In part one of this article I used sectional timing data to analyze the top UK and Irish flat jockeys judgement of pace in a race. I used a few different metrics to come up with various charts for the top fifteen jockeys as decided by wins in higher class races over the last few years. While that piece certainly included some jockeys who scored well, it didn’t however include the jockey that comes out clear top on what was probably the most important metric, namely the amount of actual wins, versus the amount a sectional upgrade formula suggests they should have had. I explain the metrics used in more detail in part one, and will try not to repeat myself too much here, so before reading this I would encourage you to read A Sectional Timing based analysis of flat jockeys pace judgement.
I use the same data as in part one and it starts in March 2015. Once again I also use the Timeform sectional timing archive for the sectional data, and Proform software for pace position numbers. They are split into led, for led or disputed the lead, prominent for horses ridden in the first half of the field, and held up for the rest. I’m going to start with some charts showing the top 15 and bottom 15 ranked jockeys in various combinations of led in slowly run races, held up in fast etc.. These are interesting on their own but probably tell us more about ridding style than anything else. I will then compare how likely a jockey was to lead in a fast run, versus slowly run race, or held up in a slow versus fast run race, which is perhaps a better guide to their overall pace judgement, and as I did in the first article I will then use upgrade figures to estimate were a horse would have finished if paced optimally, and compare a jockeys actual wins versus expected. I’ve included plenty of charts and as most tell the story on their own I won’t add that much extra commentary, apart from adding any explanations I think is necessary.
I think anyone with even a basic grasp of race reading will agree that horse preferences aside, it is better to be at or near the front in a slowly run race. For the purposes of theses charts I came up with average finishing race speeds and then split the races into fast/average/slowly run based on a percentage of 2.5% either side of the average. This resulted in around 17% or races allocated to fast run race, and a similar amount for slowly run. I filtered to only include jockeys who had ridden in at least 100 slowly run races. The recently retired Donnacha O’Brien come out on top from 134 jockeys who met the filter criteria. I dealt with Donnacha in the first article in this series, but it really was commendable for a jockey so young to have so often taken the bull by the horns when nobody else wanted to lead, and it’s a pity that weight issues meant he had to retire. Franny Norton and Joe Fanning didn’t appear in the top jockeys charts, but when it comes to being in the right place when the pace is on the steady side they do extremely well, with both falling just short of leading in 25% of such races. Anyone in this chart comes out well and it might be useful to cross check it when you’re dealing with a race without much obvious pace, as these jockeys seem adept at taken advantage.
This chart shows the bottom 15 ranked jockeys at leading in a slowly run race, again I filtered so only jockeys who had ridden in at least 100 such races were included. Paddy Mathers only led an abysmal 3.3% of the time when the pace was on the steady side, and Jimmy Quinn and Tom Queally weren’t much better, but in truth anyone appearing on this list would likely ride more winners if they were more open to making the running when nobody else wanted too.
The opposite is true in fast run races, in that generally you don’t want to be the one forcing the fast pace. I can only assume once Frankie decides he’s going to lead he does so regardless of the pace, and his presence in both led in slowly and fast run races suggests he rides horses more prominently than most. Silvestre De Sousa is another who seems to ride plenty from the front, although it’s hardly a positive that he does so more often when the pace is strong. Richard Kingscote is another guilty of being at the front plenty when the pace is hot.
This chart makes interesting reading, and perhaps the fact that a good few jockeys appear in the bottom ranked table for leading in fast run races, having also been bottom ranked for leading in slowly run races, tells you they just don’t like leading, regardless of the pace, although it doesn’t reflect well on Jimmy Quinn and Paddy Mathers that they seem more likely to lead off a faster pace. Oisin Orr isn’t often at the front in a slowly run affair, but at least he’s almost never there when the pace is stronger.
It goes without saying that when the pace is on the slow side it’s harder to make up ground, so ideally you don’t want to be at the rear of the field, but that’s exactly where Jamie Spencer finds himself about 70% of the time in such races. Killian Leonard and Conor Hoban are also guilty of giving their mounts plenty to do off steady gallops.
At the other end of the scale, of the 134 jockeys who had 100 or more rides in such races, Franny Norton has the lowest percentage of hold up rides in steadily run races, with Joe Fanning and Clifford Lee next best.
