Jockeys Psychology

By Todd Burmester

I’ve written previously about the importance of having the right jockey on your horse when rating its chances. In earlier years of my punting “career”, I was of the opinion that the jockey just sits on top and steers and its the horse that wins the race. Now obviously, yes the horse has to be good enough and they can’t get off and carry them, but these days I am a true convert that having the right bloke or woman on top can make all the difference. Great jockeys make great (and timely) decisions and have great balance in the saddle – those are the two characteristics that I think separate the good and great jockeys from the average and poor ones.

Another factor to consider though, could well by the psychology of the jockey. Quantifying this measure is of course very difficult, and in a lot of ways it will always be subjective, but let me demonstrate what I mean. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Shane Dye, put together 4 successive Golden Slipper wins on Courtza, Canny Lad, Tierce and Burst. I’ll always recall an interview I saw with Dye about The Slipper, and he referred to it as “my race” – Those are words of a confident man. Now, I will give it to you, that Dye never lacks confidence and believes in his own ability regardless of the race he is riding in, but you have to wonder, in that era, when it came to The Slipper, whether Dye had a mental edge over his rivals, such was his affinity and belief in winning the race.

Fast forward the clock to Saturday’s racing at Caulfield and it was Blue Diamond Stakes day, and probably no coincidence that Dwayne Dunn rode 3 winners (and two of them at $14 mind you) on the day that in recent years, he could claim as “his day”. Dunn, of course, won the Blue Diamond on four successive occasions between 2005 and 2008. Coming into Blue Diamond day, surely past success has to give you an edge, or at least a good feeling about the day. The other alternative of course, could be that it builds pressure on you, that everyone expects you to do well on the day – but Dunn seems to be a man that rides with a cool head.

Another example of confidence on the day was that shown by Lauren Stojakovic on Miracles Of Life. In all pre-race interviews that I saw or read, she kept very calm under pressure and was confident in the fact that she knew the horse very well and believed in the ability of the horse, and that’s what I feel allowed her to ride the race like it was any other race. At this point, I think it’s worth pointing out that there is a difference between confidence and arrogance, and both Dunn and Stojakovic rode with the former not the later.

To sum up, I think it is worth considering in form analysis, giving a horse a slight elevation in your ratings if the jockey is in a purple patch of form, or there is a reason to believe they are going to ride a particular race or particular race day particularly well. Equally, there is likely a case to penalise runners if the rider is out of form, as the pressure of trying to turn the bad patch around may lead to them trying too hard to ride too well, rather than just getting the basics right – which, when you disect Stojakovic’s ride, is exactly what she did – she got the basics right. She jumped the horse cleanly, settled close enough to the pace to be ready to challenge, and ensured she was able to get into the clear at the right time, the horse was then able to do the rest. It was the ride of a confident, but not arrogant jockey.