Skip to Content

How Jockeys Choose the Horse They Ride: All You Need to Know

Any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks in advance – I really appreciate it!


If you have ever been to a racetrack, you’ve likely noticed that jockeys ride multiple horses. Have you ever wondered how they choose which horse to ride?

A jockey is booked to ride a horse by his agent. The booking requires the agreement of the owner and trainer of the racehorse. The jockey is not the sole decision-maker over which horse he rides. However, good riders are sought after and often can pick their horse.

Deciding what jockey to ride a horse is a critical decision and will affect the outcome of a race. Making the right choice requires considering many factors.

Jockey agents are instrumental in matching a horse with a jockey

When we bought our first racehorse, we hoped one of the top jockeys would ride our horse. We were familiar with the riders and gave our trainer the name of our first choice to ride our horse. But choosing a jockey isn’t up to the owner alone.

Picture of a jockey on a chestnut racehorse

Two teams are working together to get a jockey on a horse. On one side, you have the horse trainer and owner, on the other side of the equation, you have the jockey agent and the jockey. They both have the same goal, to win their race.

Jockey agents work for jockeys and paid a percentage of their riders’ winnings. Many jockey agents represent more than one jockey. The agent serves a valuable role in the life of a jockey.

Jockey agents are paid a percentage of the jockeys’ fee.

The primary function of a jockey agent is to book their jockey on horses that give them the best chance to win races. A successful agent must have good people skills and be able to choose horses wisely.

They must also have good horse racing sense. Many agents advise jockeys on the particulars of the horses’ running style and what they believe is a successful strategy to win the race.

The jockey agent is a horse scout who wakes up early to attend morning workouts. He uses this time to evaluate horses and forge relationships with horse owners and trainers. Agents earn when their jockeys win, so they need their rider on good horses.

It’s critical that a horse fits a jockeys’ riding style.

Owners and trainers want to best jockey to ride their horse. The process of choosing a rider begins with the distribution of the tracks condition book.

The condition book list all the races scheduled for a certain period, commonly covering a two-week session. It’s typically released two or three weeks before the race. You can click here to see an example.

With the condition book in hand, the jockey agent begins his work. He will study the book looking for races to get his jockey mounts. He then starts making calls to trainers and owners, asking about available rides, if they agree then the jockey is booked for that horse.

Horse trainers know all the riders and their tendencies. They often have a favorite jockey for a particular horse or distance. In a condition book, there may be a race in which several trainers may want the same jockey in the same race.

A Jockey can change horses before a race.

The agent must try to keep all parties happy; now is the time for diplomacy by the jockey agent. Of course, he wants to place his jockey on the best horse, but he doesn’t want to burn bridges with a stable he may need in the future. It is a dilemma often faced by agents and jockeys.

A jockey can always switch horses before the race if a better mount becomes available. Changing horses before a race is not unheard of but doesn’t happen often. Jockeys and their agent don’t want to spoil their reputation for one payday.

A Jockey can improve the racehorses’ chance of winning.

Of course, asking if jockeys matter in horse races is like asking if Tom Brady matters to the Patriots. The Patriots team may be okay without Tom Brady, but they are so much better because he was their quarterback.

Jockeys have to be smart, athletic, and fearless. They must know their horse and the competition. They learn the tendencies of the horses and can make adjustments within split seconds.

Good jockeys know when to ask their horse to try a little harder or to let him settle into a nice pace. If a hole opens between horses, they are not afraid to thread between the pack. Jockeys do all this while balancing on with their toes on the back of an 1100 pound horse running 40 mph.

There are plenty of good jockeys around the country, and little separates the good from the elite. Every hundredth of a second matter in a horse race and a rider could make the difference between winning and running second.

Jerry Bailey has replaced jockeys and turned also-rans into winners. The only change was the jockey. To read how jockeys influence a horses’ speed read this article.

Picture of jockeys,

Jockeys typically ride their horses prior to a race.

If a jockey rides or decides not to ride a horse before a race depends on the class of race and the experience of the jockey. If the race is a cheap claiming race, it is unlikely that an accomplished jockey has previously ridden the horse.

However, younger riders without many mounts will likely ride the horse during its morning workouts. Sometimes jockeys have relationships with trainers and exercise all their horses. In this case, he has probably ridden all the race-ready horses in the trainers’ barn.

Horses’ entered into an allowance or stakes races are commonly ridden by their race day jockey for their official workouts. These rides during workouts give the rider a feel for the horse before the race.

A good jockey rides in seven or eight horseraces per day.

Jockeys make their money from a percentage of the purse. To earn a decent living, they have to ride as many horses as possible. Riders receive a small mount fee, commonly $50.00. The bulk of their earnings comes from the purse.

Jockeys are paid 10% of the purse money the owner of the horse wins. The average jockey earns about $40,000 per year. From their earnings, they pay expenses.

Their agent, and valet, both of whom are paid about ten percent of the jockey’s earnings. In addition to the payout to the agent and valet, they have to pay travel and other expenses.

Being a jockey is hard work, and the pay is minimal for most. It is time that the racing industry took steps to increase the wages of jockeys.

Jockeys are athletes.

Jockeys maintain their bodies in peak form with vigorous exercise and a strict diet. If they have to drop a small amount of weight, they can without losing strength.

In preparation for a specific race, jockeys study their horses’ past performances and may ride the horse during the morning workouts. Riding in the mornings gives horse and rider a feel for each other.

Jockeys study the opposition as well. They try to learn the tendencies of the other horses in the race as well as their riders. Right before a race, the jockeys get dressed in the proper colors for their horse. All jockeys are weighed with their tack before heading out to the paddock for mounting.

Below is a YouTube video that explains how jockeys are matched with horses.

Related articles: