What is a jockey weight allowance?

December 20th, 2022

In the sport of horse racing, the amount of weight carried by each horse has long been varied to account for differences in age, gender, and ability. Or, in some cases, the experience of their jockey.

When a horse is slated to be ridden by an inexperienced (“apprentice”) jockey, the horse is allowed to carry less weight than it normally would. The idea is to give up-and-coming jockeys a competitive advantage to offset their inexperience compared to established riders.

The size of a weight allowance (and the length of time a jockey can ride with the allowance) varies, but in North America it’s not uncommon to see jockeys riding with five-pound, seven-pound, or even 10-pound allowances.

These weight differences can be meaningful and influence the outcomes of races, so when a talented apprentice is riding a hot streak, it’s wise to sit up and take notice. Gaining nationwide name recognition takes time, so a hot apprentice jockey can be a source of betting profits until the racing world at large catches on.

Case in point? Check out the results from May 16, 2021, when five-pound apprentice jockey Jessica Pyfer won four races in a single afternoon at Santa Anita. This performance vaulted Pyfer to national acclaim and likely contributed to Pyfer earning the 2021 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey.

Pyfer rode eight of the nine races on May 16 and compiled the following results:

  • Race 1: Did not ride
  • Race 2: Finished first by three-quarters of a length at odds of 21-10.
  • Race 3: Finished first by a nose at odds of 6-5.
  • Race 4: Finished second at odds of 26-10.
  • Race 5: Finished sixth at odds of 58-10.
  • Race 6: Finished fifth at odds of 88-10.
  • Race 7: Finished first by three-quarters of a length at odds of 27-10.
  • Race 8: Finished sixth at odds of 22-10.
  • Race 9: Finished first by a neck at odds of 4-1.

Four victories, all achieved by less than a length. Pyfer rode strongly throughout the day, repeatedly putting her mounts in the position to win, and riding with a five-pound weight allowance may have sealed the deal in some of those close finishes.

It is believed that no female apprentice jockey has ridden more winners in a single day at a California racetrack than Pyfer. And bettors who supported Pyfer were rewarded with a lucrative payday. Betting $2 to win on each of Pyfer’s mounts cost $16 for a return of $28, a hefty $3.50 return on investment (ROI) for every $2 wager.