Given his ridden style it’s perhaps not a surprise to see Jamie Spencer top the chart for held up in fast run races as well as slowly runs ones, and at least he does hold them up fractionally more when the pace is hotter. Eoin Walsh comes out well here and if the pace is strong he seems very likely to give his horse a waiting ride.
Richard Kingscote comes in bottom of the charts for held up in fast run races, and while that in itself isn’t good, it looks worse again when you consider he came in third from the top for led in fast run races. Silvestre De Sousa also comes out poorly on this metric, as he is third from bottom for holding one up when the pace was fast, but near the top for leading when the pace is quick. In defense of both though, they do at least also appear near the top of the chart for leading in slowly run races.
The charts showing how often a jockey leads in a fast run race or holds one up in a slowly run race gives a good idea of their general ridding style, but the above pace numbers incorporate more data into one figure. The above figures were derived using the simple formula of 1 for Led, 2 for Prominent and 3 for held up, and then averaged by jockey. They help compare how often a jockey leads or holds one up into one figure, and will naturally be larger than 2 as Proform will assign ‘held up’ to far more horses than ‘led’. For the pace number charts I’ve included all jockeys with at least 300 rides, which will mean some will be included that weren’t in the previous charts. This chart shows Eoin Walsh has a very patient ridding style, and he is far more likely to hold one up than go forward.
At the other end of the spectrum is Theodore Ladd who is easily the most likely to be found at the front of the field, with Joe Fanning and Richard Kingscote also having pace numbers of less than 2.2. Although he is now retired it is perhaps surprising to see Richard Hughes scraping into the bottom 15 lowest pace numbers, meaning he tended to ride his horses more prominent than most, as I always had him down as more of a hold up jockey.
This is were it really gets interesting regarding a jockeys ability to judge pace, as whatever about individual riding styles, or they type of horse they tend to ride, no matter what horse you’re riding, you should be more inclined to sit closer to a slow pace than a fast one. The above chart uses pace numbers to see how jockeys position their horses in slowly run, and fast run races. The 15 jockeys in it have the biggest positive difference between the two. Two retired jockeys come out first and second, with Donnacha O’Brien’s pace number in slowly run races is 2.12, meaning he very much rides them near the front, as 1 is for led and 2 is prominent, but he shows he knows what gallop they’re going, or likely to go, by placing his horses much further back on average in races run at a quicker tempo with a figure of 2.49, which is huge gap. Jimmy Fortune was another who definitely knew how fast he was going, while Faye McManoman shows very good judgement for an apprentice. Her average pace figure in all races is 2.61, so she is a hold up jockey by nature, and even her figure of 2.44 for slowly run races is probably too far back, she does at least ride them more forward than normal in such circumstances. All the jockeys in the list can be commended though, as they all seem to appreciate the importance of pace, by changing their positioning in a race depending on how fast they are going.
No matter what figures you’re dealing with, if some of the protagonists do much better than average, then some have to be below average, and the 15 jockeys in this chart have the biggest negative difference in positioning their horses, with the lower numbers for fast run races indicating they have their mounts closer to the pace in those races than in slowly run races. Jack Duern comes out terribly on the figures with a very hold up style in slowly run races, but much nearer the front when they’re going quick. Declan McDonogh and Gary Halpin are next worst, but all of the jockeys in this list have on average ridden their horses closer to the pace when they’re going quick, than when they are going slow, and there really isn’t any excuse for that over a big sample.
As I explained in the part one of this article Timeform upgrade figures are a very good estimate of how much quicker a horse could have run if paced optimally. I used them to come up with estimated finishing positions if every horse in the race was paced according to that optimal. So in a two horse race if Horse A won by one length but was paced perfectly, and Horse B came second but had an upgrade figure of three lengths, he would now be regarded as the estimated winner, and as such the jockey on Horse A would now have one winner more than expected, and vice versa for the jockey on the second who should have won. The AE figures have an advantage over the other charts in this piece in that they can be used on all races, not just ones that were fast or slowly run, which only accounted for 34% of races. For a more detailed explanation please refer to A Sectional Timing Analysis of Flat Jockeys.
