The world of horse racing betting is undoubtedly dominated by the daily wagers placed on individual races, be they singles, doubles, or hugely popular combination bets such as Lucky 15s, Patents, Yankees, and so on. However, whilst the day-to-day business accounts for the lion’s share of betting turnover, those bets aren’t the be-all and end-all.
Racing also boasts a thriving ante-post scene, with a wide array of markets available ahead of the major events, including the Classics and season-defining festivals such as the Cheltenham Festival or Royal Ascot. If you have a long-range fancy for the Derby, for example, you will have no trouble obtaining a price for your selection up to a year in advance.
And in racing, your betting needn’t be restricted to the horses – it is also possible to bet on those gallant men and women in the saddle. Many punters may do this on a daily basis – in betting on the mounts of their favourite jockeys when picking out those single and multiple bets. But another option is to back a jockey to outperform their rivals over a season or at a major festival. Jockey-based punts also feature in the “Special Offers” sections of many of the biggest online betting sites, e.g. Frankie Dettori to ride two or winners on the opening day at Royal Ascot.
Here we run through the most popular jockey-based markets available, examining how they are settled and looking back at the recent winners.
The Jockeys Championships
Topping the pile of Jockey-based punts is a bet on who will be crowned the champion jockey for the season. Almost all bookmakers provide odds on this type of market, which is available for both the Flat Jockeys Championship and the National Hunt (Jumps) Jockeys title. Prices are released before the start of the season and continually updated throughout the year. These bets are an excellent option for those seeking an interest in the racing action throughout the year. If things go your way, just one small bet at the start of the season can keep you interested on virtually every single day of the action.
Flat Jockeys Championship
Unlike the Champion Trainer prize, which is determined by which trainer accumulates the most prize money, the Champion Jockeys title is simply awarded to the jockey who rides the most winners over the course of the season.
With flat racing of some description taking place from January through to December, you may wonder when one season ends and another begins. There is, however, an “official” flat season within the relentless stream of fixtures, beginning on the opening day of Newmarket’s Guineas meeting in May and running through to the conclusion of Champions Day at Ascot in October.
The Flat Jockeys title is traditionally dished out to the winning rider as part of the Champions Day festivities and goes to the rider with the most wins during that May to October 24-week period. All wins count the same, whether on turf or the all-weather, in a £1million event such as the Derby or a lowly £2,000 Selling Handicap at Southwell.
|2018||Silvestre de Sousa||Brazilian||148|
|2017||Silvestre de Sousa||Brazilian||155|
|2015||Silvestre de Sousa||Brazilian||132|
As we can see from the above list, attempting to predict just how many wins will be required to top the table is a tough task, with the winning tally ranging from Silvestre de Sousa’s 132 in 2015 to the 208 of Richard Hughes in 2013. On average, the winning rider has required a shade over 167 wins to get their hands on the trophy over the period looked at.
We have quite an international cast amongst the previous winners, with the Irish, somewhat predictably, just shading it. One notable feature is that, when seeking the winner, one of the first ports of call should be to look to the jockey who won in the previous year. Over the period detailed above, the reigning Champion Flat Jockey successfully defended his crown on nine occasions.
With a total of six titles, Kieren Fallon is the most successful rider on the above list. A fine achievement, but nothing compared to the 26 accumulated by Sir Gordon Richards over the course of his legendary career.
With so many races run over the course of the season, you may think it would be safe to ignore the possibility of a dead heat in this market, and it almost always is. Not in 2007, however, when Jamie Spencer won the very last race of the season to join Seb Sanders on 190 wins and earn a share of the title.
National Hunt Jockeys Championship
Whilst the Flat Jockeys Championship is restricted to a 24-week window, the race to be crowned the leading National Hunt rider is an almost year-round endeavour. Taking the 2023/24 campaign as an example, the title will go to the rider who compiles the most wins between Sunday 30th April 2023 and Saturday 27th April 2024 – with the battle for the 2024/25 title then beginning on Sunday 28th April 2024. No rest for the wicked in the National Hunt game!
|2022/23||Brian Hughes||Northern Irish||165|
|2021/22||Brian Hughes||Northern Irish||204|
|2019/20||Brian Hughes||Northern Irish||141|
|2015/16||Richard Johnson||Northern Irish||235|
|2014/15||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||231|
|2013/14||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||218|
|2012/13||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||185|
|2011/12||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||199|
|2010/11||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||218|
|2009/10||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||195|
|2008/09||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||186|
|2007/08||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||140|
|2006/07||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||184|
|2005/06||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||178|
|2004/05||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||200|
|2003/04||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||209|
|2002/03||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||258|
|2001/02||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||289|
|2000/01||Tony McCoy||Northern Irish||191|
Not so much variety around in a list dominated by perhaps the greatest jumps jockey of all time – the incomparable Tony Mcoy. His brilliance in the saddle and iron will made him almost impossible to beat, even if perhaps his biggest rival, Ruby Walsh, spent far more of his time racing in Ireland.
Entering the professional ranks in 1995/96, McCoy lifted the title every year until his retirement at the end of the 2014/15 season. That level of superiority was, predictably, reflected in the betting market, with McCoy invariably starting as a heavily odds-on favourite at the start of each National Hunt season.
McCoy is a huge miss from the sport, but the good news from a betting perspective is that things are a little more open in the race for the title, with most seasons seeing three or four jockeys in with a realistic shot.
