About three years ago I was privileged to meet one of the best Jockey Agents on the Louisiana horseracing circuit, Rob Robertson. I was preparing to begin repping Jockeys and Rob sort of became my mentor. He educated me on many of the things that are specific to managing this type of athlete, and reinforced the importance of building personal relationships. Rob is very hands-on and very visible in the representation of his Jocks. Since then I've had the opportunity to rep for Jockeys from across the United States. The lessons I learned from Rob Robertson serve me well today, and I'd like to pass some of these on in an effort to give you an understanding of what may be our most underrated athlete.
To be a successful agent in horseracing first necessitates an understanding of the Jockey and what they do. Pound for pound, Jockeys are among the world's strongest athletes. Most tip the scales somewhere between 112-116 lbs. With this small frame, they are able to guide a 1,200 lb. thoroughbred around a racetrack at speeds nearing 40 mph. As they balance themselves atop what is essentially a moving catapult, Jockeys look for an opening in the pack and steer a horse through a small hole which may close before they even get there. It's a dangerous profession and many Jockeys retire young. Each time a Jockey rides onto the track, there is no guarantee that he will escape injury. It is therefore imperative that the agent, who selects and enters the horses his Jockey will ride, take great care to ensure the safety of his rider. Horses that show signs of lameness or that are simply overmatched must be avoided.
It all comes down to risk and reward. If my Jockey places first, second, or third he/she receives a percentage of the purse. For fourth or worse the compensation is what we call a "Jock Mount", a token sum that can be as little as $40. I don't like to risk the health of my Jockeys for $40. If we are in the race, I want us to have a legitimate chance of winning. That involves research and analysis. The typical agent begins his morning at 5:30 a.m. by visiting the barns of the trainers and inquiring about the status of the horses our Jocks may end up riding. After a race, we are there the next morning to see if the horse returns sound. We are constantly observing morning workouts to spot a horse that shows talent in an effort to get our rider on board.
As responsible agents, we must continually monitor the weight of our clients. In each race, every horse is assigned an impost, or amount of weight, to be carried. This can vary according to the age of the horse, his win record, etc. If the Jockey on board cannot meet the weight requirement on race day, this is known as being "over", and that's not good. In theory, the less weight a horse carries, the faster he can run. The actual physics of it are too detailed for our discussion here. Simply know that trainers are very conscious of the weight a horse carries in a race, and they aren't happy when the Jockey can't make weight. Therefore, agents must know at all times how much their client weighs. If we are presented the opportunity to ride a horse in a certain race, we have to know that our client can tack the weight. Part of our job is to not put our rider in a situation where he will have to do a lot of heavy reducing before the race. Trips to the sweat box, heavy exercise, and even laxatives and worse have been used by Jockeys to make weight. Those things aren't good for the body. All agents, no matter what the sport, should have the health and well-being of their clients foremost at all times. This is my guiding principle. Remember, we work for them.
This is just a basic overview of how managing a Jockey works, but before I conclude, I want to address briefly some areas where our industry is falling short and how some of us are working to change that.
Agents in professional horseracing have failed miserably to market their clients. Part of this may be attributed to the fact that Jockeys were denied endorsements for many years. In some jurisdictions they are still prohibitied from wearing a logo on their riding pants. This is changing, as evidenced by this year's Triple Crown. Big Brown, a horse named after the shipping company UPS, won two of the three races in the series and rider Kent Desormeaux landed a lucrative endorsement deal. He was allowed to sport the UPS logo on his pants and the company was also a television race sponsor.
Despite this breakthrough, I see very few agents actively cultivating endorsements and sponsorships for their clients. To my mind there is a huge untapped market for Jockey endorsements, primarily among apparel and footwear companies such as Under Armour, Nike, and others. The various racing circuits tend to have a strong local appeal. This creates marketability to car dealerships, restaurants, and any other business you can imagine. Why those in the industry aren't taking advantage of this puzzles me.
Like in any other sport, Jockey Agents succeed by developing personal relationships. We seek to establish trust with thoroughbred trainers. This creates our base of business. If we were to agressively market our clients to the general public, a new dynamic of exposure can take place, which can translate to more business and better horses to ride.
In the evolution of sports management many of my peers have slowed to a steady crawl. We have to realize that, in our field, the endorsements won't come knocking on the door. We have to seek them out and maximize available opportunities.
Scotty Rushing is a licensed/certified Jockey Agent who has represented numerous riders including David Elston, Rico Flores, Amanda Crandall, and Beverly Burress. He continues to rep for riders on the Louisiana circuit.