One of the beauties of flat racing in Britain is the wide variety of events on offer, with all abilities and distance preferences catered for. The vast majority of these race types are framed around the varying quality and experience of the horses themselves, but there are other contests in which the classification refers to the human, rather than the equine, participant in the race, in other words: the jockey.
Horseracing in the UK and Ireland features events restricted to female riders, in addition to the occasional celebrity jockey or “legends” races, but by far the most common of these jockey-specific events is that of the apprentice race. A feature on many a race card over the course of the season, here we take a closer look at what is one of the most important race types for the up and coming riders in the game.
What Is an Apprentice Jockey?
Many race type titles are fairly self-explanatory, and there’s certainly no prizes for guessing that apprentice races are in fact races restricted to horses ridden by apprentice jockeys. But, how exactly is an apprentice jockey defined?
In racing – as in many walks of life – the term apprentice refers to an individual who is still learning their trade, and not yet qualified to join the ranks of the professionals. In order to obtain an Apprentice Jockeys Licence, riders must be between 16 and 26 years of age, and in the full-time paid employment of a licensed racehorse trainer based in the UK or Ireland.
This Apprentice Jockeys Licence allows the holder to compete, not only in races against their fellow apprentice riders, but also in standard contests featuring professional jockeys. In order to compensate for their relative lack of experience, apprentice jockeys are afforded a weight allowance when competing against the professionals.
This allowance permits an apprentice to remove a specified amount of weight from that which is assigned to be carried by a horse in a given race. The system used is related to the number of previous wins recorded by an apprentice, and operates on a sliding scale as follows:
- Fewer than 20 wins = 7lb allowance; i.e. a runner assigned to carry 9st7lb would only be required to carry 9st if ridden by an apprentice with a 7lb allowance
- 20-49 wins = 5lb allowance
- 50-94 wins = 3lb allowance
Upon riding their 95th winner, apprentice jockeys will no longer be entitled to claim any weight allowance. This is often referred to as a rider having “ridden out their claim” or “lost their claim”.
In addition to levelling the playing field against the professionals, these weight allowances also act as an incentive for owners and trainers to call upon the services of an apprentice jockey, thus handing these fledgling riders valuable experience, and helping to maintain a steady flow of new talent into the professional ranks.
Particularly talented apprentice jockeys often aren’t too far behind the professionals in terms of ability, and as such, are regularly in high demand. It is certainly worth keeping an eye on the better apprentice riders, with the weight allowance they receive potentially representing the difference between victory and defeat in what are often very tight races.
Apprentice Jockey Races
As mentioned, apprentice races are quite simply contests in which each runner must be ridden by an apprentice jockey. The most important aspect to note is that, unlike when competing against the professional jockeys, apprentice riders may not claim their allowance when lining up against their fellow apprentices; a rule which applies to all allowances, be they three pounds, five pounds or seven pounds.
Apprentice jockey races can, in theory, take place under any conditions, but in reality the vast majority of such events are handicap affairs, generally operating around the mid to lower levels of the class spectrum.
“Hands and Heels”
One final thing to be aware of when it comes to this type of race is that apprentice jockey events may have additional conditions attached. One example of this being the BHA’s “Hands and Heels” series of races which prohibits the use of the whip – except if being utilised for safety reasons. This initiative aims to assist with the education of the riders in terms of horsemanship and tactical judgement, without simply resorting to the whip.
Champion Apprentice Jockeys
The apprentice jockey sphere can be just as competitive as the professional ranks, as the latest batch of up and coming riders strive to stand out from the crowd. Of course the best way to do that is by winning races, and each year the apprentice with the most wins is awarded the apprentice jockeys championship – a title which has been claimed by some pretty big names in the past, as outlined in the table below.
Champion Apprentice Jockeys
|1950 & 51||Lester Piggott||30 Classic wins and 11-time Champion Jockey|
|1952 & 53||Joe Mercer||Champion jockey and eight Classic wins.|
|1957||Greville Starkey||1989 career wins, including five Classics.|
|1971||Pat Eddery||14 Classic wins and 11-time Champion Jockey.|
|1989||Frankie Dettori||3-time Champion Jockey and over 500 Group race wins.|
|2003||Ryan Moore||3-time Champion Jockey and 12 Classic wins.|
|2004||Tom Queally||The rider of Frankel for all 14 of his career wins.|