A Nasty ST-D?
By Ricky Taylor
At the moment I am doing a lot of research into jockeys and looking to uncover new ways of assessing their relative abilities that go beyond the usual statistics on rides, winners and winning strike rate. The recent tribulations of poor Sam Twiston-Davies got me thinking about jump jockeys and whether or not you could find good statistics on the number of times that a jockey gets unseated. After all, in jump racing the ability of the jockey to actually stay on the horse over a jump is an important factor!
For those who are not familiar with the recent story, Sam Twiston-Davies got unseated twice in a couple of days in mid-December. This wouldn’t have been that remarkable but he got unseated on the flat rather than because the horse had made a mistake at a fence or hurdle. First he parted company with Politologue approaching the last in a hurdle race at Cheltenham, and then he hit the deck again when he fell off Hawkhurst on the run-in at Southwell a couple of days later when he had the race in the bag. He has since vowed to change his riding style and to his credit he apologised to losing punters for his error, although to be fair to him the horse didn’t help him at Southwell by jinking. These unfortunate incidents were all put down to technical issues with Sam’s riding style. I think this might be a bit harsh as the lad has ridden nearly 600 winners and had plenty of big race winners. However, it reminded me of my limited riding experience and how difficult it is to stay on a horse at a trot let alone at full blooded racing pace, jumping fences and hurdles! This got me thinking about whether there are any statistics on the number and proportion of rides where a jockey is unseated.
To my surprise I couldn’t find any stats on the subject of unseated rides from the usual sources such as the Racing Post website. There was plenty of data about wins and rides over hurdles and fences, prize money won and the number of place finishes, and even minimum riding weight over the last twelve months, but nothing on how good a jockey was at actually staying on his mount. Of course this is a good thing for those prepared to bother with compiling their own statistics because it is a little bit of information that isn’t readily available to other punters and layers and therefore might not be reflected in the horses’ odds, giving a bit of value to those with the extra bit of data.
Unseat vs Fall
The first thing to note is the definition of an ‘unseat’ and how it differs from a fall in the formbook. Professional race readers, who compile the official form book, determine whether a horse has fallen or if the jockey fell off. A fall is basically where the jockey had no chance of staying on board because the horse physically hit the deck. An unseat is when the horse might have made a mistake jumping a fence but remained on its feet but the jockey was unable to remain in the saddle. In practice there is quite a wide range of unseats. There are plenty of occasions when the horse has made such an error that its head has hit the deck, and its backside has shot up into the air that no jockey, unless super glued to the saddle, is going to be able to keep the partnership intact. However, there are also plenty of occasions when you think that a jockey simply fell off when another jockey might have been able to stay in the saddle. The Sam Twiston-Davies incidents are rarer. I can’t think of too many incidents when a jockey has fallen off on the flat, although it does happen and is incredibly frustrating for punters when it does.
I’ve analysed the results of all jump races run in Great Britain and Ireland since 2013 to November 2015. For reasons of space, and to cut out the noise from small numbers, I restricted the results to jockeys that had more than 200 hundred rides over the period. I haven’t distinguished between hurdle and chase races to keep the sample as large as possible. The results are set out in the Table below. They make for interesting reading. The first thing to note is the all jockey average. The overall unseat rate of all jump jockeys is around 1.7 per cent or 1.7 unseats in every 100 rides (rank 70 in the Table). This provides the context and you ideally don’t want to see a jockey getting unseats higher than this average.
The next thing to do is to do a sense check on the results. Basically where do Ruby Walsh and Tony McCoy feature on the Table? These are the two acknowledged expert riders over the period. McCoy records an unseat rate, over a huge number of rides, of just 0.75 per cent. That is well below the average and ranks him towards the bottom of the Table. Walsh is also well below the average with an unseat rate of just 0.9 per cent. The current top jockey Richard Johnson also has an unseat rate that isn’t much higher than the rate for Walsh.
|Jockey||Unseated rate (%)||Number of rides||Rank|
|Mr John Dawson||2.60%||231||24|
|J J Burke||1.95%||972||60|
|Nico de Boinville||1.79%||616||66|
|D J Casey||1.73%||751||69|
|All jockey average||1.73%||140,189||70|
|A P Heskin||1.59%||1,198||82|
|M P Fogarty||1.44%||696||93|
|M P Butler||1.25%||399||112|
|Andrew J McNamara||1.23%||812||114|
|Niall P Madden||0.92%||649||143|
|D G Hogan||0.78%||512||158|
|A P McCoy||0.75%||2,133||161|
|Mr D G Noonan||0.72%||277||165|
|A E Lynch||0.69%||1,880||166|
|B M Cash||0.66%||454||168|
|Felix De Giles||0.22%||457||178|
Back to Sam
Where does poor old Sam Twiston-Davies feature? Well he actually does pretty well. He is well below the average unseat rate. He had about 1.39 unseats for every 100 rides. This is a fair bit higher than for Walsh, McCoy and Johnson but isn’t too bad in the grand scheme. He probably needs to improve this part of his game if he wants to be a top jockey, however. I also see that Davy Russell is near the bottom of the Table which fits my impression of him as a rider. He has proven very hard to unseat and a superb horseman. It may also be worth noting that Paul Moloney is well down the table and I think that he is an underrated jockey.
The table doesn’t make for good reading if you are one of the dozen jockeys at the top of the rankings. Conor Shoemark, Sean Bowen, Andrew Tinkler, Samantha Drake, Mark Enright, Stephen Mulqueen, David Splaine, Jonathan Moore, Aidan Coleman, Kevin Jones, Barry Keniry and Lucy Alexander all have exceptionally high unseat rates. I was amazed to see that Aidan Coleman records 3.4 unseats for every 100 rides, which is about twice the average unseat rate. Conor Shoemark seemed to find it hard to stay on a horse in the period in question…
I think this is interesting and potentially profitable data. It could be biased by the fact that some jockeys might be consistently riding poor quality animals that simply can’t jump, but over a large number of rides one would expect much of that bias to be cancelled out. I’ll certainly be using the data to spot potential lay bets or to re-adjust my own betting forecasts. I hope you find it useful.