Riders Up! Handicapping the Jockey’s Impact
Yes, a rider can and will make all the difference in a horse winning and losing a race, which we have all seen too many times to count. Getting a horse into the best possible position, being able to read the pace scenario being laid out and adjusting, making a move through a hole or around a turn, evading and avoiding traffic or trouble are all major factors and are usually the deciding differences in the outcome of a race.
However, there isn’t a formula stating that a meet’s leading rider moves a horse up 3 lengths against a given field or that the meets’ trailing rider lessens a horse’s chances of winning. Sometimes it’s as simple as the best horses winning that day. Yes, the best horse might have had a lesser rider, however, that lesser rider was still able to guide the best horse to the finish line first. I never saw a rider get off the horse and carry the horse to the finish line so no matter how gifted and talented a rider is, there is no winning without the horse’s ability figuring into the mix.
I never let a rider take me off a horse. After handicapping a race and making the decision to back a horse because of a likeable angle or an edge that I feel can make the difference in this handicapping situation, I am sure not to let a rider take me off that horse. Of course, what I would like to see is that today’s rider has been on this horse before and even better, aboard for the horse’s last start. That would give me more confidence that the rider thinks this horse is currently profitable.
The Jockey/Trainer Combo When a rider is aboard for the first time, I instantly look to see how many times this rider has ridden for this trainer. I like to see that they have worked together in the past. However, if it’s one of the top jocks in the industry then such a stat doesn’t matter as much. In fact, this new rider might have been working this horse in the morning, helping the horse gain conditioning while also learning the horse.
Jockey Changes Further, when a horse gets a different rider today as compared to its last start I want to know why. Was there a trainer change? A claim, meaning a new stable? Is the prior rider out of town today? I think these points are important especially if the horse and rider had success in their last start. Why bail on success?
Of course, there are times when a rider is changed because the trainer doesn’t like the ride his horse received last time out or he hasn’t had much success with this rider over several starts on this horse and feels a change might help everyone.
If it appears that the rider chose to ride another horse in this same field, then I will try to weigh his reasons. Does this rider primarily ride for this certain trainer? Did this rider make a choice between these two horses? Discovering these answers might steer you away from a poor bet and perhaps onto a better investment.
Knowing a rider’s strengths helps a great deal in pairing them with a horse that has shown a certain running style. Such detailed scrutinizing is part of being a good trainer and can help a great deal in handicapping.
For instance, let’s say this horse lacks early speed and likes to sit in the pocket, stalking the early leaders, usually sitting 5 lengths or so behind the pace. You might get more confident in this horse for today’s race if you knew that the rider aboard is a great pocket rider, with great ability to establish position behind the early lead and can adjust depending on how fast the leaders are traveling.
Obvious questions should come to mind as you ask yourself if this same rider was on this horse before? What kind of trip did this rider give this horse in the past? Did that ride fit the horse’s best racing/running style?
In conclusion, Yes, the rider can make all the difference in the world and you want to see a rider on the horse you are betting as being “live”. Either one of the top riders at the meet, or a rider having a successful meet, maybe having a hot streak, or at the least a rider aboard that is familiar with the horse, having ridden this horse successfully before.