Posts

McCoy and Walsh lead tributes to Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson’s fellow great jockeys Sir Anthony McCoy and Ruby Walsh led the tributes to the four-time champion following his retirement.

McCoy has repeatedly insisted he would never have set the records he managed in his career without Johnson pushing him all the way.

When McCoy retired after his 20 jockeys’ titles, it left the way clear for perennial runner-up Johnson to finally win the crown, and he managed another three before injury and the pandemic halted him in his tracks last season.

McCoy told Great British Racing: “On a professional level I probably got to know him better than anyone – and he’s a brilliant man to be around, a fantastic jockey and unbelievably competitive.

“He also has a great work ethic and is the fairest jockey you could ever ride against, so he has deserved all of his success.

“As I’ve said many times, having Richard to compete against for all of those years definitely made me a better jockey. But however good a jockey you think he is, he’s an even better person.”

McCoy also earlier tweeted: “Sometimes those who challenge us the most teach us the best.

“You did both to me for over 20 years – I will be forever grateful to you, thanks buddy. When you go home tonight, look in the mirror you’ll see what a champion looks like. Enjoy your retirement.”

Walsh made his admiration clear too.

He said: “What everyone knows about Richard Johnson is what an excellent jockey he is and what a great asset he is to racing.

“But what they might not know so much is that he is also a hard man, who has toughness and determination and an incredible pain threshold, as well as being a thoroughly decent human being.”

Johnson enjoyed many great days alongside trainer Henry Daly and still rode out for him on a weekly basis.

Daly believes it will be “impossible” to replace Johnson, who rode big winners for him on the likes of Mighty Man, Behrajan, Hand Inn Hand and Young Spartacus.

“It’s impossible to give a ‘quick tribute’ about Richard, I could go on forever,” said Daly.

“He’s been part of the fixtures and fittings here for 23 years. Every Tuesday morning he turns up – even when I don’t ask him to!

“His work ethic was unbelievable, and his attitude to the job was just incredible. It’s so hard to think of the right words that sum up a man like this.

“You will read endless quotes about what a nice guy he is, but that is because he is. I can honestly say in 23 years we never had a crossed word – which is astonishing because I’m a grumpy git!

“He never says no to anybody. It really is the mark of the man.

“I have a picture on my wall of when Mighty Man won as a novice at Aintree – where he was very good – and Dicky is up between his ears, that just sums them both up. They were a match made in heaven.

“People will say he leaves a void, but for Philip Hobbs and myself we won’t fill it – we will change what we do because of him. It’s impossible to replace him.”

Four-time champion trainer Nicky Henderson is another who is grateful to have seen Johnson’s dedication at first hand.

“He spent all those years in AP’s shadow, but if anything he has developed further as a jockey since AP’s retirement,” said Henderson.

“The input that he gives you is enormous, and his work ethic is unbelievable – he’ll go to Timbuktu for a ride. He’s tireless and a true asset to racing.”

Johnson’s weighing-room colleagues were also generous in their praise.

Tom Scudamore tweeted: “Simply the finest bloke and friend you could wish to have. When I grow up, I want to be like Richard Johnson.”

Aidan Coleman said: “Richard Johnson has been my hero from when he spoke to me on my first ever ride, can’t find the words to describe what he means to me from both a personal and professional point of view.”

Sam Twiston-Davies said: “Can’t believe the news, @dickyjohnson77 not just a legend but a hero to so many. Not just one of the best in the world, but also one of the nicest. Happy retirement #hero.”

Harry Skelton, who is battling to be champion jockey this year, added: “Words wouldn’t be able to describe how good a person Richard Johnson is. He is the ultimate role model to any human in general life, not just a jockey. Happy retirement @dickyjohnson77 #champion.”

Daryl Jacob said: “It’s been an absolute privilege to ride against ⁦@dickyjohnson77 throughout my career. A wonderful jockey and a real gentleman. Wishing him all the very best in the future.”

Jonjo O’Neill jnr, last year’s champion conditional, said: “The ultimate role model to anyone growing up. So determined, yet so humble and gracious.

“People like him just aren’t made every day. Strong as an ox, the ultimate champion. Just an unbelievable man.”

