Salary statistics for jockeys can be very deceptive. While the top jockeys on the top horses in the big races can earn millions, the vast majority of jockeys make very little and receive meagre benefits, if any at all. What's more, they are not eligible for workers' compensation insurance in most states. Only New York, New Jersey, Maryland and California give jockeys protection under workers' compensation laws. The working conditions for jockeys has been a matter of controversy for decades.
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Jockeys are independent contractors and as such, they don't receive a regular salary or benefits. They get what they call a "mount fee," which they receive regardless of how their horse performs. For the premier races, such as the Kentucky Derby, the mount fee is 100 dollars. Mount fees for typical races range from 35 to 55 dollars. Out of this amount the jockey gives between 25 and 30 per cent to his agent and 5 to 10 per cent to his valet. Then he must pay his insurance and union dues. The non-winning jockey therefore nets about 50 dollars for a premier race and between 12 and 25 dollars for typical races. Jockeys that place first, second or third get a share of the winnings.
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The top 100 jockeys get about 57 per cent of all the money paid annually to jockeys. In 2011, the top 10 jockeys earned between 4 and 8 million dollars each. The top 10 earning jockeys riding in quarter horse races earned between $300,000 and just under $1 million. These are gross figures that do not include expenses incurred, insurance, union dues or the percentages the jockeys paid out to their agents and valets. As independent contractors all travel and equipment expenses are borne by the jockeys.
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The gross annual earnings for jockeys average between $15,750 to $22,000. The median is $18,500 per year. There are many more jockeys that live below the federal poverty level than there are those who earn six-figure incomes or higher. Those who exercise the horses -- and even those who take the horses to the gate -- can be higher paid than the jockeys.
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While many racetracks carry accident insurance that covers jockeys, the coverage is minimal. For the most part, the cost of accident and health care insurance falls on the jockeys and so must be considered when calculating a jockey's net annual income. Jockeys have a 60 per cent chance of getting injured per year. Jockeys who have 100 or more rides per year have a better than 1-in-20 chance of serious injury during a year. Successful jockeys participate in over 1,000 races annually. Between 60 and 80 jockeys are temporarily disabled each year and about two are killed each year in track accidents. The Jockeys' Guild discontinued health care insurance plans for their members in 2007.