Pace and Run Style in Horse Racing Pic Steve Davies/Racingfotos.com

Jockeys and Run Style Revisited

In this article I will be looking at my favourite area of research, namely running styles / pace, writes Dave Renham. As I have mentioned numerous times before, knowing how a race is likely to “pan out” in terms of a potential “pace angle” can give us an important edge.

Being able to predict the running style of each horse in a race can be liquid gold in certain circumstances but, as we know, in most cases this is trending towards the impossible. However, using past run style data we can make an informed judgement, and certain races will be easier to predict how things will pan out than others. In terms of past running style, arguably the most important factor is the horse itself, especially if it has a preferred pace position. However, there are other dynamics to consider, including the other horses in the race, the draw at certain tracks and over certain distances, the trainer, and the jockey.  And it is that last variable I'll be delving into for the remainder of the article.

A jockey can certainly make a big difference in any race, especially when it comes to pace or running styles. How often have you seen a jockey set a steady gallop in front and manage to repel all rivals for a pillar to post victory? Just the other day at Chester we saw a masterclass of that from Hollie Doyle, aboard Pride Of America in a 1m2f handicap (12/5/23). Hollie got to the front, dictated the tempo, and then cleverly kicked for home earlier than the other jockeys were expecting. She now had them all on the stretch and kicked three lengths clear around two furlongs out. The favourite gradually closed as they reached the final furlong and possibly got a neck in front with 150 yards to go. However, the energy it had used up to get back to Pride Of America meant he had nothing left for the finish and Doyle’s mount pulled away again for a classy success.

For this article I have looked at five years' worth of data (1/1/18 to 31/12/22) including both turf and all weather racing, but in the UK only (i.e. not Ireland). My focus has been on handicap races and I will start over the two sprint trips of 5 and 6 furlongs. Before I crack on, let me give you an overview of run style and what it means (regular readers will know this inside out by now I hope!).

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The run style stats have been sourced from this website's data – specifically the Query Tool. The run style data here at Geegeez is split into four sections – Led (4), Prominent (3), Mid Division (2) and Held Up (1). The number in brackets is the run style score that is assigned to each section.

The numbers are really helpful as we can use them to drill down and build a better picture and understanding of how important run style can be.

Below is a basic breakdown of which type of horse fits which type of run style profile:

Led – horses that lead early, horses that dispute the early lead. I refer to the early leader as the front runner;

Prominent – horses that lie up close to the pace just behind the leader(s);

Mid Division – horses that race mid pack or just behind the mid-point;

Held up – horses that are held up at, or near the back of the field.

 

Jockeys in Sprint Handicaps (5f - 6f)

As a starting point let us see which jockeys took the early lead the most (in % terms) in sprint handicaps at up to six furlongs. I have included jockeys that have had at least 100 rides over this 5-year period and who are currently still riding in the UK – those with the highest 15 percentages are shown below:

 

 

For comparison purposes the average for ALL jockeys in terms of taking the early lead is 14.2%. Thus, Ross Coakley and Kieran O’Neill both go forward early nearly twice as often as the average. Now, a look at those jockeys that have the lowest percentages:

 

 

There are a couple of very well-known jockeys in this cohort: Ryan Moore and Jamie Spencer. Spencer is renowned for his hold up style as a jockey, so that should come as no surprise. However, Ryan Moore may raise more eyebrows, as less than 6% of his sprint handicap rides have seen him take the lead early. Moore-ridden sprint handicappers have been held up more than any of the other three run styles (mid division, prominent, led), but only 11.7% of them have won. Compare this to the combined figure of horses he's ridden prominently or led aboard which have won 22.2% of the time in the same group of races. Moore is a well-respected and successful jockey, but in sprint handicaps would I want him riding a horse I'm keen on? Probably not.