The exact number of winners required has been similarly hard to pinpoint as in the Flat Jockeys Championship – ranging from the 141 of Brian Hughes in 2019/20 to the stratospheric 289 registered by the legendary McCoy in 2001/02. That ridiculous tally is, however, a British record and can safely be treated as an outlier – unless another McCoy-like force of nature arrives on the scene. As a result of McCoy’s off-the-scale numbers, in combination with the longer season, the average number of winners recorded by the jumps champ over this period comes in at 197 – fully 30 more than in the Flat Jockeys Championship.
Champion Jockey Key Characteristics
With ‘only’ around £25,000 awarded to the Champion Jockey, prestige, rather than money, is the main motivator for those pursuing the title. In order to succeed, a jockey requires three main attributes:
- Talent – It goes without saying really, but to come out on top over the course of a season, a jockey must be both an accomplished horseman and a shrewd judge of pace and tactics
- Desire – Talent is however not enough on its own. To achieve the required number of wins, a jockey must have the will to travel up and down the country on a daily basis, in order to rack up a large number of rides. Picking and choosing to show up only at the major meetings won’t cut it in the competitive race for the title
- Steady Source of Quality Horses – And, of course, riders will need a steady stream of horses with genuine winning chances. This most often comes via an affiliation with a top yard
One final thing to note here is that many talented riders are not sufficiently motivated to put in the hard yards year after year – choosing instead to target the high prize money on offer in the biggest races. However, most top riders wish to claim the Champion Jockeys title at least once.
If it becomes clear that a talented jockey will be putting in the effort to lift the title by showing up at the smaller meetings on a consistent basis, this can be a hint well worth taking. Examples of this process in action include Frankie Dettori, who claimed his only title in 2004; Jim Crowley, who redoubled his efforts in 2016; and 2023 champ William Buick.
Other Jockey Betting Markets
Aside from the season-long Champion Jockey betting markets, two of the highest profile jockey bets are related to the two biggest and best racing festivals of the year. Both the Cheltenham Festival over jumps, and Royal Ascot on the flat, offer popular markets for those looking to back a jockey for sustained success.
Cheltenham Festival Top Jockey
The magnificent Cheltenham Festival is the centrepiece of the jumps racing season and takes place over four days in March each year. A total of 28 races are on offer over the four days, with the Leading Jockey prize going to the person who rides the most winners at the meeting.
|2019||Nico de Boinville||English||3|
As we can see, the home team have barely got a look in at this meeting in recent years, with an Irish ace winning 10 of the 11 editions between 2013 and 2023 inclusive. The key factor here has been the dominance of trainer Willie Mullins at the Cheltenham Festival, with Ruby Walsh and Paul Townend being the Number 1 rider for the Closutton maestro in each of the years they lifted the Cheltenham Festival top rider prize.
More often than not, five winners will be enough to come out on top at Cheltenham. The best advice here is to focus on the leading riders from the top yards. Whoever happens to be riding for Willie Mullins will usually be the obvious conclusion, but not always, as evidenced by the win for Davy Russell, who rode predominantly for Gordon Elliott. In addition we have seen recent wins for Henry de Bromhead’s number one, Rachael Blackmore, and the Nicky Henderson-affiliated Nico de Boinville. When weighing up your selections for the Festival, if your eye is consistently drawn to runners from the same yard, it may be worth examining the leading rider odds of jockeys from that stable.
Given the smaller number of races on offer compared to the season-long title, it is far more likely that more than one rider will finish on the same number of wins. Whenever this occurs, the prize will go to the rider who registered the most second-place finishes in addition to their wins. If still a tie, third-placed finishes will then be taken into consideration.
Royal Ascot Top Jockey
Three months after the Cheltenham Festival comes the five-day celebration of all things flat, as the Berkshire venue of Ascot hosts the five-day Royal Meeting. Just as with the Cheltenham Festival, this prize goes to the rider with the most wins from the 35 races on offer, with a second and third-place countback used if required.
There are just the two Irish jockeys on the recent list of winners, with Englishman Ryan Moore being the dominant force and by some margin. Moore has won this prize on a total of nine occasions, largely thanks to his association with Ballydoyle trainer Aidan O’Brien, who is, of course, based in Ireland.
Showing no signs of hanging up his whip anytime soon, Moore seems likely to start as a warm favourite in this market in most seasons, given the number of very high-quality horses he gets to ride. However, as just about the best in the business, Moore has earned this privilege.
When zeroing in on the winner in this market, similar advice applies as when assessing the Cheltenham Festival. Other than simply backing Moore – at likely short odds – look for those riders linked to powerful yards who have rides on at least half a dozen horses you believe have a solid chance of winning.
Apprentice and Conditional Jockeys Championships
All jockeys begin somewhere, and for many riders, the journey begins in either the Apprentice or Conditional jockey ranks. Apprentices being the name for inexperienced riders on the flat and Conditionals the equivalent over jumps. In order to level the playing field with the professionals, these fledging riders benefit from a weight allowance – meaning they can remove a specified sum of weight from the amount designated to be carried by the official handicapper.
The Apprentice and Conditional jockeys have their own title to aim for – functioning in the same way as the professional riders’ championships – and many bookmakers provide odds on who will come out on top. Keeping an eye out for up-and-coming talented riders able to take full advantage of their weight allowance can be a potential route to profit. The list of former Apprentice champions includes the likes of Kevin Darley, Frankie Dettori, Paul Hanagan, and Ryan Moore, whilst Tony McCoy, Richard Johnson and Brian Hughes all lifted the Conditional title before making a huge splash in the professional ranks. Following these markets might just allow you to discover racing’s next superstar jockey too.