Professional Jockeys Association chief executive Paul Struthers added in a statement: “Dickie took over as Jumps President following AP McCoy’s retirement and has been actively involved in the PJA ever since.

“He is the nicest, kindest, most professional jockey I have ever had the pleasure of dealing with – and on both a personal and professional level, I am delighted he is retiring  from the saddle on his own terms.

“I cannot think of a single person who would have a bad word to say about him.

“Yet while there’s  a common saying that nice guys don’t win, Dickie has been at the top of his profession for close to  30 years – and only someone as remarkable as AP McCoy prevented him from being champion jump jockey more than the four times he was.

“He was the most amazing role model to other jockeys – incredibly professional in every aspect and a great communicator.

“Like so many senior jockeys before him, Dickie didn’t look out for just himself. He was passionate about the plight of all jockeys and was an excellent and active president of the PJA.

“He’s devoted himself to the racing industry and thoroughly deserves to enjoy a happy  retirement from the saddle with his family. We and his colleagues will miss him terribly.”

Any Second Now out to cap Walsh clan’s National fairytale

The Walsh family already have great memories of the Randox Grand National – and hopes are high Any Second Now can gave them further reason to cheer at Aintree next week.

It is 21 years since father Ted and son Ruby combined to win the world’s most famous steeplechase with the popular Papillon, with the rider’s then teenage sister Katie also part of the travelling team.

Five years later, Ruby Walsh added a second National success to his CV aboard the Willie Mullins-trained favourite Hedgehunter, while in 2012 Katie achieved the best placing of a female rider in Grand National history when third aboard Seabass, also trained by Ted Walsh.

Seabass and Katie Walsh in action in the 2021 National
Seabass and Katie Walsh in action in the 2012 National (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

“It’s been a race that’s been very lucky for us over the years,” said Katie.

“I always had a memory of the National from watching it as a child, but my clearest memory and best day was Papillon winning back in 2000.

“I was lucky enough to travel over and look after him. It’s so long ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

“It’s a fairytale really. When I was riding ponies round a field, I envisaged that we were jumping Becher’s and the Canal Turn.

“To be over there with a horse running in the National when I was 15 or 16, with Ruby riding him and dad training him, it really was this dream that was coming alive – and for him to win it was unbelievable.”

Ruby Walsh, riding Papillon, with a young Katie leading the horse
Ruby Walsh, riding Papillon, with a young Katie leading the horse (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Ruby Walsh, of course, went on to become one of the most decorated riders in the history of the sport before his retirement in 2019.

But among his countless big-race successes, it is that first Aintree triumph aboard Papillon that he still recalls with most fondness.

He said: “I don’t even know if it was a dream, to be honest – I don’t know if anyone ever dreams of winning the Grand National.

“You probably dream about riding in the Grand National and re-enact riding in the National as a kid when you’re riding ponies, but you don’t dream about winning it or run the full race in your imagination.

“Before Bobbyjo won it in 1999, Irish horses didn’t really compete in the Grand National. When I was growing up as a kid, you were wondering if any of the Irish horses would get to the Canal Turn – you weren’t thinking they were going to win.

“It’s not the kind of race where you can think ‘if I get on the best horse I could win that’. You can dream about winning a Gold Cup or a Champion Hurdle – because in theory, if you go out on the best horse, the chances are you’ll win.

“With the Grand National, it’s just a lottery – it still takes a lot of winning.”

Any Second Now (right) was a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2019
Any Second Now (right) was a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2019 (Nigel French/PA)

This year Ted Walsh will saddle the JP McManus-owned Any Second Now, who warmed up for his bid for National glory with an impressive victory over just two miles at Navan in March.

Katie Walsh, who is heavily involved at her father’s yard, said: “I think the way the National has changed in recent years, you do need to be able to travel and travel easily within yourself for the first mile-and-a-half.

“In that regard, Any Second Now is a strong traveller.”

Cloth Cap is a hot favourite for the National
Cloth Cap is a hot favourite for the National (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

While wary of the threat posed by Jonjo O’Neill’s hot favourite Cloth Cap in particular, Ruby Walsh insists he would pick Any Second Now if given the choice of which horse to ride.

