The majority of National Hunt race types are defined by rules concerning what sorts of horses are permitted to enter – juvenile and novice events for example – or factors determining the weights to be carried by the performers i.e. handicap or non-handicap events. However, there is also a further category of race which is defined not by the types of horse allowed to run, but instead by the jockey’s eligible to take their place in the saddle.
A feature on many race cards over the course of the season, including those at the big spring festivals, these Conditional Jockey or Conditional Rider races are a regular part of the racing programme. But what exactly are they?
What Is a Conditional Jockey?
As the race title would suggest, “Conditional Jockey” races are events restricted to conditional jockeys only. The obvious place to start is therefore to explain what a conditional jockey is. Simply put, conditional jockeys are younger, more inexperienced riders who are still learning their trade – the equivalent of an apprentice jockey in the flat racing sphere.
National Hunt Conditional Jockey Criteria
More specifically, National Hunt conditional jockeys must meet the following criteria:
- Must be between 16 and 26 years of age
- Must be in the full-time paid employment of a UK- or Irish-based licensed racehorse trainer
- Must have won fewer than 75 races
Allowance for Conditional Jockeys
Conditional jockeys are permitted to compete in races against professional jockeys, but when doing so they are afforded a weight allowance in order to compensate for their relative inexperience. This allowance operates on the following sliding scale relating to the number of previous wins recorded by the jockey.
- Fewer than 20 wins = 7lb allowance
- 20-39 wins = 5lb allowance
- 40-74 wins = 3lb allowance
In addition, any conditional jockey riding for their employing trainer may claim an additional 3lbs, converting the above allowances to 10lb, 8lb and 6lb respectively. Upon riding their 75th winner, conditional jockeys lose their claim and enter the ranks of the professionals. Conditional jockeys are easily spotted when competing in contests open to all riders as they will have their riding allowance noted in brackets after their name e.g. Stephen Saddler (7).
Conditional Jockey Races
The preceding paragraph details what it means to be a conditional jockey and the allowances they can claim. These allowances do, however, only apply when competing against professional riders, and not in races which are open only to conditional jockeys.
A conditional jockeys’ race is therefore defined as a contest that is open only to conditional riders, and a race in which such jockeys are unable to claim their usual riding allowance, due to the fact that they will only be competing against their fellow inexperienced riders. This means that conditional riders with more experience and wins are comparatively better off in these contests than they would be. This is because instead of conceding weight to other conditionals, these races are an entirely level playing field.
Such races may be run under any conditions, be that over hurdles, fences or a National Hunt flat race (Bumper), but are most commonly either handicap hurdles or handicap chases. The most famous such event of the racing year – by some distance – is the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, which traditionally acts as the closing race on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Champion Conditional Jockeys
In common with the professional jockeys, the conditional riders also have their own jockeys’ championship, with the title going to the rider who obtains the highest number of winners over the course of the season.
This race to crowned Champion Conditional Jockey can be well worth keeping an eye on, as the winner regularly goes on to achieve big things in the professional ranks, as outlined in the table below.
Champion Conditional Jockeys
|1987/88||Carl Llewellyn||17 Grade 1 wins and the 1992 Grand National|
|1991/92||Adrian Maguire||Winner of 1024 races|
|1992/93||Mick Fitzgerald||Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup winner|
|1993/94||Tony Dobbin||Grand National winner in 1997|
|1994/95||AP McCoy||An all-time great 20 times Champion Jockey|
|1995/96||Richard Johnson||Second most wins in National Hunt history|
|1997/98||Robert Thornton||15 Cheltenham Festival wins|
|2000/01||Noel Fehily||Dual Champion Hurdle and King George VI Chase winner|
|2004/05||Paddy Brennan||10 Grade 1 wins including the Cheltenham Gold Cup|
|2010/11||Sam Twiston-Davies||7 Cheltenham Festival wins|
|2018/19||Bryony Frost||First female jockey to win a Grade 1 at the Cheltenham Festival|