They don’t call Jockey Mike Smith “Big Money Mike” for nothing. Smith, at age 52 is one of the oldest jockeys on the circuit — and one of the most successful. Last year, Smith won an astonishing 15 Grade 1 races, the most since he won 20 back in 1994. And, he’s still the “go to” jockey for trainers to ride in the biggest races.
These days he rides for quality, not quantity. While most top jockeys ride between 900 and 1200 horses every year, in 2017 Smith rode just 275 horses. He still hit the top five in earnings for the year; his mounts earned 20.5 million.
So, just how much does the jockey take home from the purse?
In the Kentucky Derby, the total purse was $2 Million, divided among the top 5 finishers. The owners of the winning horse owner takes home 62 percent of the purse, or $1.24 million. As the jockey, Smith gets 10 percent of that, or $124,000. After paying his agent and valet, Smith probably took home about $100,000. Good Magic took home $400,000 and his jockey got 5% of the winnings ($20,000); Audible, who came in third, won $200,000. His jockey took home $10,000. The rest of the jockeys? Not so much. Jockeys are typically paid only $100 or so to ride in a race.
The Preakness and the Belmont Stakes each have a purse of $1.5 million. The winning horse, Justify, took home $900,000 –meaning that Smith took home $90,000. Bravazo won $300,000 and Tenfold won $165,000.
To put this into perspective, only 2% of racehorses earn more than $100,000. According to The Economics of Owning a Racehorse in New York, the expected gross earnings for a typical journeyman horse is no more than $33,000 a year. As my own personal point of reference, Freedom ran 29 races and earned $70,010. That makes him an above average racehorse.
So, back to Mike Smith’s talent
Let’s watch Smith ride — not in his two most recent races, where he and Justify made it look pretty easy (although Smith did an excellent job of riding Justify). But take a look at how he guided Arrogate to victory in the Dubai World Cup last year. A stumble out of the gate put him dead last. Smith sat chill and waited for the right time to make his bid, storming to the front in the home stretch. That’s a jockey who earned his ten percent.