How Much Do Jockeys Make?

Race for the prize of the "OKS" in Pyatigorsk,Northern Caucasus, Russia.
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May and June are the highest-profile months for horse racing in the United States with the running of the Triple Crown races: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Those marquee races are known for their rich purses — the 2022 Kentucky Derby’s purse was $3 million, with $1.86 million going to the winner, Rich Strike.

Jockey Earnings

Far less attention is given to the jockey, the person who travels the whole way with the horse. A winning jockey takes 10% of the horse’s purse at the Kentucky Derby, so $186,000 for this year‘s Derby winner, Sonny Leon.

From those winnings, Leon likely paid a 25% to 30% fee to his agent and a 5% tip to the valet who helped him prepare his gear for the race. That’s still a huge payday in a sport where an average year’s earning can be around $40,000.

Did You Know?

Jockeys are some of the original “gig workers” because they work as independent contractors. Rather than earn a salary, a jockey receives a “mounting fee” — often $50-$110 — for each race, riding sometimes eight races per day.

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Prize Money

The real money for jockeys comes from prize money, if they can ride a horse to finish first, second or third in a race and earn part of the purse. The percentages a jockey receives for a thoroughbred race range from 5% for a second- or third-place finish to 10% for first place, according to the Covington Reporter. In less competitive races, the jockey’s earnings can be as low as 0.50% for a third-place finish, 1% for placing second and perhaps 6%-10% for first place.

Like other gig workers, jockeys often have to pay for their own equipment, which might include helmets, vests, goggles, boots and riding crops.

Highest-Earning Jockeys

Certainly, the top jockeys do quite well. The winningest thoroughbred jockey in history is John Velazquez, who has earned $458,797,243 in his long career. He’s started over 35,000 races, winning 6,459.

The next highest-earning U.S. jockey is Javier Castellano, who has started over 30,000 races with 5,568 wins, for earnings of over $374 million.

How Much Do They Make Guides

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Daria Uhlig contributed to the reporting for this article.

Information is accurate as of Nov. 3, 2022.

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