Jockeys who can get their mounts to front run more often than most in sprints are definitely worth noting, but one could (rightly) argue that the win percentages for jockeys when on front runners is more important. For example, if a jockey had taken the lead in 25% of races but won only 5% of them then this turns into a negative. In contrast, a jockey that has led early in say 15% of races but won 25% of the time when taking the early lead is definitely a positive. Of course, the ideal is to have a jockey that gets to the front early a high percentage of the time, and goes on to win a high percentage of the time!

Therefore, let us now look at the top performing jockeys in terms of win % when on a front runner (30 front running rides minimum):

 

 

For comparison purposes the average win SR% for ALL front running jockeys in handicap sprints stands at 18.1%. It's good to see Messrs Coakley, Hart, Callan and Bryan in this table – they were also in the top 15 of early leading jockeys shown earlier. Some of the datasets are quite small, so we do need to be aware of this but, when it comes to Jason Hart, we have plenty of evidence with which to work. Hence let's dig a little deeper into Hart's run style record in 5-6f handicaps.

Jason Hart's Run Style in Sprint Handicaps (up to 6f)

As we have seen Jason Hart front runs / leads early in roughly a quarter of all handicap sprints in which he rides. Of these 27.2% went on to win. These are impressive and powerful numbers and I am always on the look-out for which horse Hart is riding in such contests.

Look at Hart compared to the average jockey, in terms of run style: there are two columns in the graph below. The orange columns show what percentage of horses displayed that particular running/pace style for all the jockeys; this is our control group data if you like. The blue columns are the figures for Hart. So, for instance, leaders accounted for 14% of all runners when examining the ALL jockey data, whereas Hart led on 25.5% of his sprint handicap rides; prominent racers were 33.4% for all jockeys versus 39.9% for Hart, and so on.

 

 

The graph is useful as it is an easy way to compare the data. Jason Hart clearly understands the importance of track position in sprints: 65.4% of the time he either gets to, or is close to, the front early. This is far higher than the average figure for ALL jockeys which stands at 47.6%.

If we look at the win and place breakdown for Hart, we can really see the importance of track position:

 

 

As the table shows, if you had been able to back every front running sprinter Hart rode, you would have made a huge profit, not just if backing to win, but backing each way also. Not only that, we need also to remember these profit/loss figures are calculated to Industry SP. Just imagine the profits if backing on the exchanges or taking BOG! Prominent racers would have made us a profit if backing to win also. The stats/returns for midfield and hold up horses are poor for Hart in these quick fire events – but we know from previous research this is almost always the case regardless of rider or situation.

For the record Hart has taken 123 different horses to the front early in these races and, of those he has ridden from the front four times or more, 15 of the 16 won at least once. Indeed these 16 horses have combined to front run in 107 races of which they were successful on 40 occasions, which equates to a hugely impressive 37.4% strike rate.

There is one more Jason Hart stat to share which is his record on front runners in handicap sprints when his horse was in the top three of the betting: he has won on these horses a staggering 41.2% of the time with SP returns equating to 90p in the £. Looking at the ALL jockey figures for these fancied runners, the strike rate is just 29.2%.

Before moving on, Hollie Doyle is another jockey who has done well on similarly fancied runners, scoring over 38% of the time.

Jockeys in 7f & 1m Handicaps

Up in trip now. To start with I will look once again at which jockeys took the early lead most often (in % terms) in these races. As with the sprints I have included jockeys who had at least 100 rides over the 5-year period and who are currently still riding in the UK – those with the highest 15 percentages are shown below:

 

 

Theodore Ladd has staggering figures, taking his runners to the lead over a third of the time. Next highest is Frankie Dettori, albeit with a 12% lower figure.

It should be noted that front runners in handicaps are not as successful over 7f-1m compared with 5-6f but, generally, they do still have an edge, as the graph below shows:

 

 

As can be seen a front runner is twice as likely to win as any individual hold up horse. For the record, if we had been able to use our crystal ball to predict the front runner in every qualifying race we would have made a profit of £1954.92 to £1 level win stakes, equating to returns to Industry SP of over 22p in the £.

