How Much Difference Does the Jockey Make?


How Much Difference Does the Jockey Make?


There are many factors to consider when analysing a horse race – recent form, distance, going, pedigree, and the human elements provided by the trainer and jockey.

The importance of that last factor is the subject of debate amongst punters; some believe the rider on board is one of the least significant influences on the result of a race, whilst others care little about the actual horse and simply back whichever runner their favourite rider happens to be aboard. That strategy didn’t work out too badly when Frankie Dettori went through the card at Ascot in 1996 or, more recently, when the evergreen Italian rattled in six winners at Santa Anita. So who has it right? Does the jockey matter? And if so, how much?

Of Course The Jockey Matters

First of all, in our humble opinion, the man or woman aboard a horse undoubtedly impacts the result of a race. The most common analogy comes via a comparison with Formula 1. Taking Red Bull Racing as an example, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez drive the same car, and yet, in the last three seasons (2021, 2022, 2023) Verstappen has won 47 times from 66 Grand Prix, whilst Perez has a record of 5 wins from 66 Grand Prix. True, there may be some element of team tactics in those results, but Verstappen has earned the right to be prioritised by consistently achieving the most with the same machine.

Horses are not machines, but they still need steering; very few would win a race without the presence of a jockey on board – at least not deliberately. Whilst horses naturally like to gallop with the pack, they are blissfully unaware of the distance of a race, the course they are required to take, or when to pick up the pace on the run for the line. Those tasks fall under the remit of the man or woman on board. As with all things in life, some individuals are better at performing certain tasks than others, whether as a result of innate talent, a wealth of experience, or sheer dedication to the art of horsemanship.

Measuring Jockey Impact

Placing a number on jockey impact is a notoriously difficult task, due to the scarcity of data regarding different jockeys riding the same horse on a statistically significant number of occasions. Nevertheless, a look at the current best in the business – Ryan Moore – should illustrate that all jockeys are not created equally.

The table below contains the ten trainers from whom Ryan Moore has received the most British rides throughout his career – showing the overall win rate of the trainer in question and the win rate when Ryan Moore has been in the saddle.

Ryan Moore stats


The results are pretty striking, with Moore outperforming the trainer average in every instance – sometimes dramatically. Of course, Moore is now at the top of his game and, as such, has the chance to ride the more fancied runners, but that wasn’t always the case. The above table encompasses 1000s of rides across all stages of the rider's career – from his days as an up-and-coming apprentice to his current status as the best flat jockey of the modern era.

The Value of Experience

Confirmation of the differences between riders is found in the area of Apprentice Jockeys on the flat and Conditional Riders over jumps. These categories encompass those jockeys only just setting out on their career and unavoidably lacking the race riding experience and track knowledge of the more senior members of the weighing room.

Logic dictates that these riders are at a disadvantage in any given race, and the British Racing Authorities recognise this fact – when competing against professional riders, all Apprentice and Conditional Jockeys receive a weight allowance, i.e., their mount will be required to carry less weight than ordinarily be the case. This weight allowance steadily increases over time in line with the number of wins achieved. Why would the BHA enforce this system if there was no difference between riders?

All jockeys tend to improve as they rack up an increasing number of rides, reducing the experience disparity. However, differences between natural skill levels are harder to erase, resulting in the most talented riders rising to the top. Apprentice jockeys are, however, well worth keeping an eye on. Most Champion Jockeys began as an Apprentice or Conditional – spot one of such talent early in their career, and that weight allowance can be worth its weight in gold.

In Summary: An Important Factor, but not the Only Factor

So, should you consider the jockey in the saddle when picking out a bet? We would suggest you should. Some place the importance as high as 75%. That seems too high, with the Ryan Moore table suggesting an average of around 36%.

However, it is important to remember that Moore is the best around. The differences between two randomly selected jockeys will be far less than that - but those differences do exist, and in a sport so often decided by small margins, a difference of a couple of percent is certainly worth having on your side. Never neglect the importance of the trainer and, most crucially, the ability of the horse, but when faced with a close decision, the jockey can make all the difference.


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