The Art of Negotiating With a Big Fish
written by: Lily Finch
He lived as he rode his horses: fast and precise. His resilience in winning proved his endurance and determination in the jockey lifestyle. “I am feeling it this year, Mack,” he hollered to the feeder before the owners arrived. Juan knew they would be pleased as punch that he won the derby. Then again, Juan knew all the glory went to the horse mostly and then to the owner, so the jockeys were not very noticeable in the winning team equation.
He figured he had given countless hours of his time and a considerable part of his life to reach this one moment; he couldn’t have been more conflicted; did this mean he could retire for good?
He pondered these thoughts in the winner’s circle with his glass of milk.
Juan’s mind swirled by the factual information that filled his head as a 25-year-old man just hardly near the prime of his career. The average racehorse lives to be twenty-seven. Jump jockeys leave the sport when they are thirty-five compared to flat race jockeys, which, on average, retire at forty-five.
Most result from a myriad of health problems and concerns because the sport’s wear and tear on the body cause such a premature retirement in most cases. Sadly, most jockeys retire without ever reaching the winner’s circle.
Juan accomplished mastery so young when he entered the winner’s circle without a thought of hanging up his racing pants. Surely Juan would use the business negotiation tactics they practiced for this occasion. MariaJosé fancied Juan as a negotiator since he was an excellent observer and saw his parents negotiate daily when he was young in their family business.
Juan faced many decisions now. He surely would meet with the owner today. A tradition after winning the Horse Racing–15.30 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase, the meeting remained at the forefront of Juan’s mind. He thought of an excellent counterplan to bring to the owner. His thoughts returned to the negotiation skills he learned from practicing with MariaJosé.
The owner arrived at the winner’s circle and took his rightful pose with the horse and Juan. Kipling, on cue, asked Juan to come to his office immediately after the photo opportunity.
Juan took a few minutes to get his head straight. Then walked into Kipling’s office; the owner, Gerald R Kipling, looked up from his documents and removed his glasses.
“Well, Juan, I can’t thank you enough for winning today! You were phenomenal.”
“Yes, skill and hard work got me there along with Piper, your horse, of course.”
“Juan, I wanted to discuss the future with you. I wonder if you will stay with our organization or are thinking of leaving. I only ask because I saw other owners hovering around, and it took you some time to get here.”
“Thank you, Mr. Kipling. Sir, with respect, I have some points I would like to discuss with you too. You are correct. There were owners out there looking at me,” Juan held up his hand, waved it like a slice in the air, and said, “All in good time. I want to begin with the obvious to learn if we agree on matters surrounding jockeys. So, I begin. If a jockey isn’t on the horse’s back, the horse can’t win the race. Would you agree?”
“Yes, of course, Juan. Everyone knows that.” Kipling laughed nervously.
“Great, we both agree there must be a jockey on the horse when it crosses the finish line.”
“Juan, of course, we agree. Why would you think we wouldn’t? What is going on here? Where is this conversation going, Juan?”
“Yes, sir, please, sir, bear with me. We both know jockeys make money by winning races. Maybe you don’t know that making a living as a jockey is tough because we don’t receive payment when we work out horses in the mornings for trainers. This is how a jockey learns mounts in races, and often a jockey will work out four or five horses every morning for no pay. Were you aware of this? And would you agree?”
“Juan, this is stuff we already know and agree on already. Where is this going? I have the offer to show you; if you look, you’ll see it is more than fair.”
Juan looks. He shakes his head and continues his negotiations.
“Sir, a jockey gets paid for riding in a race. Winning jockeys of a race earn 10% of the 60% of the winning owner’s share of the total purse. While the winning jockey gets 10% of the owner’s share of the purse, the winning trainer also makes 10%. The remaining purse money (the remaining 40% of the total purse) gets divided among the owners of the second, third, and fourth-place finishing horses in the race. Do you agree with these numbers?”
“Yes, Juan, this is all true. What does that have to do with us? Look, I’ll offer you this, which is better than fair. What do you say?”
Juan looked and then pushed the paper back to Kipling. “Well, Mr. Kipling, I have been doing my research, and depending on the race, a jockey wins and rides in, jockeys can make between $600-$100,000. I am here to negotiate a winner’s circle salary.” Juan stood silent and kept his eye on Kipling.
Kipling waited and sat, looking at Juan. The two locked eyes. And then Kipling smiled and said, “Yes, Juan, you are right. Another thing that I know to be true is that hard work pays off in this industry like you so aptly said.”
“I must tell you, sir. You were right. Other owners have shown interest in me. Now that I have a big win, I already have two offers.” His fiery eyes looked magical as he spoke. This news took Gerald by surprise. He gasped.
He looked at his former offers, scribbled another number on the paper, and said, “This contract is good for another five years and covers races or not. I saw you have a family, so you must consider them now. The money will keep coming in even after an injury.”
Juan looked at the paper and calmly said, “Another owner offered me that and half that again.” He stood to go without skipping a beat.
The astonished owner said, “Let me sharpen my pencil. Please, Juan, have a seat.”
Juan took a seat, watching Kipling’s every move.
“Well, Juan, you strike a hard bargain. Perhaps this will be my last offer. If this one is unsuitable, you can go to whoever offered you a better deal.” He showed Juan his last piece of paper with the offer scribbled.
Juan saw the amount and could not believe his eyes. He kept his poker face and asked, “Does that get indexed after each year, sir, you know, for the cost of living? If it does, I’ll take it,” he added, “Where do I sign?”
Gerald, looking pleased, and breathing a sigh of relief, said, “Right here, son. So the same rules apply as earlier stated. In the event of an injury where you cannot race, we will take care of your medical bills and your family for the next five years. Should you become maimed so severely, you can never ride or race again; then, we will take care of you for life. And yes, we will index for the cost of living.” Kipling shook his head, laughing.
Juan smiled, and they shook hands. Juan could not wait to share the good news with his wife. A steady pay cheque was coming their way now, and they, for sure, could save for a home.
Gerald laughed and said, “Great job today on both fronts, Juan!”
As Juan returned to the stalls where he was going to get showered and changed, he overheard some jockeys talking.
“The boss said that guy is gold, so he wants to scoop him up before someone offers him a lot more money. He said Juan was so poor he’d take the first amount offered because he is desperate.”
Juan wondered if he had got a good deal or not now. He wanted a second opinion and wondered if the contract was binding.
When he finally got the call from his friend’s lawyer, he couldn’t have been more pleased.
The lawyer explained, “You got the most money a jockey has ever made in North America salary-wise; well done, Juan! With the benefits included, you have negotiated the best deal possible for yourself and your family.” The lawyer paused and asked, “Juan, how did you get so smart and learn the art of negotiation so quickly?”
Juan responded, “I thought he was more desperate than I was and told him, subtly, that I knew my value and worth. Like my parents taught me, even big fish need to eat! Mr. Kipling realized he was the bigger fish!”
- The Art of Negotiating With a Big Fish - April 2, 2023