He said: “I can see why Cloth Cap is favourite because he jumps, travels, has pace and stays. He’s probably going to be hard to beat, but Any Second Now is in great nick.

“Cloth Cap is so far ahead of the handicapper, in theory he should be an absolute certainty.

“If I was still a jockey, I’d be delighted if Jonjo rang me to ride him, I’d be delighted if my dad rang, I’d be delighted if Willie Mullins rang me to ride Burrows Saint – and if Paul Nolan rang me to ride Discorama I wouldn’t be saying ‘no’.

“I’d ride Any Second Now. Is he the most likely winner? I couldn’t tell you. But I still think the greatest day I had in racing was winning the Grand National for my dad – and I wouldn’t mind another feeling like that again.”

Should Any Second Now come up short, Katie Walsh would be as delighted as anyone to see one of the female riders in action claim victory – even if it will mean losing her record.

“I’ve never thought about it like that, to be honest,” she said.

“I never thought I would ever ride in the National. I dreamed about it and rode in a couple in our own back fields!”

If a female rider is to win the Grand National in the foreseeable future, the most likely candidate would appear to be Walsh’s compatriot Rachael Blackmore.

The 31-year-old has already made history this year, having become the first female rider to win a Champion Hurdle aboard Honeysuckle and being crowned leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival last month with six winners.

Katie Walsh believes Rachael Blackmore is more than capable of winning the National
Katie Walsh believes Rachael Blackmore is more than capable of winning the National (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“Personally, I’d love to see Rachael Blackmore win it (the Grand National),” said Walsh.

“Rachael in Cheltenham was remarkable. She was brilliant – you can take male and female out of it.

“The more women riding in the National, the more chance there is of a woman winning it.

“Things have changed quickly. When I rode Seabass in 2012, I think we were all thinking ‘can this really happen?’. Now it just looks like it’s only a matter of when, because we have the likes of Rachael and Bryony Frost and Bridget Andrews as professional jockeys.

“Without doubt all those girls have the ability to ride the winner, but I can’t see a massive change in the number of female riders.

“I think you need to be very lucky on the day, and it all needs to work on the day for whoever rides the winner.”

McCoy and Walsh heap praise on Rachael Blackmore

Sir Anthony McCoy believes Rachael Blackmore could “very easily” be a future champion jockey after she made history with victory in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.

Blackmore became the first woman to partner the winner in the feature event on day one of the Cheltenham Festival, notching the 13th Grade One victory of her career aboard Henry de Bromhead’s exceptional mare.

She has finished in the top three in the Irish jockeys’ championship for the last two seasons and is currently in second this term, just six winners behind Paul Townend.

Blackmore’s efforts put her within striking distance of a riders’ title, in McCoy’s view.

Rachael Blackmore returns in victory
Rachael Blackmore returns in victory (David Davies/PA)

He told ITV Racing: “She walks the walk more than she talks the talk. I’ve often said I thought it’d be really hard for a girl to be champion jockey, but she could very easily be – she’s as good as any girl I’ve seen on a horse.

“She gave herself all the options there. She knew she was riding a mare that stayed well -she kept her out of trouble, she kept it pretty simple on her as a whole. She’s delivered on the biggest stage.

“She’s class. Obviously Honeysuckle’s a class mare, but we keep heaping praise on her – and rightly so. She’s bombproof, she keeps everything simple. She makes very few mistakes, she’s got it all.

“I really do think that if there was ever going to be a woman champion jockey, it’ll be Rachael Blackmore.”

The 20-time British champion also hailed Honeysuckle, who was making it 11 starts unbeaten under rules.

McCoy added: “That was great to watch. She’s a brilliant mare, brilliantly ridden. All those ones beside her name – she’s a proper champion. You can’t take anything away from her.”

Ruby Walsh, another great of the weighing room and a 12-time Irish champion, was similarly impressed with Blackmore’s ride – praising her tactical awareness.

He said: “It was magical to watch. Rachael was brilliant on her as well – tactically she did all the right things. It was the simplicity of it – she rode her wide, as she always does, and got a really good look at the first hurdle.

