Kentucky Derby Jockeys: 5 Fast Facts You Need To Know

140th Kentucky Derby race

Horses competing for the 140th Kentucky Derby. (Getty)

Every year, the world turns its gaze to a dirt horse track in Louisville, Kentucky, for “the fastest two minutes in sports.” Those who tune in to watch the Kentucky Derby learn the names of the contenders and eventual winners — California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist — names that go down in history following the “Run for the Roses.”

However, the jockeys that ride these steeds tend to get less attention and many aren’t well known. Some horse racing fans believe that a jockey is only as good as the horse that he’s riding, but a lot more goes into the horses’ performances than simply running the day of the big race. Jockeys form a relationship with their mounts and spend a great deal of time researching and devising their strategies ahead of the Derby. Most are familiar with the track at Churchill Downs, but work to ensure that their horse is ready.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the horse, but an experienced jockey can play to a colt’s strengths in the quest for victory. For a full list of the jockeys competing in the 2017 Derby, click here.

Here are five things that you need to know:


1. The Average Weight of a Horse Jockey Is 109 to 116 Pounds & the Average Height Is 4’10” to 5’6″

 Mario Gutierrez

Mario Gutierrez wins the 142nd Kentucky Derby (2016) riding Nyquist. (Getty)

The average height and weight of a horse jockey is very important, as these athletes must be nimble and also strong. Most jockeys weigh somewhere between 105 and 119 pounds.

There is no maximum or minimum height for a jockey, but most of them tend to be short because of the weight requirements. Most jockeys only stand about 5’0″ tall, give or take a few inches.

Here is a rundown of the heights of the most well known jockeys in the sport. Their weights are not calculated regularly as many tend to fluctuate, especially before a race.

Mario Gutierrez: 5’3″ (pictured above).
Victor Espinoza: 5’2″.
John Velazquez: 5’6″.
Javier Castellano: 4’11”.
Julien Leparoux: 5’5″.


2. A Derby Jockey Makes Between $100,000 – $200,000 Per Year

Joel Rosario Kentucky Derby 2013

Jockey Joel Rosario cheers after winning the 139th Kentucky Derby atop Orb. (Getty)

Most horse jockeys are earning decent salaries, even if they aren’t winning Triple Crown races. Although not all jockeys are making six figures, most see $100,000 to $200,000 per year.

Jockeys that have their horses finish in the top five in the Derby earn 10 percent of those winnings. Those that finish after fifth place typically don’t receive anything more than a standard “mount fee,” which can range between $40 for smaller races to $500 for big races like the Derby. There are some jockeys that ride in over 1,000 races per year and make their salary on “mount fees” alone. Many jockeys collect multiple fees in one day, according to Forbes Magazine.

In other races, a jockey makes 10 percent of what the horse’s owner collects at the end of a given race. A percentage (about 25 to 30 percent) of those winnings is then dispensed to the jockey’s agent and valet.

Here is a look at the top paid jockeys in 2016, according to Forbes:

Javier Castellano: $2.25 million.
Irad Ortiz Jr.: $1.88 million.
Victor Espinoza: $1.68 million.
John Velazquez: $1.63 million.
Joel Rosario: $1.38 million (pictured above).


3. Horse Jockeys Do More Than Just Ride Horses at the Derby

Victor Espinoza Kentucky Derby 2016

Victor Espinoza rides Whitmore at the 2016 Kentucky Derby. (Getty)

A horse jockey cannot will his horse have a good day and the outcome of a given race is ultimately up to the animal, not the jockey or the trainer. However, horse jockeys do much more than just mount a horse on race day.

As mentioned earlier in this post, a horse jockey will take the time to get to know his or her horse and will play to that horse’s strengths. He or she will know how to race the horse and will decide whether it’s best to get out ahead early or to break late, for example. Some horses are able to really push in the final stretch while others are better gaining momentum during turns. These are some of the things that jockeys take into account before heading to Louisville.

“Good jockeys also research the competition. They review videos of other horses and read the Daily Racing Form for updates on their performances that then inform strategy. If three speed horses are entering your race, for example, you might want to let them battle it out for the frontrunner position and surge once they get tired,” reports Slate Magazine.


4. Several Jockeys Have Won Multiple Derby Titles

Javier Castellano Preakness Stakes

Javier Castellano wins the 131st Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. (Getty)

Winning the Kentucky Derby is a goal for many horse jockeys, however, some have been able to check that box off more than once. Here is a list of jockeys that have won the “Run for the Roses” multiple times:

Bill Hartack has won five Derby titles. He won with Iron Liege in 1957, Venetian Way in 1960, Decidedly in 1962, Northern Dancer in 1964, and Majestic Prince in 1969.

Eddie Arcaro has also won five Derbys. He won with Lawrin in 1938, Whirlaway in 1941 (Triple Crown winner), Hoop Jr. in 1945, Citation in 1948 (Triple Crown winner), and Hill Gail in 1952.

Bill Shoemaker has won four Derby races. He won with Swaps in 1955, Tommy Lee in 1959, Lucky Debonair in 1965, and Ferdinand in 1986.

Victor Espinoza has won the Derby three times. He won with War Emblem in 2002, California Chrome in 2014, and won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah in 2015.

Calvin Borel has also won the Derby three times. He won with Street Sense in 2007, Mine That Bird in 2009, and Super Saver in 2010.

Kent Desormeaux is another jockey that won the Derby three times. He won with Real Quiet in 1998, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, and again with Big Brown in 2008.

Gary Stevens’ three Derby wins were with Winning Colors, the last filly to compete in the Derby, in 1988, Thunder Gulch in 1995, and Silver Charm in 1997.

Angel Cordero, Jr. also won three times at Churchill Downs. He won with Cannonade in 1974, Bold Forbes in 1976, and Spend a Buck in 1985.

Earl Sande won three Derbys. He won with Zev in 1923, Flying Ebony in 1925, and took home the Triple Crown with Gallant Fox in 1930.

Isaac Murphy was one of the first repeat-winners. He won with Buchanan in 1884, Riley in 1890, and again with Kingman in 1891.


5. Only 6 Female Jockeys Have Competed in the Kentucky Derby

Rosie Napravnik rides Untapable to win Breeder's Cup 2014

Rosie Napravnik wins the 2014 Breeder’s Cup riding Untapable. (Getty)

If you’ve been watching the Derby year after year, you’ve probably noticed that there aren’t many female jockeys. While the sport lends itself to male jockeys, there have been female jockeys racing in Derby’s past.

In total, six females have mounted colts on Derby Day. They are Diane Crump, Patti Cooksey, Andrea Seefeldt, Julie Krone, Rosemary Homeister and Rosie Napravnik. No female jockey has ever won the Derby.

Perhaps the most well known female jockey out of that group is Rosie Napravnik. She has won two Kentucky Oaks titles, one in 2012 and the other in 2014. According to Sports Illustrated, Napravnik was the first female jockey to win the Oaks twice.

Napravnik rode Mylute in the 2013 Derby finishing in fifth place and rode the colt again in the Preakness Stakes finishing third. That same year, Napravnik rode Bob Baffert’s horse Code West in the Belmont Stakes making her the only female jockey to have ridden in all three Triple Crown races. In 2014, she rode Vicar’s in Trouble in the Derby and finished 11th.

Napravnik announced her retirement in 2014 following a win at the Breeder’s Cup. She is married to horse trainer Joe Sharp and the couple has two children together.

Check out the video below for some additional information on Napravnik.

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1 Comment

Ernest Debarbieri

Effie. Are you serious when you say that Rosie Napravnik is more well known than Julie Krone. May I suggest you do some research before making a statement like that.

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