Amateur horse racing in Britain and Ireland has provided lots of opportunities down the years for non-professional jockeys in both the National Hunt and flat spheres. Trainers have also had the opportunity to land some big wins despite not being licenced professionals.
Amateur races, as well as conditional and apprentice races, take place across both codes regularly with the jockeys in particular grateful for the chances they provide in order for them to gain experience of race riding on a proper race track.
Who Can Enter Amateur Races?
Only those jockeys not licenced by the BHA in Britain or the HRI in Ireland may enter an amateur race. Naturally this is done so that there can be no undue advantage given to a particular jockey in a race.
The amateur status applies to the jockey, or in some cases the trainer only and not to the horse which may well have raced numerous times in professional races.
The same can be said for conditional and apprentice events. Over the jumps, conditional jockeys lack experience and in some cases are still claiming weight owing to that lack of experience. To ensure enough opportunities are given to such jockeys, many conditional jockeys’ races take place throughout the season.
Their equivalent on the flat are the apprentice jockeys. Again, there is a whole apprentice series of races and an apprentice jockeys’ championship which is taken very seriously, having been won down the years by many riders who have gone on to become top-class professionals.
When Is a Jockey Considered Professional?
All jockeys, including conditional and apprentice jockeys, have to be licenced first. When their licence has been given, these jockeys ride under a 7lb claim. This means that, owing to their inexperience, a further 7lbs is taken off the advertised weight the horse carries.
Doing this means that not only does the horse being ridden by an apprentice or conditional jockey not receive a disadvantage, but also it means that riders are afforded opportunities by trainers regardless of them having not ridden a winner yet which helps to always keep the next generation of jockeys coming through.
When conditionals and apprentices ride a certain number of winners, their claim drops. This happens until eventually they have no weight allowance left at all, and at that point they are considered to be bona fide professional jockeys.
Conditional Jockey Weight Allowances (jumps)
- 0-19 winners – 7lbs
- 20-39 winners – 5lbs
- 40-74 winners – 3lbs
- 75 winners+ – 0lbs
Apprentice Jockey Weight Allowances (flat)
- 0-19 winners – 7lbs
- 20-49 winners – 5lbs
- 50-94 winners – 3lbs
- 95 winners+ – 0lbs
It’s easy to spot when a rider still has a claim, as a (7), (5) or (3) will be printed next to their name on the race card. These claims change in conditional or apprentice-only races, where some such jockeys will not have any allowance at all.
Are There Other Races Non-Professionals Can Enter?
To gain the requisite experience, conditional and apprentice jockeys are allowed to compete in professional races with their claim intact.
While there is some risk involved for the trainer, not in terms of safety but in terms of their horse not being given perhaps the best ride possible, handlers still offer these jockeys plenty of opportunities as it is felt that because of their claim their horse may actually have a better chance of winning off a slightly lighter weight.
Biggest Amateur Races
On the National Hunt scene there are many opportunities for purely amateur riders, regardless of age and experience. Point-to-point races for example are exclusively for amateur jockeys with no professional licence-holders allowed.
This spills over onto rules racing occasionally too. The biggest of all is the National Hunt Challenge Cup at Cheltenham.
A Grade 2 race, the National Hunt Cup is a big event and is run during the Cheltenham Festival in March. The race is only open to amateur riders and is for novice chasers, staged over 3 miles and 6 furlongs of the Old Course with prize money topping £50,000 for the winner.