“It was simple to watch, but it was brilliant to watch. Race-riding is about tactics – it’s about doing the right things and making the right decisions. That’s what she does as well, if not better, than anyone else.”

Walsh ‘sad and embarrassed’ for racing over Elliott image

Ruby Walsh is both “very sad” and “embarrassed” for racing as the photograph of Gordon Elliott sitting on a dead horse continues to threaten the sport’s reputation.

Dual Grand National-winning and Cheltenham Festival record-breaking jockey Walsh describes the image – posted on Twitter on Saturday night – as “indefensible”.

Top trainer Elliott is “cooperating fully” with an investigation into the incident by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, while the British Horseracing Authority has already placed an interim ban on his runners.

Speaking on RTE, Walsh said: “A picture paints a thousand words, but I think that picture only painted one – and that’s ‘indefensible.’

“When I looked at it, I felt angry, I felt embarrassed for my sport and I felt very sad.

“I was always taught that the duty of care to the animal is as much when it is dead as it is when it is alive – that is the way I was taught to conduct myself, and it’s the way I assumed most people within my sport would conduct themselves.”

The BHA has imposed an interim ban on any of Gordon Elliott's horses running in Britain
The BHA has imposed an interim ban on any of Gordon Elliott’s horses running in Britain (Niall Carson/PA)

Statements from Horse Racing Ireland, the BHA and the National Trainers Federation have made clear racing’s universal shock at seeing the picture, taken on Elliott’s gallops.

Walsh added: “It has huge ramifications for the sport, and I feel embarrassed for the sport and I felt very sad when I (saw) that picture that the due care and respect wasn’t given to that horse.

“As a licensed trainer, jockey or an employee of a stable yard, you are representing the horse racing industry – and the onus is on you to act in a manner that is good for the image of racing.”

Walsh reflects on Clarence House king Un De Sceaux

Outside of the Cheltenham Festival, few Irish-trained jumps horses have captured the hearts of racing fans in recent seasons in quite the way Un De Sceaux did throughout his illustrious career.

A regular in all the top chases under three miles, the Willie Mullins-trained gelding was a firm favourite – with his heart-on-the-sleeve front-running tactics helping him strike at Grade One level on 10 occasions before his retirement last year.

Though a dual winner at the Festival with victories in the 2015 Arkle and 2017 Ryanair Chase, it was his domination of the Clarence House Chase at Ascot, which he claimed for the first time five years ago, that really set him apart.

Regular rider Ruby Walsh was on board that day and despite having parted company with the O’Connell family’s pride and joy at Leopardstown on his previous start, he was confident compensation awaited in a race Un De Sceaux would make his own.

Un De Sceaux and Ruby Walsh on their way to victory at Ascot
Un De Sceaux and Ruby Walsh on their way to victory at Ascot (Julian Herbert/PA)

Walsh said: “I had looked for a big jump at Leopardstown, he changed his mind and didn’t get high enough in front and tipped over. I wasn’t really that conscious of it going to Ascot.

“We knew he was a hell of a good horse. I didn’t have any worries about his jumping.

“He jumped really well at Ascot that day and he was taking on Sire De Grugy, who had won the Tingle Creek that season. Though it was a compact field, it was a pretty decent race.

“He popped out, went a nice gallop, without going mad, and he was still going real easy when he faced up to the second-last, which he jumped well. Sire De Grugy appeared on his inside, but he picked up well going down to the last and ended up winning quite impressively.”

The reaction of a crowd can be a good guide as to what type of spectacle they have witnessed – and judging by the roar Walsh and Un De Sceaux received from those in the stands, it was clear they had seen a truly unique performance.

Walsh added: “They did see something special at Ascot that day. I always enjoyed riding at Ascot and even though it is such a vast arena, it always had a way of capturing the atmosphere and I think that is huge at any racecourse.

“We were looking for him to stamp himself as a live Champion Chase horse and he most certainly did that day.”

A rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre would consign Un De Sceaux to the runner-up spot in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at that year’s Festival, but his next visit to Cheltenham in January 2017 would result in the defence of his Clarence House crown, with the race rescheduled due to a frozen track at Ascot the previous week.

