How important is the jockey in a horse’s victory?

The choice of jockey has a great impact on how well the horse will perform in a race. Racehorse trainers know its importance and would always have to scout for who is best fit for their juvenile. What do jockeys bring that influences a horse’s performance?

Is the jockey obsolete in the sport? Not at all. The jockey has a lot of contributions to the performance of their horse. People are simply more excited about the Thoroughbreds because their win is directly related to how hard they’ve trained. The horse provides strength, speed, and endurance but it’s the jockey who enables them. 

What is a jockey?

The word ‘jockey’ originated in the 16th century referring to any person riding a horse. Usually, it’s used to describe a horse-mounted courier or errand boy but the word was associated with the horse-riding athlete late 17th century. It continued to the modern day but it became specifically associated with horseracing. People performing another horse-riding activity or profession that does not involve racing is called the more generic term ‘equestrian’.

Jockeys are mostly under-appreciated because most people are looking forward to the horses themselves in various horse racing derbies. A good bookmaker knows their value and that’s why Sportsbet put their names together with the horse and trainers’ name on the betting markets. Those are all equally important factors in betting on the outcome of a horse race.

What are the necessary skills of a jockey?

Being a jockey takes a lot of hard work like in any sport but poses a lot more risks. People can be killed or crippled in a horse riding accident, making horse riding one of if not the most dangerous skills in the world. That’s why each one of them needs to be good at all five of the following fields:

Horse handling

Most races can only end in 2 minutes for the spectators but the jockey spends more time with the horse beyond that. They will work with every horse they are hired to ride for many hours including training, staging at the paddocks, and moving around the stadium’s stables. A jockey needs all of a stablehand’s skills at handling horses like how to calm them down or nurse them. 

The most important of those skills is the ability to understand the horse to know how it prefers to run. Making a horse uncomfortable will only cause conflict which often leads to throwing tantrums. They can be disqualified if that happens which will cost the horse owner a fortune. 


Decision making

The horses are easily spooked and that’s why they need their eyes covered. It cannot make a decision for itself and that’s what the jockey can provide in the event. There are many factors that need to be considered such as the horse’s breathing and its stamina. External factors are also big influences like how far is the next turn or how far are they from the lead. 

It is the jockey’s responsibility to make a call on when to gallop, slow down, or turn. Some jockeys can be creative in certain circumstances like when would it be best to push through or gallop around the other contestants. It’s what separates a prize winner from a regular jockey.


Jockeys aren’t just dealing with the horses. They always work with other people like the horse’s trainer and the owner of the esteemed equine. Talking with the stablehands is also part of the job, especially if the jockey hasn’t met the horse yet. These people spend more time with the horse than the jockey has and ever will.  


There will be times when the stablehand, owners, and trainers’ orientation won’t be enough and it’s up to the jockey to learn more details about the horse and race. Every minute detail counts from the horse’s breathing, tendencies, and reaction to stimuli. They need to use what they know and make a decision about it on the fly or report their findings to the trainer. 

Skills in observation also benefit the racer during the match. They have to pay attention to their opponents to find openings or avoid getting close in the middle of their contestants. The race is over for them once they get surrounded or if they miss their opportunity to turn.


The ability to focus is expected of every athlete. Everyone will have thoughts running through their minds but only a few will be skilled enough to process them through adrenaline. Jockeys are exposed to dangerous situations and they need to keep their focus to make proper decisions. 

Jockeys need all of their senses unobstructed if they wish to win or stay safe. They have a lot of factors to process including the horse’s well-being, possibility of other contenders swerving, and whether their next action will put anyone else in danger. If they can’t get out of their tunnel vision while galloping at high speeds, then they cannot climb to graded stakes racing. 

How much does a jockey contribute to a horse’s victory?

Jockeys require a lot of skills before they qualify but when asking a rough estimate of how much influence they have in a race’s outcome, many will agree between 5% to 10%. This is considering that there are other horse riders the owner can hire within the same grade level. Hence, betting odds in sports betting Japan and other countries are typically affected mostly by the horse and its trainer. 

A veteran jockey consistently racing for Grade 1 events can’t be replaced by someone who has only proved their mettle in Grade 3 or less, for example. However, it is possible that the number 1 jockey in the country can win a race riding an underdog. Likewise, the best racehorse in theory can lose if their rider doesn’t know how to take risks or capitalise on the equine’s strengths. 

How are jockeys employed?

Jockeys are employed in the same way football or baseball athletes are. They are scouted and they are paid under commission by the horse owner. The process can be quick and simple, especially on low stakes races. Here’s a few more details about their hiring process in general both in Japan and other nations. 

Agencies, self-employment, and hiring

All jockeys are officially freelancers or self-employed. If they are famous enough, they can be contacted directly by the horse owner who wants to hire them. Every jockey can be part of an agency who can both assign them to race levels based on their history and performance as well as vouch for them to trainers. 

The decision whether to choose them to ride a horse or not lies in the horse’s trainer. For graded stakes, the trainer nominates a jockey they want then presents them to the horse owner. The decision whether they will hire the nominated athlete depends on their budget most of the time. A popular jockey will have plenty of employers who have to outbid each other like how football club owners compete for player transfers. 


Jockeys have a lot of expenses in their profession, including the training they have to take to become one. An aspiring equestrian needs to go to a school where they can learn all about equine care and biology. They will also go through on-field training which horse owners sometimes pay for. Afterwards, they also take their licence which they have to earn through taking exams and field tests like a driver. 

Horse owners often pay for the jockey’s transportation and accommodation in graded stakes. For community-level races, the athlete will have to find their own way as well as places to stay. Nutrition can be the most expensive because a jockey needs to be under 54.9 kilograms (119 pounds) at most. Any heavier than that and they can be a handicap for the horse they are riding and it can be dangerous for them. 

Contracts, prize money, and sponsorship

The contract of a jockey can last more than one campaign season depending on how well they performed. Ideally, they will stay with the farm starting from the debut until the retirement of the horse they were hired to ride. 

Successful horses only run for an average of 3 to 5 years while strong contenders but non-winners can race for more than a decade. Thoroughbreds who performed poorly at the start of their careers can be retired early. Thus, a jockey’s contract can vary. 

Jockey’s salary comes directly from the contract they have with the horse owner or sponsorship deals if they signed up for one. They only get 9% or less of the prize money after winning a race while the rest goes to the horse owner. Jockeys can have a contract with more than one horse owner with some of the top-rated ones having twelve at a time. Thus, horse racing can be really lucrative for the jockey as well. 

Takeaway about horse racing jockeys

The horse has the most impact in the race but the jockey needs to be skilled enough to enable its talents. Therefore, the choice of jockey is vital to the success of any horse. That’s why the trainer keeps a keen eye on talents. The horse and the jockey are two parts of a whole race contender and neither of them can win if they’re not a perfect match.