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Why Jockeys Wear Silks and 12 other Horse Jockey Facts.

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During our recent visit to the racetrack, my grandson noticed the jockeys wearing different colored silk shirts than they wore in earlier races. Seeing this prompted him to ask why do jockeys have to wear silks.

Jockeys are required to wear the horse owner’s silks. The horse’s owner registers the silks’ pattern and color with the racing commission at the track. This process ensures the silks are unique and helps identify the horses during the race.

Spectators watch horse racing, and usually, they notice the bright tops jockeys wear but don’t give it much thought. But they should because silks have a fascinating history and can provide some useful information.

Picture of a jockey riding a race horse to the starting gates.

What are silks?

Silks are the jackets jockeys wear when they race. Go to the paddock during your next visit to a race track, and pay attention to the jockeys exiting the changing rooms.

You’ll notice their brightly colored tops; these are the “silks.” A rider will likely wear silks of different colors and patterns for each race. Have you ever wondered why?

Jockey silks were once made of silk because it is so lightweight. However, today, many other materials are available that are also lightweight and much more durable than silk, such as nylon, lycra, and composites of both.

These materials can also be designed to form fit the body, adding an aerodynamic advantage. In horseracing, anything that can help gain a lead is a plus.

Why do jockeys wear silks?

The horse owner chooses the colors and patterns of the silks. Racehorse owners register their silks, which could be a single owner or a syndicate. Silks may be similar; however, no two sets are exactly alike.

The silks style may have meaning to owners, such as a family crest, or the owner liked the design. The jockey club has a silk registry of over 20,000 from all over the world. (Click here to see a silks registration form with examples)

Silks are typically a one-size-fits-all outwear.

Silks for thoroughbred jockeys usually are the same size. They are designed for a jockey to wear over a protective vest and tucked into the jockey’s pants.

However, quarterhorse jockeys and steeplechase riders can vary considerably in size, and silks need to be ordered accordingly.

How much does a set of silks costs?

A standard set of silks cost approximately $200.00, including the helmet cover—the price increases based upon unique material, pattern design, and manufacturer.

Picture of racehorses.

Why do jockeys stand in the stirrups?

When I was recently watching a horserace, I noticed all the jockeys standing in their stirrups at approximately the same time. Their posture made me wonder if a general rule dictates when jockeys stand in their stirrups.

Jockeys stand in the stirrups during a race to increase their chance of winning races. The position they use is called the “monkey crouch.” This position reduces the energy a horse uses to run while carrying the jockeys’ weight.

Since ancient times, horses have raced, but the riders stayed seated in the saddle during the race until relatively recently.

Near the turn of the 20th century, racehorse riders began positioning themselves in a crouched position during the race. The jockeys held their weight in the saddle stirrups.

It dramatically increased the speeds of the racehorses from earlier decades. If you want to learn more about how jockeys can make a horse run faster, I suggest you read my article on the subject.

Jockeys keep their bodies level when standing in the stirrups.

Horses run faster when a jockey is standing in the stirrups. There is less wind drag in a crouching position, but that’s not the main reason for the increase in speed.

London’s Royal Veterinary College analyzed jockeys riding racehorses with sensors to gather information about how riding styles affect speed. Their readings indicate that riders stay relatively level while in a crouched position. (Click here for more information about the study.)

Jockeys keep level by standing in the stirrups; this allows their bodies to remain level and helps the horse run faster. Jockeys expend large amounts of effort to reduce the horse’s burden while holding their bodies off the saddle.

Their legs work as shock absorbers to keep themselves level on a running horse. The horse can spend less energy because it no longer has to lift the rider while striding during a race. The Science blog has a detailed article about this subject; click here to read it.

How much does a jockey earn a year?

I’ve recently noticed many of the racehorses that win large purses are frequently ridden by a select few jockeys. Seeing the same jockey consistently crossing the finish line first made me wonder how much money they earn.