Un De Sceaux won a rescheduled Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham
Un De Sceaux won a rescheduled Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham (Julian Herbert/PA)

Walsh said: “To be fair, that was a great trial of the horse as he went to Ascot, came back home, then went back to Cheltenham the following weekend and still managed to win. That just shows you what kind of an iron horse he was.

“As a performance, it probably wasn’t as good as his first one, but when you factor in how much travelling he had done, he did incredibly well to win.

“That is another thing very good horses do – even when things aren’t going right, they still put in a good performance and be competitive.”

Although a broken leg would rule Walsh out of attempting a third Clarence House win aboard Un De Sceaux in 2019, he was among those willing on his old ally from the sidelines.

He added: “For sure I was cheering him on. Even when you are injured, you are still part of the team.

“Paul (Townend) rode him that day at Ascot and a bit like his second year, he didn’t look spectacular. The older he got, the less spectacular he became, but he still managed to win.”

Un De Sceaux’s bid for a fourth victory in the race last year was scuppered by Defi Du Seuil, with connections subsequently calling time on his career at the age of 12.

Walsh ranks him among the best he has ridden and added: “He was a bit of a hero to a lot of people and his owners, the O’Connells, got a lot of enjoyment out of him, which was great to see. He is back in France enjoying a happy retirement, which he thoroughly deserves.

“I rode some horses that I considered to have the potential to be great, but never got to become greats as they had short careers.

“You need to have longevity to be a wonderful horse and that is what Un De Sceaux was – his enthusiasm and his consistency was incredible.”

:: On comparing Un De Sceaux with the great two-milers he has ridden:

Ruby Walsh enjoyed great success with Master Minded
Ruby Walsh enjoyed great success with Master Minded (David Davies/PA)

“It’s impossible to cross-compare horses from Ayzertiyoup to Kauto Star to Twist Magic to Master Minded, Un De Sceaux and Douvan. I rode a lot of good two-milers.

“I’m just grateful they all came one after another and they didn’t come at the same time. Some people would have loved to have seen all these horses in one race together, but I’m just glad they came one after another and that I got the chance to ride them all.”

:: On watching the Ascot race growing up:

Viking Flagship is one of the famous names on the Ascot roll of honour
Viking Flagship is one of the famous names on the Ascot roll of honour (Barry Batchelor/PA)

“It was a race I grew up watching the likes of Viking Flagship racing in it on the BBC. It was a race that definitely helped me want to be a jockey.

“It was one of those races you watched on a Saturday and you were waiting for it, as it is a thrilling contest.

“One of my earliest memories of it was watching Desert Orchid beating Panto Prince as a kid and then thinking ‘imagine being part of that’.”

:: On the toughness of Un De Sceaux:

“In Britain he won twice at the Festival, a Tingle Creek, three Clarence Houses, and he ran in the Celebration Chase at Sandown.

“He was not quite a globetrotter like Magic Wand on the Flat, but he did move around a fair bit as he raced in Auteuil a good bit as well.

“He did rack up the miles and it is not as straightforward for a horse to travel like a human, so it was fair going out of him.”

Mares’ Chase to replace Novices’ Handicap Chase at Cheltenham

The Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase will replace the Listed Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The British Horseracing Authority announced in August of last year that a mares’ chase would be added to the programme at the showpiece meeting at Prestbury Park from 2021, replacing an existing race which had yet to be decided.

Which race should be dropped has been the source of much debate but it was confirmed it will be the Listed novices’ handicap chase, which was established when a fourth day was added to the Cheltenham Festival in 2005.

The novices’ handicap chase, which was traditionally run on the opening day of the Festival, will now be staged at Sandown as part of the Paddy Power Imperial Cup meeting just days before the Festival.

Cheltenham's clerk of the course Simon Claisse
Cheltenham’s clerk of the course Simon Claisse (Nick Potts/PA)

The new Grade Two Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, registered as the Liberthine Mares’ Chase, will be run on Gold Cup day, with the Grand Annual Chase moving to the Wednesday and the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle moving to the opening day.

Cheltenham’s clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, said: “We’re looking forward to being able to bring the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase into the racing calendar for The Festival 2021. Not only is this a great example of the sport working together to boost the mares’ race programme in Britain to benefit the industry, but we also now have an improved mares’ population providing quality competition.

