What Does it Take to Become a Champion Jockey?

By  //  March 14, 2023

When you ask most people growing up what they’d like to be when they’re older, the most common answer is a sportsperson.

The most generic responses will be NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB or soccer player, and perhaps even more specific answers like a professional tennis or golf player.

Not many people would say a jockey, but it can be one of the most lucrative and arguably most demanding sports to compete in.
Unlike the NFL and NBA where size is an advantage, being a jockey is a sport designed for smaller athletes to thrive. However, it does not mean that it requires any less dedication than those operating in the NFL, NBA, and the soccer field. Here are the top attributes that are necessary to become a top jockey that could compete in the Kentucky Derby, Cheltenham Festival or Dubai World Cup.

Size and Weight

It does not matter whether you’re one of the leading competitors in the Cheltenham top jockey odds or Florida’s own Tyler Gaffalione, who won the 2022 Florida Derby – you need to have the right size to be a jockey.

The smaller the better, but the average height for a jockey is about 5ft 6in. Size is important to reduce surface area, allowing the least path of resistance for both horse and jockey around the track. Weight is even more important to ease the load on the horse.

The lighter the jockey, the faster the horse will run around the track. It is not an easy task for jockeys to provide the balance of remaining physically fit, while not being too heavy that it causes them to slow their charge. Jockeys have to know their bodies to the fine detail to know what they can eat and how much they need to exercise to maintain a constant weight. Owners and trainers demand that level of expertise and control to ensure that the performance of both horse and jockey is at an optimum level on race day.

Horsemanship and Instincts

You have to be an outstanding horse rider to become a top jockey, but you have to love horses because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with them during your career on a daily basis. However, there is a lot more to horsemanship than just affection, you have to be able to understand the nuances of your charge to know when they’re ailing on the track or when they need a little bit of encouragement to squeeze an extra yard of pace down the stretch to secure that win.

The best jockeys are in tune with the requirements of their horse and also have great instincts on the track. Horse racing can be a tactical battle just as much as a physical one for the horses. Being able to put your horse in the best position to succeed can make the difference between winning and losing. It separates champion jockeys from the rest of the field.

Stamina and Mental Strength

The best jockeys have to be able to keep themselves fit and healthy for a full docket of races. Jockeys could be required to compete in a full slate of contests on a race day, which could be as many as seven races. Maintaining concentration can be extremely difficult given the rigors of a race where the slightest of mistakes could be costly.

Jockeys not only require the stamina to remain at their physical peak throughout the day but also be at their mental best to overcome errors and keep focused on the task at hand, especially when the turnaround between races can be a matter of minutes. It takes a special athlete to cope with the demands of horse racing.