With just over two months before the 2022 racing season gets underway at Woodbine, the pay rate for jockeys remains unresolved. As President of the Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), Sue Leslie is eager to negotiate with the jockeys.

“We want to be fair,” said Leslie. “We are not trying to squeeze our jockeys. We want them to make a good and respectable living. We want good cooperation as we have had for years, but that can’t be a one-way street and that’s all it’s been so far.”

For sometime, the Jockey’s Benevolent Association of Canada (JBAC) had asked the HBPA to review the jockey fees but this was delayed by COVID. Last May, the JBAC requested that the mount fee increase from a bottom of $47 to a bottom of $65 plus 5% of the purse for 2nd and 3rd. To give the matter due consideration, the HBPA created a sub-committee that included a range of opinions and experience which made a suggestion to the board. The HBPA responded by suggesting an increase to a $75 bottom for the mount fee and a 5% increase on the current rates for 2nd and 3rd. The JBAC responded in September with an even higher request than they had made initially, asking for a bottom of $100 for the mount fee and the same increase to 5% of purse for 2nd and 3rd. The HBPA advised the JBA in December that this was their final offer.

“From our point of view now, this hasn’t been a negotiation. They haven’t moved one nickel other than to go up in their ask from May to September. The HBPA advised them in December that this was our final offer. There is nobody on the board or committee that doesn’t like and respect jockeys and understand that they have a difficult job and want them to make a decent living. This is exactly why we offered a higher bottom mount fee,” explained Leslie, adding that since the average field size is nine horses that the majority of riders are not in the top three and would have had a substantial increase. “From our side it’s all been demands. Our job is to work for the owners and trainers, and they have been crushed for two years now. The total lack of understanding and empathy from the JBA is hard to understand. We are chasing away those that provide all of us the opportunity to make a living in the business that we all love and are so passionate about.”

Representatives of the JBAC have previously pointed out that jockeys at most of the major tracks in the US earn 10% for winning, 5% for second, and 5% for third, while in Canada the rate is 10% for winning and between 3.3% and 4.8% for 2nd and 4.2% and 6.7% for third. Leslie notes that there are considerable differences between the two countries that need to be factored into the equation.

“First, the jockeys in the US don’t have OHIP. Secondly, US owners get much better tax benefits and deductions than in Canada. Further, there is no jockey flow from Canada to the US, but there is from the US to Canada. If the paycheques are so bad here, why are they coming? We are a totally different economy and we are not going to be badgered into doing what the US does.”

Another point that has been raised previously is that many jockeys in western Canada earn 10% for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.

Leslie points out that “the HBPA out west has approximately 35-ish days of racing a year, not 133, and their purses are between $5,000-$17,000 and the jockeys don’t participate in any of the bonus programs like the jockeys in Ontario do. Tracks out there were desperate to get any jockey because with such a short season and low purses they can’t make a living of any kind. It’s common sense that with a 30-40 day race meet and purses at $17,000 and below that jockeys were going to ride somewhere else without additional incentive.”

The jockeys have argued that they haven’t had a pay raise since 2002, but Leslie points out that this fact doesn’t tell the whole story.

“They want to say they’ve had no increase in 20 years, but every time the HBPA negotiates an increase in purses for owners that results in an increase to jockeys. Moreover, the average purse in 1997 was $17,500 and the average purse in 2021 was $40,000 so they can’t say they haven’t had a pay increase. Talk to the jockeys that rode in the ’90s to see what they made and look up what the jockeys make today. In fact, in 2020, six Ontario jockeys were in the top 100 for jockey earnings in North America and that’s with no increases. We race six months and the jockeys in the US race 12.”

The HBPA is concerned that the jockey colony as a whole don’t understand how the trainers and owners feel.

“We have repeatedly asked the JBAC directors to have all their jockeys get on a conference call to let them hear directly from our owners the crushing effects COVID has had the last couple of years and the crushing effects on the cost of our industry and how they are struggling to stay involved, but they have not accepted our offer,” noted Leslie. “We don’t want to host the meeting to negotiate or argue, we just want to share these stories.

“As a gesture of good faith, we implemented a $75 mount fee at Fort Erie last year when they thought we were stalling,” continued Leslie. “We are trying to give them every opportunity to be reasonable, but we will continue to represent our owners strongly and they deserve it.”

For now, Leslie hopes to resume negotiations shortly with the new JBAC representative, Daren Gomez. Until a new contract is signed, however, the existing contract and jockey fees from the 2002 contract remain in effect.