“Deciding which race to replace was not an easy decision and it was important that we took into account all the factors and feedback we received. But when we evaluated the other novice chase opportunities at The Festival, as well as the importance of maintaining the current balance of chases and hurdles over the four days, this was considered the best option.”

Eleven-time champion trainer Paul Nicholls has welcomed the introduction of a mares’ chase at the Festival and hopes to saddle Laurina – winner of the Grade Two Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival when trained by Willie Mullins.

Nicholls said: “I fully support the introduction of the Mares’ Chase, and the positive impact that it will have on the racing industry.

“There will certainly be plenty of good mares in both Britain and Ireland to contest it and I hope to have a good candidate in Laurina. It looks like the obvious race for her, and she already has good form at Cheltenham so it will definitely be a potential target for her come March.

“It will no doubt have been a tough decision in choosing which of the races to lose, but in this case at least those horses will have lots of opportunities elsewhere.”

Ruby Walsh, the Festival’s all-time leading rider with 59 victories, said: “The Mares’ Chase will prove a great addition to The Festival, especially when it beds in over a three or four year period.

“Jumps horses rarely have a financial value when they finish racing, but for owners who are lucky enough to have a good mare, they can be worth a considerable amount as broodmares and thus owners get some return on their investment.

“Therefore the need for mares-only races is paramount for the value of unraced fillies, to encourage owners to buy them as racehorses. Having the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase to go along with the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle adds to the attraction of purchasing a filly.

“Cheltenham are showing their support to the breeding industry by adding this race and in my opinion showing a loyalty to the whole horseracing industry and not just the sport.”

Paddy Power make the Willie Mullins-trained Salsaretta the 6-1 favourite for the inaugural running, ahead of her stable companion Elfile and Henry de Bromhead’s Arkle heroine Put The Kettle On at 8-1.

Jump Jockeys: How Are The Mighty Fallen?

How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!

- Samuel, 1:25

Perhaps more so than the terrific performances at Cheltenham this past weekend, or the death of National Hunt benefactor Alan Potts, jump racing's headlines have been hogged in recent days not by horses or owners, nor even trainers; but, rather, by the riders.

First Paddy Brennan was sensationally 'jocked off' Cue Card, sweetheart of so many fans of the winter game, after a tumble too many; then Sam Twiston-Davies broke his elbow in a fall at Sandown before, this past Saturday, Ruby Walsh broke his leg in what was, remarkably, his third fall of the afternoon.

It is of course the very essence of the National Hunt jockeys' existence to face down danger between ten and twenty - and as many as 32 - times per race. In that context, falls are a natural by-product of race outcomes. But what is a reasonable rate for a rider to become separated from his or her equine partner?

Let the data speak.

 

Fall/Unseat Rates: The Five Year Macro Data

Below are the faller rates for the last five years in UK/Irish chases by a number of the top jockeys, one notably since retired. To be clear, this is for steeplechase falls and unseats (FU's) only, and the table is sorted by number of rides.

 

Jockey Rides FU's FU %
R Johnson 1552 88 5.67%
S Twiston-Davies 1484 93 6.27%
N Fehily 1003 59 5.88%
P Brennan 999 56 5.61%
D Russell 800 57 7.13%
B Geraghty 740 40 5.41%
AP McCoy 724 41 5.66%
R Walsh 651 53 8.14%
J Kennedy 258 24 9.30%

 

To add more global context to this subset of superstars, the average fall/unseat rate in the last 10,000 starters in UK and Irish chases has been 6.59%. Solely in Irish chases, the last 10,000 starters there fell or unseated at a rate of 7.84%, presumably because of the heavier turf on which they predominantly race (a subject for another, wetter, day). It may then be fair to say that anything lower than that is outperforming the average, and anything higher than that is under-performing against the average.

But not all chase rides are 'average'. The likes of Ruby Walsh and Jack Kennedy are more frequently engaged in the kind of skirmishes for victory which may demand firing a horse at the last, or an earlier fence, in a more aggressive fashion than, say, a rider popping round for fourth place.

If that is to mitigate, the disparities in the table cannot be so simply swept from view.