The AE figures above are how many actual winners each jockey had minus how many would have been expected if each horse was ridden optimally. Joe Fanning comes out on top with 44 more winners than he should have had based on those estimates. That is quite an amount considering his expected winners was just 475 in the period I looked at, so he had almost 10% more winners due to superior pace judgement. It should be noted he probably has an advantage in that he rides plenty of horses that can make the running and as such he is less dependent on others going a gallop for him, and if they’re not going too quick, he can make it himself, but it is still far and away the best return on this metric. Luke Morris comes next with 23 more winners than you would expect, while Oisin Murphy and Graham Lee also have at least 20 more winners than estimated.
If some jockeys do well, some must do badly, and Josephine Gordon comes out worst with 16 less winners than my estimated result suggest she would have had if every horse was paced optimally. As I stated in part one though these are only estimates, and neither I nor Timeform claim them to be facts, but in my opinion they are a far better guide to who the best horse was on a given day that the actual result is.
Winning is normally the goal in a race, but places are important too, and have the advantage of an increased sample size, so I have used the same method of estimating places and comparing it to actual places. Luke Morris comes out well on top here, and since he also comes second in the Win AE table you would have to conclude his pace judgement is top notch. Graham Lee comes third for places, having been fourth in the Win AE metric, so he too clearly knows how quick he’s going, and while Joe Fanning is further down the list for Place AE he still does very well, and the slightly lower position is likely to do with the amount of front runners he rides, as their place ratio versus wins does tend to be slightly less than say hold up horses would be. The fact Declan McDonagh comes in sixth best is interesting as it conflicts with his poor result in positioning between fast and slowly run races, but they do only account for about 34% of all the races, and so the place AE figure is more robust. It could be his general ridding style is closer to optimal, but he just doesn’t change it to suit the pace of the race. Declan also scored well enough with a Win AE of 5.
Tom Queally was near the bottom of the charts for Win AE and he comes out worst of all for Place AE, with 31 less places than you would expect, and PJ McDonald only does fractionally better. Jamie Spencer came out fifth worst on Win AE and is sixth worst using the place metric so no matter which was you look at it he doesn’t come out well. It could be argued he’s typecast as a hold up rider and as such that’s the type of rides he gets, and he is beholden to others going a gallop, but you would still like to see a bigger difference between how he places a horse in a fast versus slowly run race.
After all those charts were does that leave us in discovering who showed the best pace judgement over the last four and a half years? The three most important metrics for deciding that are Win AE, Place AE and the difference between a jockeys pace figure in fast and slowly run races, with a positive figure being good. I’ve added all jockeys that came in the first five in those metrics individually, to the above chart. Jimmy Fortune and Colm O’Donoghue both finished high up in their positioning in fast and slowly run races, but have negative Win AE figures. Pat Cosgrave scored highly in Place AE and Positioning, but had a negative Win AE, while Harry Bentley and Faye McManoman only really score well in one of the three metrics. Donnacha O’Brien does exceptional well in being near the front in slowly run races, and further back when they’re going quick, and his Win AE figure of 10 was achieved from much less rides than most. With more evidence he would likely have done better again. Franny Norton has a better positioning figure than Oisin Murphy, but they are based on only fast and slowly run races so the Win and Place AE figures carry more weight, so I’d give Oisin the edge and place him in 5th place overall. Graham Lee beats Ryan Moore in both Win and Place AE so I’d have him ahead of Ryan. That leaves us with Joe Fanning and Luke Morris, and they really do stand out on the Win and Place AE scores. It’s hard enough to chose between them, people remember winners more than places, and Joe Fanning has ridden an awful lot more winners than he should have due to his pace judgement, but Luke Morris also does very well on that measurement, and has a huge 51 more places than estimated. Joe does do slightly better with the difference in his positioning score between fast and slowly run races though, so I’m going to give him a narrow victory, with the pair clear of Graham Lee in third.
So Joe Fanning comes out on top, and his average pace number of 2.19 tallies with the general impression that it is easier to get closer to optimal pace when you’re riding style is towards the front. The hold up jockeys struggled in this study. Joe probably has an advantage in that he has access to Mark Johnston horses who seem to relish being allowed to stride on. Luke Morris overall pace figure in all races was 2.37, while Graham Lee with an average pace figure of 2.47 did easily best of the more patient styles. So plenty of charts to mull over and obviously there’s an element of subjectivity in which ones you weight more heavily, but I hope this article has at least provided the data to make a better educated assessment on which jockeys perform best, at what in my view is the most important part of their job, pacing their mounts optimally.
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