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Which racing jurisdiction has the most keenly contested jockey’s championship/premiership? Plus, which jockey makes the most money?

Steve Moran | 22.12.2018

These are questions prompted by this week’s reports of Christophe Soumillon’s tenth French championship win and the financial windfall of Silvestre de Sousa’s first few weeks, in Hong Kong, of a four month contract.

Soumillon’s Cravache d’Or success is certainly noteworthy given his enthralling tussles with Pierre-Charles Boudot in recent seasons, while the French and Hong Kong titles are generally the most compelling and probably the most keenly sought.

However the Belgian born Soumillon falls a long way short when it comes to which jockey is getting the most dollars. De Sousa’s success provides a hint.

The distinction of sitting atop the jockey’s rich list almost certainly rests with the champion jockey of Hong Kong, Japan or the United States. Differences in percentages, sliding scales of payments, losing ride fees and ignorance of personal arrangements and ‘presents’, makes any call less than definitive.

And, I remember well, many years ago, making a calculated guess of Shane Dye’s earnings for the Sunday Age Sports Rich List. I erred on the conservative side, lest I might get him in trouble with the ATO. He rang and said he had a bone to pick with me. “I earned much more than you said,” he said!

However on the evidence of the most recently, or about to be, completed seasons in the various major jurisdictions, Frenchman Christophe Lemaire – who’s based in Japan – may well be on top from Zac Purton, Joao Moreira and Irad Ortiz jr and any number of those on the heels of Ortiz jr in North America.

Lemaire has ridden 205 winners in Japan this season with his mounts earning approximately $55 million (AUD). Yes, $55 million.

Ortiz jr has 336 winners, this year, and around $37 million while Purton, last season, had 181 winners and prize-money earnings of about $32 million. With the jockey’s cut from winners usually more generous in HK and the USA, the result would be tight despite the massive earnings of Lemaire’s mounts.

The champions elsewhere certainly have lesser income. William Pike rode the most winners (200) in Australia last season but his prize-money tally was “just” $7 million. Kerrin McEvoy’s mounts had the highest earnings at c. $17 million.

De Sousa was champion in Britain with 176 winners but his mounts won just c. $6 million. Soumillon’s French title was secured with 184 winners (last count) and a prize-money tally of around $11 million. Boudot had fewer winners but his mounts won more – c. $13.3 million.

The battle for the French title is always keen. Often the leading players will travel far afield, to minor meetings, to add to their tally of winners.

The Racing Post’s Scott Burton says there may be a number of reasons for this intensity of competition – one of which is that it’s a relatively new award in the scheme of horse racing’s long history. It’s a similar scenario, time wise, in Hong Kong where the battles between Douglas Whyte and Purton and then Purton and Moreira have also been both intense and newsworthy.

Burton said: “As for the jockeys’ championship in France, they only really invented it in the 1950s and more recently I suppose it’s the advent of decent all-weather surfaces that has made it a year-long chase here.

“Parisian Flat racing on turf winds up in early November and the jockeys used to get a bit of time off then before going down to Cagnes-sur-Mer in January. But starting under Jean-Luc Lagardere’s presidency of the Societe d’Encouragement (forerunner of France Galop), the provinces started getting premium meetings and that encouraged places such as Lyon, Marseille and Pornichet to invest in all-weather tracks, with Deauville and Chantilly following suit more recently.”

By way of example, in 2017 Soumillon secured the title and broke Boudot’s record of 300 wins on a wintry Saturday evening on December 16 with four winners at Lyon la Soie, where he had arrived by plane after scoring once at Deauville in the afternoon. Lyon is about 480 kilometres from Paris.

Soumillon has regularly criss-crossed the country deep into December in his pursuit of the championship. He secured this year’s title early this week but still made the 780 kilometres trek (presumably by plane) to Marseille on Thursday and won on the aptly named Belgian Gentleman and also on Zanzibar.

“There’s also a specific dynamic with Soumillon and Boudot, “Burton said, “neither of whom have the frame of a regular flat jockey. Soumillon used to go off to Japan on a short-term license but he’d have to saw a leg off to do the weights these days, while Boudot has a similar problem.”

Personalities and well established rivalries may also be a factor when it come to the fierce premiership battles in France and Hong Kong.

Zac Purton is not a man to happily embrace defeat and was delighted, in his tenth season in Hong Kong, to end Whyte’s 13-year reign at the top and he was similarly pleased last season to reclaim the title from Moreira, who’d won three straight, at the final meeting of the season.

The huge money on offer in Hong Kong is, of course, incentive enough to stay at home and therefore, by definition, put yourself in the premiership race.

The dollar attraction in Hong Kong was well outlined this week in the South China Morning Post by Tom Biddington who reported that de Sousa has – in just 14 meetings in Hong Kong – almost matched the prize-money his mounts earned throughout seven months in Britain.

Biddington also wrote that Grant Van Niekerk had earned more from 12 winners in four months in Hong Kong this season than he did from 107 winners over a year in South Africa.

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