We can see i the table that, on a large number of rides, many of them with winning chances, Richard Johnson, Sam Twiston-Davies and Noel Fehily have all kept their fall/unseat rate below 6.5%. So too have Paddy Brennan, Barry Geraghty, and the now retired Tony McCoy.

But across the Irish Sea, look at Davy Russell, who leads the Irish jumps championship this term, and his hitherto closest pursuer, Ruby Walsh. Note also Jack Kennedy, number one jockey at Gordon Elliott's powerfully ascendant yard.

Russell's tumble rate of 7.13% is on the high side compared with Britain, but not wildly out of kilter with the pan-national average and in the green zone against his domestic peer group. The same cannot be said of Jack and Ruby. Although the former is young and arguably still learning his trade - arguably because he's had many more rides than plenty of jockeys five years his senior - the latter especially looks a surprisingly precarious pilot. Now, before the hate mail starts, obviously I recognise that Ruby Walsh is one of the great jockeys of our time and that this is but one barometer of a jockey's ability.

But, all the same, if I want to bet at a short price - and his rides are almost exclusively offered at prohibitive odds - I need to know that I have to factor a higher than average likelihood of my selection not passing the post in a chase with the rider on its back. With Jack Kennedy, he's almost 20% more likely to be dumped on the turf than the Irish average.

Let me be clear again: this is not about Ruby or Jack or anyone else. I'm far too selfish for that. No, this is about me as a punter knowing what I'm up against. About being forewarned and, therefore, forearmed.

 

Fall/Unseat Rates: The One Year Snapshot

Five years is a long time and it makes for some statistically significant (in the context of racing's generally small samples at least) inferences. But how do we compare jockeys with themselves? One way is to look at a snapshot - a subset - of the overall dataset. For punting purposes, the most current subset seems the most sensible. Below then are the last twelve months for the same jockey grouping, again sorted by number of rides.

 

Jockey Rides FU's FU %
R Johnson 301 20 6.64%
S Twiston-Davies 300 16 5.33%
D Russell 210 9 4.29%
N Fehily 206 12 5.83%
P Brennan 182 7 3.85%
R Walsh 124 13 10.48%
J Kennedy 123 12 9.76%
B Geraghty 105 9 8.57%
AP McCoy NA NA NA

 

Whilst even more care needs to be taken not to make bold claims on the basis of flimsy sample sizes, there remain elephants in the room.

First, let's look at Paddy Brennan, recently relieved of his supporting role atop the gorgeous Cue Card. His 3.85% fall/unseat rate in the past year is comfortably the lowest in the group and almost 1.5 times better than his five year average. Was he thus unlucky to lose such a coveted ride? That depends entirely on whether you're a macro sort of guy or you have the nuanced eye to make decisions based on the specifics of a handful of rides. I certainly don't consider myself qualified in the latter context and can see arguments for and against the rider switch.

The British Champion Jockey, Richard Johnson, has seen his tumble rate increase in the past twelve months, though possibly not materially. It has crept above the 10,000 runner average of 6.59% by a tiny margin: Johnson's renewed appetite to forage for every ride will have introduced a greater element of quantity over quality to his diet and the variance may perhaps be explained in such a way.

Noel Fehily has been remarkably consistent while Sam Twiston-Davies, who amazingly (to me at least, he seems to have been around for a long time) has only just turned 25, has retained his partnerships on a notably more frequent basis according to the most recent evidence. Tough luck then to break his elbow earlier this month; he actually rode in a subsequent race, attesting to the no-safety-net trapeze swing between heroism and stupidity that many in the weighing room unquestioningly fling themselves.

Meanwhile, Ireland's champion jockey-elect, Davy Russell, is 27 winners clear of his nearest challenger if one excludes the sidelined Walsh from calculations. Russell is approaching veteran status, though still in his late thirties, and has courted controversy this year in the manner with which he attempted to correct a recalcitrant mount. That episode deserves no more than a footnote in a piece the focus of which is elsewhere, and it will indeed be a shame if a man shunned by his major employer less than four years ago does not receive the praise he deserves if/when winning the jockeys' championship. Fair play to him.

