by Jeremy Plonk
March 22, 2021
Welcome to a continuing handicapping series for our Monday blog space, “Monday Myths.” Each week I’ll use the power of the Betmix database to take common handicapping assumptions and either support or dispel them with data. Betmix data powers the 1/ST BET app and its features like Angler and Birddog give data-minded horseplayers a treasure trove of information in which to query your own curiosities.
The best jockeys only win because they get the best mounts.
There’s a heavy reluctance around the racetrack and amongst horseplayers to give jockeys much of the credit for a victory. A loss, well, that’s a different story. Since the 110-pound jockey can’t carry the 1,100-pound horse, there’s some common sense to the stance that it’s far more about the horse. But if all things were equal, how much does the jockey matter? I wanted to find out if the success of the jockey could actually help the success of the horse, and if so, by how much. By looking at race favorites, those horses projected to be best in every race, we can gauge the rider’s impact.
I crunched the numbers in the Betmix database for every Thoroughbred race in North America over the past 5 years, going back to Mar. 22, 2016. The study looked at the all race favorites and the success level of the jockeys riding them, utilizing the jockeys’ 1-year winning percentage at the time of the mount. We grouped the jockeys by success (0-5% win rate, 6-10%, 11-15%, 16-20%, 21-25% and 26%-plus).
Favorites won 37.22% with any level of jockey in the saddle.
Favorites won 35.13% with a 0-5%-level of jockey in the saddle.
Favorites won 35.43% with a 6-10%-level of jockey in the saddle.
Favorites won 36.73% with a 11-15%-level of jockey in the saddle.
Favorites won 37.81% with a 16-20%-level of jockey in the saddle.
Favorites won 40.03% with a 21-25%-level of jockey in the saddle.
Favorites won 43.42% with a 26%-or-higher-level of jockey in the saddle.
At every higher level of jockey success came a higher percentage of winning favorite. There was very little difference between those 0-10% in the lowest two groups and both groups won decidedly less often than favorites overall. The 11-20% two groupings of jockeys sort of straddled the overall success of favorites and were not noticeably impactful. The two highest groupings of jockeys by success had a superior impact on the likelihood of a winning favorite, both performing far above the average chance of victory overall for the chalk.
Overall Findings Verdict:
There’s a solid 5-8% swath between the bottom-level jockeys and the top riders when riding favorites (35.13% to upwards of 43.42%), lending credence to that there’s more to winning a race than just being on the best horse.
You can’t say that the best jockeys only win because they get the best mounts. These numbers clearly indicate that the best jockeys also do more with the best mounts when they get them.
You can go into Betmix and run your own queries for a deeper dive into this theory and any that you can create. For instance, take a look at the tracks you play most often to see if they fall in line with this study’s conclusions. I did a fun search by trainer, and noticed Wesley Ward’s favorites win 45% when riding the lowest-level jockeys. So even when you see him ride a lower-end jockey on a favorite, don’t be afraid to trust the runner.