How Much Does the Kentucky Derby Winner Make?

Posted by Evan Chronis on Wed, Dec 19, 2018 @ 08:00 AM

The Kentucky Derby® is known for many things, whether it's fancy attire, a legendary racetrack at Churchill Downs® or it's collection of champions. 

But the Derby is also know for another thing — dollar signs. 

Derby Experiences

Every year for the past 144 editions of the 'Run for the Roses', trainers, horses and jockeys have entered through the gates at Churchill Downs with a hope of leaving much the richer. The Kentucky Derby isn't the most expensive race in the world, but with it's mix of prestige and purse size, it certainly is the most important. 

Over the past century-and-a-half, the purse size for the Kentucky Derby has only gotten bigger. But that is for a lot of reasons — more money is put into the event every year. As Churchill Downs continues to evolve as a venue and make renovations to expand, more people have flocked to the Derby over the decades. For reference, the first Derby in 1875 had an estimated 10,000 onlookers. This year, over 157,000 people watched live as future Triple Crown™ winner Justify took home the Garland of Roses. 

Live TV distribution and broadcasting rights have also poured money into the event at an increasing pace. Thanks to the magic of television, around 15 million people watch the Kentucky Derby every year at home. 

All of this is to say that the Derby has created an economic empire, and the winners of the race are one of the biggest beneficiaries every year. But just how much does a horse leave Churchill Downs get for crossing the finish line first?

Let's take a look.

How Much Does the Kentucky Derby Winner Get?

The prize money for the Kentucky Derby has increased incrementally over time.

According to the Derby's official site, the winner's payout was raised to $5,475 in 1913. 

By 1954, the total purse pushed past $100,000 for the first time, marking another landmark price. 

The total purse hit over $1 million in 1995, with Thunder Gulch coming out the victor in the first seven-digit Derby.

Today, the Derby purse sits at $2 million, but is split among the top five finishers for the race.

So for the 2018 Kentucky Derby, Justify walked away with $1.24 million. Good Magic (second place) got $400,000, Audible (third place) took home $200,000, Instilled Regard (fourth place) got $100,000 and My Boy Jack (fifth place) collected $60,000.

How Much Does a Winning Jockey Get?

What seems obvious, but is often forgotten, is that the horse doesn't actually get any of the money they win. All of the winnings are split among several parties, including the horse's owners, trainers and jockey. 

Typically, the Kentucky Derby winning jockey gets 10-percent of their horse's winnings. So Justify's jockey, Mike Smith, walked away from Churchill Downs this year with about $124,000. Not a bad takeaway for about two minutes of work!

Get Your 2019 Kentucky Derby Tickets

Derby Experiences is the best way to experience the 2019 Kentucky Derby. With over 30 different package options and three different levels of hospitality, you can craft the perfect weekend at Churchill Downs. Check out our official package offerings to find the Derby experience that is perfect for you: 

2020 Kentucky Derby Official Ticket Packages

Topics: Kentucky Derby 2019

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Kristen Doolan

Kristen Doolan was born and raised a Florida State Seminole. Making her way from Florida to North Carolina, Kristen achieved her B.S. in Business Administration, Marketing at The University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is an avid traveler, college football addict, beach bum and loves spending time with her family and friends. 


Jazzy Morgan

Jazzy Morgan is originally from London, England and a die-hard Manchester United Fan. She grew up in Connecticut and made the move down south in 2011 where she attended Winthrop University and received her B.S. in Family & Consumer Sciences and a minor in Marketing. Jazzy enjoys traveling, working out, reading her monthly Vogue & Cosmo and keeping up with fashion trends.


Evan Chronis

Evan Chronis was born in Omaha, Nebraska but has made his home in south Charlotte for almost two decades. A Tar Heel born and bred, Evan received his B.A in Media and Journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is an avid Boston sports fan thanks to his family’s New England roots, and a fanboy of Wes Anderson films.