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So, how much does a jockey really earn?

Stuart Riley investigates how well life as a jockey really pays

Flat jockeys earn £120.66 per ride - but how much of that reaches their pocket?
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Stuart Riley crunches the numbers to find out just how much jockeys really fetch in the saddle. 


Jockeys, they must be loaded right?

Frankie Dettori rides in races worth hundreds of thousands of pounds every week. Ryan Moore jets around the world contesting the globe's biggest contests. Ruby Walsh wins Grade 1s for fun.

And, yes, at the very highest level there is an excellent living to be made – but it's a different story for most riders.

To put it in context, in Britain in 2016 just three Flat jockeys made as much in riding fees and prize-money as the 200th highest-earning golfer on the PGA Tour (£215,000).

But what does the average jockey earn? The short answer is this: not a huge amount. As for the long answer? Well, it's complicated . . .

Let's break it down

Unlike footballers, cricketers or rugby players, jockeys are almost all self-employed (although a few top riders have contracts to ride for individual trainers or owners) which means that rather than being paid a fixed salary, they charge for each job they take.

The bread and butter of jockeys' earnings are riding fees. These are set at £164.74 per ride over jumps and £120.66 on the Flat. That means a rider with a full book of rides can expect to make the best part of £1,000 per day. 

But from that figure a host of deductions must be made. Ten per cent goes to the jockey's agent and three per cent to the Professional Jockeys Association (the riders' union).

Their valet, who handles equipment, gets ten per cent of the first riding fee each day, then 7.5 per cent of the second and five per cent of the third.

Valets, who work hard behind the scenes, are paid on a sliding scale

Further deductions are made for insurance, on-course physiotherapists and the racing bank Weatherbys, which handles the riding fees – and even imposes a 50p levy for every line of a jockey's statement (imagine if your bank tried doing the same!).

In other words, a jockey has already said goodbye to around a quarter of their riding fees immediately.

The average jump jockey takes 215 rides a year. If they receive three-quarters of each riding fee, that puts the average gross annual income from riding fees at £26,500.

The average Flat jockey, meanwhile, has 300 rides a year. That puts their gross annual income at £27,150.

Prize-money and sponsorship

Riders also get performance-related pay in the shape of a percentage of any prize-money their mounts earn.

This ranges from 8.5 to nine per cent of winning prize-money over jumps, depending on the race. It is 6.9 per cent on the Flat. Under both codes they take home three and a half per cent of placed prize-money. The only deduction is a ten per cent cut to their agent.

Prize-money is higher on the Flat than over jumps, but in both codes earnings from prize-money are wildly variable, especially for riders outside the handful of stars who make up the sport's top echelon.

Dane O'Neill, for example, won over £1 million in 2015, when he partnered Muhaarar to Commonwealth Cup victory. The following year, when he spent some of the summer out injured, his prize-money haul more than halved.

Riders can also earn money via sponsorship. Stobart, the logistics group, sponsors all riders in arguably the most visible spot – their posteriors. In return, Stobart funds jockeys' career ending insurance.

Many riders have additional sponsors. For example, Ryan Moore is sponsored by Al Basti Equiworld, a horse feed company from Dubai, while Luke Morris is signed with online bookie 32Red.

Naturally, what each rider is paid is dependent on their public profile, sporting success and agent's negotiating chops.

Expenses and tax

A jockeys' major expenditure is travel, with a typical rider covering 40,000 to 60,000 miles a year, a cost of upwards of £6,000 in fuel. Riding out for trainers in the morning will increase that further, while vehicle maintenance can become another big cost.

There's also tax to consider, which means paying accountants or long hours poring over tax returns. On the upside, fuel, equipment and vehicle costs can all be discounted against tax owed, meaning many jockeys will avoid giving the taxman too much of their hard-earned cash.

So, what do they actually earn?

Let's take four example jockeys, whose real identities and precise statistics we will mask just in case the aforementioned taxman is taking an unhealthy interest in this article. The totals below don't include sponsorship or retainers, which are not in the public domain, or compensation paid for non-runners (riders get 40 per cent of the riding fee if horses are withdrawn after 9am). It also doesn't include any earnings achieved outside of Great Britain.

Jockey A is a top Flat rider with a host of big-race wins to his name. He rode 1,000 horses in 2016, earning £90,000 before expenses and tax. His share of almost £2 million in prize-money was almost £100,000.

Bottom line: £190,000 before tax and expenses

Jockey B is a top 20 jump jockey riding about 500 mounts in 2016-17. He banked over £65,000 in riding fees and around £70,000 in prize-money.

Bottom line: £135,000 before tax and expenses

Jockey C is a well-known journeyman jump jockey whose fortunes have waxed and waned over the years. He rode under 200 horses last season, translating to £22,000 in riding fees supplemented by £20,000 in prize-money.

Bottom line: £42,000 before tax and expenses

Jockey D is an experienced freelance Flat jockey who often spends his winter abroad. Last year he had fewer than 200 rides in Britain, generating £16,000 in riding fees and £4,000 in prize-money.

Bottom line: £20,000 before tax and expenses

Conclusion

At the top end, riders can earn hundreds of thousands of pounds per year. In fact, when retainers for top owners and foreign prize-money are included the elite will almost certainly hit seven figure earnings.

Outside that elite few earnings rapidly drop off, with the average jockey earning around £30,000 after tax and expenses are factored in.

Finally, an apprentice or conditional jockey, who are subject to a whole set of special rules that would take another article to explain, is likely to earn less than £15,000.

Putting a precise figure on what jockeys earn is difficult, but what can be said with certainty is that in sporting terms it is nowhere near the level of reimbursement that footballers, cricketers, golfers or tennis players enjoy.

Premier League footballers are among the top earners in sport

Don't get us wrong, most riders aren't struggling – but neither are they rich.

And when you consider the long hours, gruelling travel and physical danger they endure, we think it's fair to say every pound and euro is money very well earned.

First published July 28, 2017


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