Racing News
Monday 9th December 2013

Rating the Jockeys – The Truly Tricky Part of Horse Racing Handicapping

A P McCoy
© Caroline Norris

A P McCoy

The jockey obviously has a role in the long- and short-term success of a horse, but it is obvious, even to a layman, that this role is rather limited. Indeed, a good jockey cannot make a horse perform better than it would under ideal circumstances, but a bad jockey can make a horse perform worse. While the jockey’s role can best be defined as “making sure that the horse runs to the best of its ability”, his impact cannot be ignored by truly savvy handicappers.

As a general rule, the athletic performance of individuals peaks around the age of 26-27, and that is a statistical certainty. Certainly, history backs this data up when it comes to jockeys too: AP McCoy, one of highest-profile jockeys of the last 15 years, was 27 when he set a new record of 289 winners, beating the previous mark of 269 set by Sir Gordon Richards way back in 1947.

While the number of winners is definitely something to consider when it comes to evaluating jockeys, together with the strike rates and the returns to level stakes it is but a drop in the bucket.

The best way to determine a jockey’s skills and role in the performance of his horse is to take the post-race rating of the horse and to match it up against its pre-race rating. This way, one gets to something called “performance against expectation”. Of course, this variable alone isn’t decisive in determining the abilities of the jockey and the impact of these abilities on the outcome of the race(s).

Specialists use a set of statistics-based filters applied to the above said performance against expectation, to eliminate factors which have little to no logical impact on the sought factor.

In addition to all the above, the results churned out at the end of the above described statistical process have to be subjected to a contextual adjustment. The reason for this is that horses tend to improve within the same discipline, over the course of the first few races most pronouncedly.

Because the overall performance of the horse/jockey tandem is greatly influenced by the trainer as well, in order to gain a relevant picture of the jockey’s performance, all the above principles need to be applied to a fairly large sample of races (a minimum of 100).

Proof that the system works is in the fact that when correctly applied, there’s little difference between the performance of the same given jockey on one horse and on another, even as one may be a winner and the other not.

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