also have the opportunity to earn money through sponsorships. For example, Ryan Moore is sponsored by Al Basti Equiworld, a horse feed company from Dubai, while Bryony Frost is an ambassador for Betfair. Luke Morris, a six-time all-weather champion jockey, has expressed his search for a sponsor for the year 2022.

Naturally, the amount each rider is paid depends on factors such as their public recognition, sporting achievements, and the negotiating skills of their agent.

Previously, sponsorship covered the insurance for career-ending injuries for the riders, but now owners pay a £3.91 surcharge to the riding fee to provide this coverage.

Outlays and taxation

A significant expense for jockeys is related to travel. On average, riders cover a distance of 40,000 to 60,000 miles per year, which results in a fuel cost exceeding £6,000. The cost of fuel has been rising, with petrol prices experiencing an inflation rate of 33% at the time of writing, while general inflation is approximately ten per cent. Moreover, the act of riding out for trainers in the morning further contributes to these expenses. Additionally, maintaining the vehicles used by jockeys can become a substantial financial burden.

Considering taxes, jockeys need to account for them by either hiring accountants or dedicating long hours to reviewing tax returns. However, there is a positive aspect to this situation as fuel, equipment, and vehicle costs can be deducted from the taxes owed. This allows many jockeys to minimise the amount of their hard-earned money that goes to the tax authorities.

Jockey uniform shop. Source: The Pennsylvania Horse
Jockey uniform shop. Source: The Pennsylvania Horse

What is the actual amount of money they make?

Let's consider four jockeys as examples, but to protect their identities and privacy, we will conceal their real names and specific figures. This precaution is necessary in case authorities become unduly interested in this article. The figures presented below do not include earnings from sponsorships or retainers, as those details are not publicly available. Additionally, compensation for non-runners (when horses are withdrawn after 9 am) is not accounted for, although riders receive 40 per cent of the riding fee in such cases. Furthermore, any earnings achieved outside of Britain are not included.

Jockey A is a highly skilled Flat rider, ranking among the top ten, and holds a prominent position in Newmarket. In the year 2021, he rode nearly 1,000 horses and earned approximately £93,000 before deducting expenses and taxes. His share of the prize money, which amounted to over £1.6 million, amounted to nearly £84,000.

To sum up: Before accounting for taxes and expenses, Jockey A's earnings totalled £176,700.

Jockey B is a successful jump jockey, ranking within the top twenty, who rode around 370 mounts during the 2020-21 period. He earned over £48,000 in riding fees and approximately £25,000 in prize money.

To sum up: Before accounting for taxes and expenses, Jockey B's earnings totalled £73,500.

Jockey C is a well-known journeyman jump jockey whose career has had its ups and downs over the years. In the previous season, he rode under 240 horses, which translated to riding fees of nearly £31,000. Additionally, he earned over £14,000 in prize money.

To sum up: Before accounting for taxes and expenses, Jockey C's earnings totalled £45,200.

Jockey D is an experienced freelance Flat jockey, with his most significant achievement being A Listed success. In the past year, he rode just over 200 times in Britain, earning over £20,000 in riding fees and £9,500 in prize money.

To sum up: Before accounting for taxes and expenses, Jockey D's earnings totalled £29,900.

In conclusion, at the highest level, riders have the potential to earn substantial incomes, reaching hundreds of thousands of pounds annually. In fact, if we consider retainers from top owners and prize money earned abroad, the very best riders can surpass the one million pound mark in earnings.

However, beyond this elite group, jockey earnings decline rapidly. On average, after accounting for taxes and expenses, jockeys earn around £30,000 per year. Considering the demanding nature of the job, which involves year-round work with minimal breaks, a high risk of injury, and extensive travel throughout the country, this income falls far short of being considered a fortune.

Lastly, apprentice or conditional jockeys, who are subject to specific regulations that would require a separate article to fully explain, can expect to earn less than £15,000. Apprentice jockeys on the flat receive 80% of their fee at weight allowances of 7lb, 5lb, and 3lb, as well as 80% of prize money at 7lb and 5lb, which increases to 90% at 3lb. Conditionals in jump racing receive 100% of fees and prize money throughout their claim.


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