Do Jockeys Make a Difference in a Race?

Horse Racing Radar
Shawn Drupp
Shawn Drupp is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Saturday, June 5, 2021

It always amazes me how some bettors or analysts will say it doesn't matter to me who the jockey is on the horse. You mean to tell me it doesn't matter to you whether you bet a horse with a jockey that has a 20% win percentage or a 5% win percentage?  Do you think the horse does everything himself?

Matt Carothers from TVG explains, "I feel that most riders are more than capable of winning if given the right horse to ride. With that in mind, I would play the lower profile type rider at 10-1 then get 9/2 on the same horse with a high percentage jockey."

I totally understand what Matt is saying here but let's break this down. Let's go with those 10-1 horses Matt is getting with a 5% jockey as to the 9/2 I am getting with a 15 % jockey. If the jockey percentages hold my 9/2 horse will win 3 times more then Matt's 10-1.  I will be getting back $11 each win x 3 = $33 dollars.  Matt will be getting $22 for that one win he would get if the percentages hold. I know numbers don't always hold and not every situation is the same however in this case I make out better playing the better jockey.

Another person I asked that is a familiar name around HRR, usually close to the top of the leaderboard in the free contests, Gary Fitzpatrick. He said "In a live contest if you have a hot jockey that is something to pay attention to. I play the horse more than the jockey but for instance Oaks/Derby Day Johnny V. was as hot as anyone in a saddle. So it's always in the back of your mind while handicapping. The jockey plays an integral part and can be the reason a horse wins or losses a race and should always be part of you handicapping a race."

As for me I personally value the jockey much higher when betting. One angle I really like is when a horse goes from a low % jockey to a high % jockey. I also think it's important when a jockey has ridden the horse before. The more the jockey has ridden the horse the better. Some horses run well with different jockeys.  Another angle would be a jockey riding a horse for family. I always like using that one because you know the jockey knows the horse even better and also probably works the horse as well.

Yes, the jockey needs the horse to win as he can't do it by himself. However, there is a lot the jockey can do to win the race or ultimately lose the race. I always see people point the finger and blame more than give the jockey credit. I guess it's just par for the course.

I will say asking around it surprised me how many jockeys think it's mostly the horse. I asked Jose Ortiz about it and this is what he had to say, "I think the horses are the real athletes and 8 out of 10 the best horse will win, stake races are more even and that's when the jockey can make the difference."

I asked another jockey Tyler Conner and his response was "Typically the best horse on that day wins in my opinion. I do think jockeys can help horses by giving good rides, staying out of trouble and things like that. At the same time I also think some times riders get themselves beat by doing the wrong things."

I then asked a Jockey who is about to have over 5,000 wins to his credit, Gerard Melancon who seemed to echo a combination of Matt and the other jockeys. "I'd say 85 % horse. I mean, there are a lot of riders with talent that don't get many opportunities. "

All the things a jockey has to do before and during the race I personally believe some of them are being really humble. I think they have a lot to do with winning or not.

It really bugs me when people think jockeys don't want to win the race or finish good.  Jockeys make money per ride but ultimately they make their money by results. As a jockey you get more for first, second, and third. Why would a jockey not want to have a good finish? I guess this is the reality TV era again where everybody thinks everything is staged.

A jockey is like every other athlete where they make it look so easy.  That makes everybody think they can do it. The fact is its not easy and you probably couldn't do it. There are more requirements to make a good jockey besides the normal make weight and be short.

Something the average bettor doesn't know is that jockeys read the racing form before a race just like them. This is to know the pace scenario and other horses in the field. A lot of jockeys will tell you they look for certain horses to get behind or follow as well. Typically a favorite that they think will do well.  You don't want a horse that's fading in front of you. You also need to know everything about the horse you are riding.

We haven't even got to the race itself. Let's begin with the start of the race. As the jockey you have to do your best to make sure your horse gets a clean start and the position you want from the start.

Now the clock in the jockey's head that they all say they have comes into play.  If you're the leader or close to the pace you have to know how fast you're going. You don't want to go to fast or get caught up in a duel. If you do your horse will most likely fade in the stretch. This works all the way thru the field if you're on a closing horse you have to know how close to be depending on the pace and when to make your move.

Speaking of making your move, all jockeys have to decide when it's time to go with their horse. Then you have to make your move around traffic.  While all this is going on, now with the new whip rules you have to remember where you are at and what you can do with the whip as well. I believe that is why a lot of jockeys aren't carrying them at all at Monmouth. Instincts could take over and they would use it then get fined.

Lastly and most importantly as a jockey you need to make sure you and your horse get back safely.  This is another part that most of us don't see. We might miss that bad step or that feeling the jockey is getting from the horse. 

Jockeys want to win just as much as you want to win your bet. There is just so much more that goes on from the jockey's perspective that we don't always take into account. Are there bad rides? Sure, but it doesn't mean the jockey is throwing the race. We should always respect the jockeys for putting their health and life on the line. They are incredible athletes trying to earn a living and in the meantime providing us with entertainment that we all love.

How much do you value who the jockey is when making a bet?  I would love to hear different opinions so email me at [email protected]

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