The 2019 Kentucky Derby is upon us. People will gather at Churchill Downs this evening as the top 3-year-old thoroughbreds compete in what’s known as the “fastest two minutes in sports.” Riding these horses to the finish line are their respective jockeys.
Horse jockeys are very small in stature and must be within specific height and weight parameters in order to ride. While being a jockey isn’t an easy job, there are a lot of benefits, namely handsome financial prizes, especially if a jockey is able to finish a race in first place.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Average Weight of a Horse Jockey Is 112 Pounds & the Average Height Is 5’3″
The respective height and weight of horse jockeys is key to their craft. Most jockeys weigh somewhere between 105 and 119 pounds. When it comes to the Kentucky Derby, there is a weight limit — each jockey must not weigh more than 126 pounds. According to Animal Planet, that weight includes the jockey’s garb and equipment.
Interestingly, there isn’t a maximum height requirement for a jockey, though most of them tend to be short. Most horse jockeys only stand about 5’3″ tall.
Below is a list of the heights of the most well-known jockeys in the sport.
2. A Jockey Can Earn More Than $100,000 Per Year & Is Awarded 10 Percent of the Kentucky Derby Purse if His Horse Wins
Horse jockeys earn fairly generous salaries. Not all jockeys earn six figures but most of them do see approximately $100,000 to $200,000 per year.
And then there are some jockeys who set the standard. The best in the business — especially the ones you will see riding in the Kentucky Derby — have earned millions of dollars over the course of their careers.
Jockeys are paid a “mount fee” for each race that they enter. A typical mount fee could be as low as $40, but for the Kentucky Derby, it is usually above $500.
Some jockeys ride in more than 1,000 races per year so, as you can probably imagine, those mount fees add up.
In addition, horse jockeys earn money when the horses they are riding win. For the Kentucky Derby, for example, jockeys that ride their horses to a top-five finish earn 10 percent of their horse’s total winnings.
Here is a look at the top five earning jockeys of 2019 so far, according to Equibase. You will see most of these guys in today’s Derby.
1. Irad Ortiz, Jr.
2. Javier Castellano
3. Jose L. Ortiz
4. John R. Velazquez
5. Luis Saez
3. A Jockeys Uniform Is Known as a Silk & Is Both Colorful And Aerodynamic
The colorful uniform a horse jockey wears is referred to as a silk or sometimes “colors.” As the name suggests, they were initially made from silk. According to Horseinfo.com, that’s no longer the case.
“Today, more durable and practical fabrics are used instead. These two types of racing colors are known as traditional and stretch. Traditional silks are made of nylon and stretch are made from a swimsuit-type fabric. Most silks makers offer both,” the website’s FAQ reads.
Horse jockeys are often identified by the color or pattern on their uniforms. The jockey wears the colors and patterns associated with the horse’s owner on his silk and on his helmet. If he mounts a horse owned by a different person, he changes his silk.
A jockey’s silk can cost upwards of $150.
4. Joel Rosario Is Riding Game Winner, a Horse That’s Had Excellent Odds all Week
Joel Rosario is riding Derby favorite Game Winner in today’s race. The colt seems ready for today’s race and has plenty of experience — he was undefeated in four starts at age two. The horse is trained by the legendary Bob Baffert.
Rosario, 34, isn’t a stranger to big races and has some pretty impressive wins under his belt. In 2013, he won the Dubai World Cup. Later that year, he won the Kentucky Derby riding Orb to the finish line at Churchill Downs.
“It didn’t take long for Rosario to become one of the top riders in California after arriving from the Dominican Republic in 2006. He grew up on a farm outside of Santo Domingo and decided to be a jockey after attending the races when he was 13. After six months in jockey school, he turned pro at the age of 14. Rosario was the leading rider in the Dominican Republic four times before deciding to test his skills in California,” reads his bio on America’s Best Racing.
In April 2015, Rosario surpassed 2,000 career wins.
5. Mike Smith Won the 2018 Derby Atop Justify & Was the Oldest Jockey in the Field
Mike Smith is one of the best jockeys in horse racing. In 2018, Smith won the Kentucky Derby atop Justify. He was the oldest jockey to take the field, at age 52. Smith went on to ride Justify to a win at the Preakness and then again at the Belmont, securing the elusive Triple Crown.
Smith was teamed up with trainer Bob Baffert in an epic 2018 run.
“In 2017, Smith and Baffert combined talents to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Dubai World Cup with Arrogate. Then they followed that with the Triple Crown tour de force in 2018. In two years, the tandem won what probably are the five biggest races on Earth for United States-based trainers and jockeys,” Yahoo! Sports reports.
This year, Smith made the decision to ride Derby front-runner Omaha Beach, switching things up and parting ways with Baffert, at least for this race. However, Omaha Beach scratched on Wednesday, May 1.