The amount of money jockeys earn per year varies greatly. The elite jockeys can earn seven-digit incomes, while the lower end makes about $30,000.00 per year. Jockeys don’t get paid a salary but rather earn their income from mounting fees and purse percentage.

Owners pay jockeys a mounting fee for riding the horse in a race. He gets this money regardless of where he finishes in the race. Sixty dollars is a standard amount paid for a mounting fee. A jockey can easily ride five horses a day.

Jockeys can kick up their earnings through purse money. The purse is the money paid for a horse finishing the race in a spot that pays. Race tracks usually pay out for finishers of first through fifth place.

The jockey gets a cut of the purse; at most racetracks in the United States, 10 percent is paid to the rider. Of course, the purse size varies depending on the level of the race. (see my article about where the purse money comes from)

Expenses

Jockeys are self-employed and have expenses to pay from their earnings. They provide their equipment, and travel costs and pay a percentage to agents and valets. The fees usually run about 30 percent of revenues.

Who is the highest-paid horse jockey?

Puerto Rican-born John Velazques is the highest-earning jockey of all time. He has won more than 300 million dollars. Along the way, he has won 13 Breeder Cup races and three Triple Crown races.

Why do jockeys wear so many pairs of goggles?

When watching the post-race interview of the Kentucky Derby’s winning jockey, I noticed he had multiple goggles around his neck. Seeing these dirty goggles dangling around his neck made me wonder about their purpose.

Jockeys wear many goggles so they can remove the dirty ones and keep riding with a clean pair. They can wear up to nine pairs of goggles on a real muddy track. A rider who can’t see has little chance of winning a race and is likely to get injured or cause an injury.

Goggles work like windshields on a car except without the wipers. They keep your sightline clear and protected. During a horserace, they get dirty and prevent the jockey from seeing what is happening in front of him.

Why do jockeys talk funny?

Not all but many jockeys talk funny; this is related to their size. More massive drums produce a more resonant bass sound than a smaller snare drum.

Anatomically having a smaller airway space and shorter vocal cords creates a higher-pitched voice. Think of the thinner strings on a guitar or fiddle; they produce the highest sound.

Why do jockeys wear bowties?

The bowtie is not a mandatory piece of riding equipment for a jockey. If a rider elects to wear a bow tie, it will likely match the horse owner’s silks. I guess one could wear it as their fashion statement, but doubtful.

Who is the best jockey of all time?

The best jockey of all time is William Shoemaker. He was born in 1931 and rode his first winner at 18 years old. He rode for 41 years, won 8,883 races, and earned $123,375,524 as a jockey and $3.7 as a trainer.

He won the Belmont five times during his racing career, the Kentucky Derby four times, the Preakness twice, and the Breeder’s Cup Classic.

Picture of our racehorse Mindy with her jockey

What are the requirements to be a racehorse jockey?

Want to be a jockey? Get ready for a lot of hard work and be willing to accept the risk of injury. Most riders started their careers by working for a trainer, cleaning stalls, hot-walking horse, and riding horses in the morning. Even though racing deaths have decreased over the years, jockeys are still at a high risk of being injured.

However, a jockey program is offered in Kentucky at the American Racing Academy. To get accepted, you must have graduated from high school and have experience riding horses. Most states allow an apprenticeship license at 16 years old.

Once you receive your apprenticeship license, the next step is to become a journeyman jockey. To rise to this level, you must meet specific health requirements, take an exam, and have a certain amount of time associated with a stable. Check the rules in your state because the requirements vary by track and state.

Average jockey height and weight

To be successful, a jockey has to be able to maintain a low weight without losing strength. To drop pounds but not power requires dedication and mental toughness.

A jockey controls an animal moving extremely fast while balancing himself; this is a challenging feat to accomplish. Jockeys are small; the average height of jockeys is between 4’10” and 5’’6,” and the average weight of a rider is between 108 and 118 pounds.

