Next year Lewis Hamilton could have been the first sportsman in history to earn in excess of one BILLION dollars as arguably the best formula one driver in the world. Yet this year, the title of best jockey in UK horse racing was shared by two men, and together received a penny in recognition. So what drives a jockey to win the jockey championship?
The answer is simple – PRIDE
In taking the Open Golf Championship this year Padraig Harrington pocked GBP750,000. Not bad for four days work. Roger Federer had to put in a bit more effort to claim the men's Wimbledon title, a whole two weeks in fact. But he was rewarded handsomely with a check for GBP700,000.
Jamie Spencer and seb Sanders shared the Champion Jockey title, both having scored the same number of wins during the season. Yet the reward for success from the sponsors was just £ 10 per win (around GBP2,000) which was all donated to charity.
The UK horse racing Flat Season lasts for eight months and ends in mid-November. Between them, Jamie Spencer and Seb Sanders notched up more than 2,000 rides. That equates to an average of more than four rides, every single day, for eight months. Take out the occasional 'day off', days when injury put them on the sidelines, and days due due to suspension, and it is clear the amount of dedication required of a jockey to win the title.
But it goes a lot deeper than riding in a lot of races. The everyday life of a horse racing jockey is incredibly grueling. We often hear about the top-flight horsemen such as Frankie Dettori, Mick Kinane, and Kieron Fallon, flying all over the world to compete in some of the richest horse races on the planet. This glamorous picture of life in the saddle is but one side of the coin.
On the other side you have jockeys such as Spencer and Sanders, plus many, many more who make their living steering thoroughbreds around the race courses of the UK.
A typical day for a jockey will start at first light with riding work on the training gallops. Then it is off to whiche race course is staging a meeting that day. And in the UK that meeting could be anywhere from Exeter and Bath in the South of the country, to Perth and Musselburgh in Scotland.
Nowadays horse racing tales place pretty much every day of the year, with only a few exceptions. Flood-lit all-weather tracks also means racing in the evening. It is not uncommon for a jockey to compete on the turf during the afternoon, then dash up the motorway to an evening meeting on the artificial surfaces of Wolverhampton or Kempton. Often the last race in the evening might be as late as 9:30 pm. Then the jockeys must weigh-in, and attend any presentations if successful, before changing out of their riding silks and making their way home. It is not unusual for a jockey to be arriving back home in the early hours of the morning, and setting the alarm clock for 6am to start all over again.
Approaching the climax of the season, one particular day Jamie Spencer drove from his home in Newmarket to London for a hearing at the Jockey Club, then flew to Scotland for racing at Musselburgh, then back to Wolverhampton for the evening meeting which ended with the 9 : 20pm race, before finally returning to Newmarket. A round trip of some 900 miles. A few jockeys have the luxury of drivers and private flights paid-for by owners. But the majority of journeymen riders have to make-do with car-sharing and endless miles up and down the motorway.
And then there is the challenge of the jockeys' diet. Everybody knows that jockeys have to maintain feather-weight proportions. They achieve this by surviving on a meagre diet of boiled fish or chicken, and a few cups of tea without milk.
The biggest danger of following such a restrictive diet in pursuit of success, is that of de-hydration. In a bid to avoid taking on extra weight, a jockey will drink less, especially during the course of a race day afternoon. And if he needs to shed a few pounds he will sit in a sauna and sweat the weight. The effect of de-hydration can be loss of concentration and even fainting.
People may think that riding a race horse is little more than pointing him in the right direction and kicking him in the belly to get him going. Nothing could be further from the truth. Highly-strung thoroughbreds need little encouragement to run at full tilt, and in fact most need restraining during the early part of a race. It takes considerable strength and power to control half a ton of muscular animal traveling at 30 miles per hour. Equally, it takes physical effort to drive a horse out to the line in a close finish. All this on boiled chicken and tea!
Returning to the original question, of why jockeys will put themselves through this arduous routine?
"It's all about the prestige that comes with claiming the title." Explains British Horse Racing Authority spokesman Lucy Watson.
The names on the Trophy include many of the Racing Greats – names such as Gordon Richards, Lester Piggott, Willie Carson, Pat Eddery, Kieron Fallon, and Frankie Dettori. To have your name engraved alongside their 'heroes' is what drives people like Sanders and Spencer.
The top jockeys get paid for each ride – a fee of £ 125.94 from the owner. In addition they will normally receive 10 per cent of any prize money. Jamie Spencer has wins to his name in excess of GBP2million this season and will earn around GBP200,000 through prize money alone. But then Spencer is Champion Jockey and trainers and owners alike all clamour to book him to ride their horses. He does not find it difficult to get rides on the very best horses. It is something of a self-perpetuating upward spiral. If you are good, you get to ride the horses with the best chance of winning, and you win more races.
But as you might imagine, it works the other way too. Spare a thought for the other jockeys that make up the numbers in each and every race. They often have to take whatever rides they can, on horses not likely to win, at courses all around the country, and shouldering all the inherent traveling expenses. All in the spirit of this great Sport Of Kings.