While there is no argument whether jockeys are an integral and essential part of the horse racing world, it is surprising how easily the jockey is ignored in comparison to race horses, trainers and even owners. There are a number of jockeys celebrated for their fantastic track records, but still the efforts involved in reaching their performance levels simply don't seem to make is on the topic list.
The level of commitment required to achieve success as a professional jockey is rarely discussed; although, under closer examination, there is no participation party on the track which operates with a deeper passion for the sport or practises greater self-discipline and occasionally self-deprivation.
As an apprentice jockey, the prospective riders essentially abandon any aspect of their lives not connected to horse racing. The average apprentice will rise before dawn to maintain the training stables and spend the day grooming, walking, exercising and feeding the horses - racing practise takes up a surprisingly small portion of their day.
It is a common but incorrect assumption that the profession of jockeying requires nothing but a natural talent for horse riding - and perhaps a love of speed coupled with certain fearlessness. In fact, being a jockey entails a lot more than simply riding in races. Jockeys have to gather a deep understanding of their equine counterparts during their apprentice years. They have to be able to read their mounts as well as the runners surrounding them in a race situation. A good jockey is able to pick up on any change in his horse within a split second, be it a physical change like a sudden injury or a mental change such as the horse getting frightened during a race.
It is the jockey who reports back to trainers, stewards and owners after the race; analysing the race in general and the behaviour of the race horse in particular. The future training techniques used on specific horses is often closely connected with these after race reports.
Furthermore it is the jockey's responsibility to saddle, prepare and warm up the horse prior to a race, as well as looking after his or her own equipment.
Unless a jockey is taken on as a regular rider, a so-called stable jockey, by a trainer or owner - being 'maintained' - they operate as freelance athletes. This means that the number of rides a jockey is booked for can vary widely, especially in the off-season for the jockey's main style of riding. Considering this alone will disperse all illusions that jockeys are entering their profession with the prime agenda to make money.
However, if this is not enough, it helps to understand the fairly low pay a freelance jockey can expect. While all trainers/owners will pay their jockeys a mounting fee, these fees are barely enough to cover the riders' travelling costs to the racetrack and back. Only in the event of riding a winning race does being a jockey pay off, as the rider will be paid a percentage of the horse's winnings.
However, unless a jockey manages to gain a reputation of true greatness it is unlikely that this choice of profession will make you rich.
One rider whose fame has truly withstood the test of time is the spectacular Lester Piggott. To this day, Piggott is considered the greatest English flat racing jockey of all time. Throughout his almost forty year career, this outstanding athlete won 4,493 races - including nine Coronation Cup wins and ten wins in the July Cup. Piggott's credibility as a rider was such that bettors placed wagers based on his ability rather than that of the horse he was riding, mostly with great success.
More recent legends of the jockeying profession include national hunt jockey Rupert 'Ruby' Walsh and flat racing jockey Tony McCoy. Both men stand for flawless technique, outstanding intuition and the ability to get the best from any horse they chose to mount. .
Of course the celebrity jockey is very much the exception to the rule; however, as the passion for the sport outweighs the material rewards, every jockey is truly a legend in his or her own right.