The weight, a horse, must carry is assigned for each race. The amount of weight is determined when the conditions of the race are written—usually three days before running.

The few days of notice give the jockeys time to adjust their weight accordingly. Sometimes a jockey will carry extra weight during a race.

Who is the shortest jockey ever?

Surprisingly, the shortest American jockey ever is Julie Krone. She is also in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. She won the Belmont Stakes and became the first female ever to win a Triple Crown race.

The shortest jockey ever in the world was Kenneth Glover of Yorks; he rode as a 15-year-old and stood 4 feet tall.

Who is the tallest jockey?

A few jockeys have been considered the tallest, but one stands above the rest, Manute Bol. He is a 7’7″ former NBA center. He got his license to be a jockey and rode to raise money for charity.

But the tallest person who made a living as a jockey is Stuart Brown. He stood 6’3″ and competed in Australia. Mr. Brown had a successful 20-year career racing horses.

Can a horse win without a jockey?

A horse can not win without a jockey; the rules of horseracing require that a rider must cross the finish line on his horse. The more interesting question is, does the jockey have to be alive when he crosses the finish line.

In the middle of a race, Frank Hayes had a heart attack and died but managed to stay on the horse’s back and cross the finish line. The horse won the race.

Has there ever been a female jockey in the Kentucky Derby?

There have been female jockeys in the Kentucky Derby, and the first was Diane Crump in 1970. She was a trailblazer in the sport of horse racing.

She was the first female jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby. She was also the first female to ride in a sanctioned race. Since Crump shattered the glass ceiling, there have been other female jockeys to ride in the Derby, including Patti Cooksey. 

Ms. Cooksey was the first female to ride in the Preakness Stakes, finishing sixth. Next up was Andrea Seefeldt; she rode in the 1991 Kentucky Derby. The next female jockey to ride in the Derby is Julie Krone.

Ms. Cooksey was the first female to ride in the Preakness Stakes, finishing sixth. Next up was Andrea Seefeldt, who rode in the 1991 Kentucky Derby. The next female jockey to ride in the Derby is Julie Krone.

Julie Krone was not only the third woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby; she was also the first woman to ride in the Derby two times. She rode in 1992 and 1995. In 1993 Julie won the Belmont Stakes making her the first woman to win a Triple Crown race.

Rosemary Homeister rode in the Kentucky Derby in 2003 but is best known as the first female jockey to win the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey. Next up is Rosie Napravnik; she has ridden twice in the Kentucky Derby in 2011 and then again in 2013.

Rosie Napravnik is the most recent and successful woman to ever compete in the Kentucky Derby. Like Krone, Napravnik is famous for competing in the Derby twice (2011 & 2013).

What jockey has won the most Kentucky Derbys?

Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack won the Kentucky Derby five times apiece. But if you look at the percentage, Bill Hartack would take the crown. He rode in the Kentucky Derby 12 times and won 5. It took Eddie Arcaro 21 rides to accomplish five wins.

Whether a horse is good or great can depend on the riding. People agree that it’s essential to have an excellent rider, but they debate how much of a difference a jockey makes.

Why do jockeys weigh in before and after a race?

The horses are assigned a specific amount of weight to carry during a race. Before mounting the horse, the jockey will step on scales with his kit(including the saddle).

If he is lighter than the minimum weight assigned to the horse, a metal weight will be added to comply with the allotted amount. Upon completion of the race, the jockey will step back on the scales with his kit to confirm the weight was correct during the run.

Below is a YouTube video about horse racing jockeys you might enjoy.

FAQs

Can jockeys own racehorses?

No, jockeys are not allowed to own the horse they ride because there is too much gambling money at stake. You wouldn’t want a jockey to have a betting interest in a horse he is riding, and even the appearance of impropriety is avoided.

Do jockeys use their own saddles in horse races?

Yes, jockeys use their own saddles. Some jockeýs have three or four different ones that vary slightly in weight. They may prefer a particular saddle for turf racing over dirt tracks.