How Much Do Jockeys Make?

PYATIGORSK, RUSSIA -AUGUST 7: Jockey Rinat Hamidullin and bay akhal-teke stallion Demir-Tay race for the prize of Gundogara on August 7,2011 in Pyatigorsk, Caucasus, Russia.
Mikhail Pogosov / iStock.com

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 2021 Kentucky Derby’s purse was $3 million, with $1.86 million going to the winner, Medina Spirit, although that is currently under investigation.

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But not enough attention is given to the jockey, the person who travels the whole way with the horses. A winning jockey will take 10% of the horse’s purse at the Kentucky Derby, so $186,000 for this year’s Derby winner, John Velazquez (although this could change depending on the current investigation). That’s a huge payday in a sport where an average year’s earning can be $30,000-$40,000, according to Career Trend. Many jockeys can enhance that with sponsorships, such as from betting companies.

Jockeys are some of the original “gig workers,” because they work as independent contractors. Rather than a salary, a jockey will earn a “mounting fee” (often $25-$100) for each race, riding sometimes eight races per day.

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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 that a jockey will receive can range from 0.5% for a third-place finish to perhaps 6%-10% for a win.

Like other gig workers, jockeys often have to pay for their own saddles, helmets and boots to ride, too.

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Certainly the top jockeys do quite well. The winningest jockey in history is Velaquez, who earned $436,197,933 in his long career. He started more than 34,000 races, winning 6,289. In 2020, the highest-earning U.S. jockey was Irad Ortiz Jr., who rode more than 1,260 mounts, with about 300 wins, for earnings of just over $21 million.

In 2020, the average earning of the top 100 jockeys in the United States was around $3.5 million, per BloodHorse.

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Last updated: Jun. 4, 2021

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