A jockey’s primary role in horse racing is to safely ride a horse in a race and, hopefully, in a winning manner. Part of being a successful jockey is establishing and maintaining relationships with trainers, and there is no better time to do so than in the morning when the horses train.
Exercise riders are the individuals responsible for carrying out the trainer’s instructions for a particular horse each day; they are also the first to alert trainers to a potential problem with a particular horse. Exercise riders can be outright employed by one particular trainer or “freelance”, meaning that they ride horses for multiple trainers. When trainers
schedule their horses to “breeze” or to “work”, meaning that the horse will be galloping near or at top speed for a short distance, many of them will use a jockey rather than the employed exercise rider. Unlike exercise riders, jockeys are not paid to ride these horses, but doing so helps establish and maintain valuable professional relationships that could enable the jockey to continue riding that trainer’s horses in the future. Some jockeys on the low and mid-level racetracks will also gallop horses for trainers, mostly as a favor to the trainer; this favor, of course, also helps establish and build those hopefully winning relationships.
Different racetracks have different morning arrival time protocols, but typically jockeys will arrive about fifteen minutes prior to the track opening for training. Most of them will spend this time walking through the barns of trainers they already have a good relationship with, as well as those with whom they would like to establish a relationship with. When riding, jockeys will typically spend about ten to fifteen minutes on the horse to warm it up (prepare the horse for exercise) and then breeze or “work” the horse. Once the horse is back in the barn, the jockey will remove the saddle and may speak to the trainer at that time or come back later in the morning during the track’s maintenance break. During this conversation, the jockey will detail how the horse felt during his work, which in turn, will help the trainer make any necessary equipment changes or identify soreness in the horse.
Jockeys are all competing against each other for the best horses to ride and most consistent trainers to ride for, so it is crucial that they maintain good relationships with the trainers. A good personal presentation, timely arrivals, and honest feedback also tie into maintaining these relationships.