Well over a quarter of a million spectators descend on Cheltenham every year to enjoy one of the most enthralling horse racing events in the sporting calendar. The chance of seeing an outsider win or witnessing history being made is a big draw for horse racing fans.
One of the most interesting things to watch out for is the fortunes of the jockeys in this horse racing bonanza. As perhaps the most important protagonists in the sport, jockeys are chronically underpaid especially so when you consider the effort, risk and dedication that goes into their trade.
How much are jockeys paid?
The average jockey is paid £27,100 a year. Yes, you read that right, just over 27 grand a year. CheltenhamFestival.net came to the conclusion that as well as low wages, jockeys are expected to work much harder for their money – while a jockey will make an average of 300 appearances per year, an F1 driver will only be expected to make 20, so perhaps it’s understandable if they feel a little jocked off.
As little as 3 years ago a novice jockey could expect to be paid as little as £20 for a race. Of course, prize money makes it a lucrative career for the most talented of jockeys but as there is a winner in every race, there are also losers.
And it’s the losers who struggle financially to make ends meet. One win could boost a jockey’s finances massively, but even one win is hard to come by for most.
Is it dangerous being a jockey?
The injury risk for a jockey is far higher than that of any other professional sportsperson. The average jockey weighs between 50 to 60kg and will be riding a horse 10 times that weight at speeds of up to 60km.
The risk to the jockey’s well-being is clear to see. In 2017, jockey Darren Jones died following a three-horse fall in a country race meet in Australia. Stories of serious injuries are common place in horse racing with the risk of death and losing the ability to walk being all too real for many jockeys.
That harsh reality makes the pay that jockeys receive even more shocking. How can someone who dices with death every day be paid so little in an industry that is overflowing with cash?
How hard do jockeys train?
From the outside you might think that there is not too much physicality involved in being a jockey. However, if you’ve ever ridden a horse, even on a slow trot in the countryside, you’ll be aware of the strain that it puts on your body.
Now imagine riding a horse at 60km in a packed course over staggering jumps and perilous drops. A fitness regime akin to that of an elite level sportsperson is absolutely necessary for a successful jockey.
As well as that a jockey must consistently monitor their weight, being careful not to exceed 60kg. Physicality and fitness aside jockeys must also undergo a series of rigorous qualifications and training courses at the same time as refining their technique.
Being a jockey is one of the most demanding professions in the entire sporting world, and unfortunately the financial incentives do not match the level of dedication, commitment and skill needed.
Highly successful jockeys will undoubtedly earn huge amounts of cash from sponsorship deals and prize money.
However, for every well-off jockey there are perhaps 200 less fortunate jockeys. Oh and don’t forget about the huge risk of injury and even death.