Horses running on a racetrack
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Kentucky Derby Jockeys Are Competing for a Big Payday

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May. 6 2022, Published 12:43 p.m. ET

The 2022 Kentucky Derby is scheduled to take place at 6:57 p.m. ET on Saturday, May 7, airing live on NBC from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Among the competitors are horses named Epicenter, Summer Is Tomorrow, Tiz the Bomb, Simplification, and — our favorite moniker — Cyberknife.

If you tune in to watch the big race tomorrow, you might be wondering how much a jockey makes per race. We have all the details.

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Well, if you’re one of the top jockeys in the sport, you could make a six-figure amount or 10 percent of the Kentucky Derby grand prize. The average jockey, however, earns far less.

The winning jockey at the Kentucky Derby gets $186,000, before fees and taxes.

The top prize at the Kentucky Derby currently stands at $1.86 million. The runner-up gets $600,000, third place gets $300,000, fourth place gets $150,000, and fifth place gets $90,000.

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Horse race
Source: Getty Images

But the winning jockeys won’t take home all of that $1.86 million. The winning jockey only gets 10 percent of the prize, or $186,000, according to The Washington Post, and the rest goes to the owner. Then, 25 percent of that remainder goes to the jockey’s agent, and at least 5 percent goes to the valet, as CNBC reported in 2010. And then there are taxes to pay!

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The runners-up get a smaller portion of the winnings. The second-place and third-place jockeys get 5 percent of those prizes — $60,000 and $30,000 respectively — while the other 17 jockeys get “a couple hundred dollars apiece,” as jockey agent Ron Anderson revealed to CNBC.

Some jockeys who are just starting out make $28 per race.

Chron reported in 2018 that beginning jockeys earn as little as $28 per race, and that “most jockeys aren’t making a run for the money but rather are racing for the love of the sport.”

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With horse races lasting two minutes, you might think that $28-per-race paycheck works out to an hourly wage of $840, but what you might not see is all the work between races. For example, jockeys have to weigh in before races and hit the sauna if they’re over the weight limit, according to Chron. Then the jockey does a “breeze” to give their horses a workout. And then there’s all the prep work and debriefing before and after each race.

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“The basic job comprises of mounting the horse in the saddling paddock, warming them up during the post parade, riding them in the actual race, and then returning them once the race is over,” jockey Joe Talamo told Job Shadow in 2012. “We also need to study the race and know the abilities of the horses we ride beforehand. After a race is over, we interact with the trainers and give them information and input regarding the horse’s performance.”

Talamo said, “I wake up from 4:30 a.m.–6:00 a.m. six to seven days a week to exercise horses for trainers. We don’t get paid to work horses in the morning, but need to do it as a way to keep up our business.”

As for annual earnings, Career Trend reports that most jockeys earn $30,000–$40,000 per year.

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