One of the things that makes horse racing brilliant is its diversity. As well as racing taking place over a range of distances on various track types, the people who make up the sport are also very different. One such example is the amateur jockey.
In Flat racing, professionals and apprentices can compete while over jumps these are called professional and conditional jockeys.
The extra criteria in National Hunt racing is the amateur jockey, a whole separate category of rider able to race only against follow amateurs.
The basic premise is that an amateur race is a horse racing event in which only amateur jockeys can ride.
The rest of the rules of racing are the same; amateur races feature the same professionally-trained horses usually ridden by licenced jockeys, over the same distances and at the same professional meetings including at Cheltenham.
To understand more about what constitutes an amateur, we’ll compare them to the other jockey classifications in British and Irish racing:
- Professional Jockeys. A jockey licenced by the BHA having ridden enough winners to have turned professional. Such jockeys command riding fees and/or retainers from owners or trainers. You can assume that if there is no letter or number after a jockey’s name, they are professional.
- Apprentice and Conditional Jockeys. The difference in title simply depends upon what sphere the less experienced rider takes part in; apprentices ride on the Flat and conditionals over jumps. Such jockeys are aged 16-26 and are employed by a trainer. Weight allowances are claimed based on how many winners apprentices and conditionals have ridden.
- AMATEUR JOCKEYS. As you’d expect and in line with any other sport, an amateur jockey is a rider who is not paid for their services. For some riders, remaining at amateur level is about simply riding in the sport from time to time, often for family members, while for others it is seen as a good way to becoming a full-time, licenced race rider.
What is well known within the sport but perhaps not to beginners, is that in horse racing terms the title of amateur isn’t synonymous with being second-rate or having significantly less ability.
In the case of racing, many jockeys simply prefer for their own reasons to remain as amateurs and are very fine riders indeed. Cheltenham Festival races and Grand Nationals have been taken by amateurs many times in the past.
Identifying Amateur Jockeys on a Racecard
While no professional can compete in an amateur race, for obvious reasons, amateur riders are allowed to race against fully fledged professionals. The same can be said for apprentices and conditionals.
On the racecard, an apprentice or conditional rider can be identified by their claim. If such a jockey is currently claiming 5lbs in weight for lack of experienced, then the symbol (5) will appear by their name.
Occasionally, a simple (a) will be listed next to a jockey’s name to denote amateur. The most recognised way to identify an amateur rider however is by their title being used.
Pro jockeys are simply listed on the card using their name, i.e., Frankie Dettori or William Buick, but amateurs are given their title too such as Mr Derek O’Connor.
You can see the first few jockeys listed on an amateur race result from Naas in the image on the right.
Mr Pat Taaffe here has a ‘7’ next to his name, indicating that he is claiming 7lbs as a weight allowance. On racecards then, you will always see a title such as Mr, Mrs or Miss to show the jockey is an amateur and a weight allowance will always be highlighted.
Going From Amateur to Professional
In truth, very few jockeys go from amateur rider status to professional. Those becoming professional jockeys usually begin as apprentices and conditionals while amateur riders tend to have careers away from riding and do it simply for the love of the sport.
To become a recognised amateur rider and be allowed to compete against professionals, jockeys must become a member of the Amateur Jockeys Association. An Amateur Riders Permit must also be gained from the BHA.
The permit is awarded once riders have attended a two-day training seminar and assessment course and completed a full fitness test. One the criteria is met, Category A licences (amateur races only) or Category B licences (to ride against amateurs and pros) can be granted.
Turning pro means riding a certain number of winners on the track. Jump jockeys must ride 75 winners before they are considered professional, while Flat jockeys must ride 95 before getting a full professional licence.