This Saturday, 600 million viewers are expected to tune in to watch The Grand National. Horse racing is the second biggest spectator sport in the UK, and Aintree’s most famous race – in fact, Britain’s most famous race – will be screened in every corner of the globe. £300 million of bets will be placed on the race, and thousands of office sweepstakes organised.
What about the jockeys riding round the course? It’s safe to say that being a jump jockey is one of the most dangerous jobs – or certainly one of the most injury-prone jobs – out there. Just look at the fact that Bryony Frost – the star of the Cheltenham Festival who became the first woman to win a Group One race over jumps at the meeting – is currently out of action, after breaking her collarbone the week after Cheltenham. She’s far from being the only one. In his 23 year career, AP McCoy rode 4,357 winners, broke 13 bones including vertebrae, chipped 14 teeth and fell off over 1,000 times. Surely that must be worth a decent salary?
Well the truth is that the jockeys you see stepping into the parade ring at Aintree tomorrow earn very little for flinging themselves over Bechers Brook. Jump jockeys earn a set fee of £164.74 per ride. For flat jockeys, it’s only £120.66. If you had rides in 5 races on a race day, you would make £824 in a day, but there are a lot of expenses to take out of that. A jockey has to pay their agent who ‘booked’ their ride, pay the valet who sorts out their kit, as well as a percentage to the professional jockey’s union, insurance and so on. If you win then yes, you get a share of the prize money (between 7-9%). Tomorrow's Grand National has a first prize of £561k, so the winning jockey could be around £50,000 up. But in a race like the Grand National where there will be 40 starters, the majority of jockeys will be earning just £164. Alright, you might say it’s not bad for ten or so minutes of riding, but it’s not as if they can earn that for a twelve-hour day. All in all, the average salary of a professional jockey is around £26,000.
These are top sportsmen (and women), but compare their salaries to those of Harry Kane and Aguerro and they earn a pittance. Alright, so footballer’s might be paid ridiculous amounts; but even a professional darts player is on an average of £52k per year (and the danger factor is negligible), while a rugby league player is on an average of £70k a year. Of course, some jockeys do very well for themselves, with good sponsorship and contracts with top trainers. But very few of them do the job for the money.