Monday, December 09, 2013
For Jockeys, More Pie … But None of the Weight Gain!
Javier Castellano is going for it and he’ll get it. What he’s going for, inflated a record as it is (look no farther than Curlin), is the earnings record previously held by the great Ramon Dominguez.
Castellano vies for his third straight Gulfstream riding title and, with 24 days remaining in 2013, Castellano needs just $8,850—a KIA—to surpass Dominguez’ mark of $25,634,852.
At a 10 percent commission, Castellano has earned $2.5 million. He’s made most of that in New York, where the taxes are noticeably high. He’s also made a chunk of that in Florida, so he makes out all right, one would presume. I can’t help but think that he, and every other jockey in the country, are grossly underpaid. Trainers too.
The thing with trainers, many of them own shares in horses they train, so in addition to their 10 percent purse cut, they get an owner’s share too. Often, this comes in lieu of "day money," but bettors would not be aware of any of this since trainers also can use stable names, creating the illusion of training for an outside client. But, hey, when in Rome...
Jockeys are beholden to 10 percent, take it or leave it, although some earn "outside fees," courtesy of deep pocketed owners who can afford to pay for the privilege. Castellano’s $2.5 million will be tops for a North American jockey, an athlete who works all year with little time off. A jockey’s vacation is a euphemism for injuries. John Velazquez and Calvin Borel are on vacation as we speak. Enjoy the Mai Tais.
Riding is the risk jockeys take and with no job security. As Velazquez painfully found out on Breeders’ Cup Saturday, the races go on and the cash goes elsewhere.
The once-mighty Albert Pujols made $16,000,000 (the zeroes give these numbers more impact, in my opinion) in 2013. Over a 162-game season, that’s $98,765.43 per game. But he played only 99 yet still earned the same salary for $161,616.16 per game. Velazquez didn’t make a dime the rest of Breeders’ Cup day. Watching Wise Dan romp in a $2 million-race is an onion in the ointment.
Baseball players play from March and, if they’re on a competitive team, through October. Eight months on the high end, seven months on the low. Four to five months a year left to stay in shape, play some golf, decompress.
Jockeys don't have this luxury. The $25 million in purses Castellano earned is the upper end, making his cut laughably small as the top earner in a sport that's as dangerous as it is demanding.
Jockey haters will say, ‘This is what they signed up for!’ ‘They make plenty of money!’ But not really. A jockey at the top of his game can only earn $2.5 million? This is an insult.
The best jockeys should make no fewer than $5 million and the only way to do so is to bump up their pay and give them a fraction of the pot that reflects the immense risk they incur. A bump in pay to 15 percent is a 50 percent increase, but I’d take it, at the very least, a step farther to 20 percent—a full 100 percent bump in pay. In exchange, maybe they could then afford to pay for the own health insurance without industry help.
Castellano has had a relatively injury-free year, a good year by any standard, a condition that grants Castellano dual citizenship on Earth and Krypton. According to Equibase, he has 1,551 starts thus far. That’s $16,522 per mount, but even that is misleading since he only gets paid when he finishes in money positions.
On paper, you see these jockey earnings and it so desperately skews what they earn, think nothing of taxes and dues they pay to the Disabled Jockeys Fund. And lop about 25% off the top that goes to the agents that book their mounts.
Joel Rosario has earned $21,094,576 to date, making him the only other rider to reach the $20 million plateau this year.
If we’re being honest, 20 percent is still a bargain to watch these risk takers hop aboard swift horses, sometimes lame horses, running through mud, rain, snow and wind. More often than anyone cares to talk about, they get thrown, trampled, lose organs, faculties and, sometimes, eve their lives. All that for 10 percent of a winner's share?
Owners won't like the idea of sharing more of the purse with their riders. Of course, they could always take the reins themselves.