Time to see which jockeys have performed best from the front in terms of win strike rate (50 front running rides minimum / 7f-1m handicaps):

 

 

William Buick heads the list on 30% which is excellent. He also appeared in the best percentage table for 5-6f handicaps earlier; much of this will be down to the well-drilled Charlie Appleby horses on which he typically has first dibs. Hollie Doyle appears again also, as do Daniel Tudhope and Charles Bishop.

Data as we know can get skewed under certain circumstances, so I now want to examine jockey run style performance in these 7f-1m handicaps when the horses have come from the top three in the betting. This gives us a similar group of runners which renders jockey comparison arguably more effective. First let us breakdown overall win strike rates for all four run styles when the horses are in the top three in the betting:

 

 

Early leaders still enjoy a strong edge in this cohort of exclusively fancied runners. The overall strike rate for ALL runners from the top three in the betting stands at 20.3%, so these front runners score 35% more often than the average (27.4 / 20.3 = 1.35).

Let us review which jockeys have higher strike rates on top three in the betting front runners than the 27.4% average. In addition I will share the potential profit/loss figures should we have predicted the horse/jockey would get to the front early (40 qualifiers minimum):

 

 

Some impressive figures here – Buick is again prominent in the list with an excellent 43% win success, though Tom Marquand just pips him on 44.4%. Hollie Doyle has very good stats once more.

Run style/pace averages by jockey

In order to give us a more complete picture I have produced jockey run style/pace averages. I have used these averages in the past not just for jockeys, but courses and trainers as well. I simply add up the Geegeez pace points for a particular jockey and divide it by the number of rides; the higher the average the more prominent the jockey tends to race. It makes sense to split these pace averages up into 5-6f and 7f-1m handicap figures.

I have also highlighted jockeys with high run style/pace averages (in green) and low run style/pace averages (in red). The colour coding parameters for each distance are slightly different as the average run style figure for 5-6f handicaps is 2.28, for 7f-1m it is a little lower at 2.21.

 

 

As a rule of thumb I would prefer to have a jockey with a green figure if riding a horse I wanted to bet at these distances. I also would check their win strike rate as well because, as I mentioned earlier, this is clearly important in terms of avoiding losing runs.

Before winding this piece up, here is a race example of how we could have combined our knowledge of both horse and jockey pace/run styles. It is from March 16th of this year and it was a 5f handicap at Southwell. The racecard below has been ordered by horse pace totals (last four runs):

 

 

As we know 5f handicaps generally give front runners a healthy edge and, looking at the horse data above, it seemed likely that the early pace will come from either Ustath, Brandy Station or Dapper Man. If we now look at the jockey run style pace averages (5-6f handicaps 2018-2022) we see the following:

 

 

Jason Hart, who was mentioned earlier in the article, tops the list and hence a combination of Dapper Man’s 14 points and Jason Hart’s preference to push his mounts up to or near the front early, looked a good partnership. Ustath (16 points) was ridden by Jonny Peate, but his average was relatively modest at 2.19; Brandy Station (14 points) was ridden by Zak Wheatley who had a decent enough figure of 2.42. From these stats and using solely run style/pace to find a selection, you would say that Dapper Man and Jason Hart looked the most obvious option with Brandy Station another to consider.

As is inevitably the way with example races, things panned out much as expected from a run style perspective: Ustath and Brandy Station disputed the lead for the first furlong before Dapper Man who had been tracking them took over. He led for the rest of the race and won at 8/1.

Obviously, not all races will go to script like this, but doing our run style homework should give us an edge over those who ignore run style completely, or do not fully understand it; jockeys definitely have a part to play and we need to be aware of that.

There are many other factors to consider when analysing any race, but run style bias can be potent, especially over certain courses and distances. In some cases I would argue it is the most important thing to consider. I hope this piece has further sparked your interest and, if you have not really considered run style before, this should offer some food for thought. Until next time...

- DR

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3 replies
  1. Monsieurbernie
    Monsieurbernie says:

    excellent work, love this kind of thing and really helps with the betting, i have admired hart from the front for a long time and im not wrong!

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