To the elephant or, more precisely, the trio of elephants, in the room. Barry Geraghty first. He is one of the best jockeys I've seen and, in his time at Nicky Henderson's, was a man never to be dismissed. But, since taking the green and gold coin of Team JP, misfortune has followed him like a very bad smell. Since last July, he has broken both arms, in separate incidents; cracked a rib and collapsed a lung on another occasion; and recently (late August) fractured a shoulder blade. You have to be tough to be a jump jockey - far tougher than to look at numbers and write words about the subject - but my admiration starts to wane when riders persist in the face of mounting fragility.

It's no more my place to suggest to a rider about when to retire as it is for a rider to enquire on the number of winners I've ridden. So I won't. All I'll say is that I imagine the partners and families of jump jockeys rejoice the news of their loved one's cessation of getting legged up in a similar vein to that of the partners and families of professional boxers on hearing of gloves being hung for the final time. And I sincerely hope BJG has a long, uninterrupted and fruitful spell between now and whenever he pursues alternative employment.

Yet still we've to address the figureheads of Closutton and Cullentra, Ruby and Jack. In the last twelve months, Kennedy has come unstuck a dozen times from 123 chase starts. That's as near to ten per cent, and as near to 25% above the Irish average, as doesn't matter. Walsh has fallen or unseated once more than Kennedy, from one more ride, in the same period, a ratio above 10% and almost 33% greater than the norm.

It seems churlish to kick a man when he's down - Ruby faces a race against time to be back for the Cheltenham Festival and, like all fans of the sport, I hope he makes it - so I'll let those data speak for themselves. All I will add is that, to my eye - and keep in mind I've never ridden a winner - Ruby takes too many chances with fatigued animals late in races. Mounting (or, cynically, dismounting) evidence seems to support that.

The pressure in the Elliott and Mullins camps must be enormous, not just from the trainers, but from owners, other jockeys in the yard and, increasingly, the omnipresence of (social) media. Much of the latter is unworthy of attention, but when you're accustomed to being told how good you are, the sharper brickbats probably leave a weal.

 

Final Thoughts

There is an inherent selection bias in the tables above. Each of the jockeys therein has earned his place by being at the top of his peer group; such elevation comes only from taking chances when they're presented, and occasionally fashioning them when they may not absolutely be there.

As sports gigs go, riding 600kg animals over five foot fences (apologies for mixed metric-phors) around fifteen times per race on average is down there with the worst of 'em. It would never be for a wuss like me. Although not big on machismo either, I have a robust respect for these turf-eating gladiators as a collective.

But when the wallet comes out, they are individuals. And I want to know which individuals will support my bottom line, in the same way that these jocks want to know which horses will provide the winners to propel them up the championship table. It's every man (and woman) for themselves. Nobody is more or less selfish than the next, either in the punting or riding ranks; and nor should they be.

To that end, the frailties of otherwise tremendous jockeys with enormous (and, in the main, well deserved and hard earned) reputations are power to the contrarian punters' elbow.

Ruby has won aboard 30% of the chasers he's ridden in the last five years. That's open water clear of the next best (McCoy 22%, Daryl Jacob and Noel Fehily 20%, Sam T-D and Paddy B 19%, Richard Johnson 18%). But, from a punting perspective, his negative ROI of 18.86% at SP during that time is surpassed by absolutely nobody in his Premier League peer group. Some of that, of course, relates to his stable's form with chasers, most of it to the over-exposure of the Mullins/Walsh/Ricci PR machine; that's neither here nor there in terms of wagering.

Meanwhile, on the flip side, the unfashionable Paddy Brennan not only wins at a 19% clip, he's also secured a profit of almost 60 points at SP in the same time frame, regardless of the Cue Card fallout.

Backing horses is not a beauty contest, nor is it about fashion. On the contrary, the value lies wherever the spotlight doesn't. And, even in the halogen glare of the media beam, punting pearls are left for those with peripheral vision. Always be asking questions, take nothing on trust. The data is here. Use it. It rarely lies.

I genuinely hope Ruby gets back in time for the Festival, and I further hope he has a fantastic time of it. But I'll not be touching his chase mounts there, or pretty much anywhere else. That's unlikely to trouble him, of course. Devil take the hindmost!

Matt