January 23, 2021

The Wagerer’s (Female) Apprentices

Betting on horseracing, indeed any sport, is about constant reinvention, refinement and evolution. Markets never sit still: as soon as good new information becomes more widely available, markets respond to factor it in.

As punters, then, we must a) be aware of this, and b) manage our game to account for it. In other words, we must always be tinkering!

Seeing as you’re reading this in the excellent OCP, you already know the value of new ideas, methods and data; and, in this article, I want to look at one of the most fluid areas of racing, personnel. Specifically, jockeys, and more specifically still, apprentice jockeys.

This year’s apprentices are the future champion jockeys, with the likes of Tom Marquand, Oisin Murphy, William Buick, Ryan Moore and a certain now knocking-on Italian by the name of Dettori all being crowned champion apprentice en route to the top.

But, of course, every jockey was an apprentice once; and it is not necessarily the headline names – who end up on the shortest-priced horses – upon which we should focus.

So, why should we look at apprentice jockeys?

There are two main reasons to study apprentice jockeys, one more obvious than the other, but both being of significant merit.

The first, naturally, is motivated by profit: spotting good riders in races where most are, erm, less good is a means of deriving that important yet ethereal commodity, value.

The second is a bit more human: who doesn’t love being the smart arse who called the top riders before they were top riders? 😊

On my own scoresheet, under the geegeez.co.uk banner, I unsuccessfully tried to sponsor all of Harry Cobden, Hollie Doyle and Josephine Gordon as apprentice or conditional riders.

With the first pair, I’d reached agreement with the riders but not their retained trainers, a necessity with apprentice sponsorship.

Nevertheless, we’re still very proud to sponsor David Probert, Callum Rodriguez, and three claiming jockeys.

The three claiming riders are Marco Ghiani, who has a legitimate shot at the apprentice title this year; Rex Dingle, who may well end up second in the conditional riders’ (National Hunt) title race this season; and Ben Godfrey, whose time to shine will be next NH season.

Spotting these talents at a very early stage, and backing that judgement, is something I very much enjoy on a personal level.

How to find an apprentice on the up

There are plenty of ways of taking on this challenge.

One is to trust your eyes and your judgement by watching lots of races in which apprentices ride: this is the best way, but it is not one that most readers will have time or experience for.

A second way is to put your trust in people heavily invested in the success of such riders, the trainers who employ them.

The table below shows UK trainers by their win strike rate with apprentice or conditional jockeys in the last five years (75+ runs).

These profit figures are as much a function of the trainer and horse ability as the jockey, but the table is instructive, nevertheless.

On that basis, we could simply back any horse ridden by a five- or seven-pound claiming jockey and trained by one of the handlers above with an A/E figure of greater than 1.00.

By selecting all the trainers displayed above, we can then group by claiming rider. Those riders to have ridden 25 or more times with such a claim in the last five years are:

This table contains a mix of former and current apprentices/conditionals, some of the current ones now claiming at the more experienced level of three pounds.

Getting Past Cognitive Biases

One of the most striking aspects of this table is how under-bet good female apprentices are. Let’s face it, most punters are men, and many punters still believe male jockeys are better than female jockeys, in spite of the brilliance (and strength) of the likes of Hollie Doyle, Bryony Frost, and a growing number of others.

Taking all the female riders from the list above and trained by the trainers further up this article gives the following summary line:

And that is at SP!

Now that is a notably back-fitted ‘system’, but the takeaway is clear enough: female claiming riders are often under-rated and are well worth watching to see if you think they offer value.

[Note, all such riders, male or female, will make more mistakes than top jockeys; they are inexperienced and that’s why they have a claiming allowance. But they are most definitely not all of equal ability!]

The challenge here is to identify those who are both talented and still at least somewhat under the radar. The five-year figures above cover many jockeys’ journey from nobody to somebody, Harry Cobden a standout example.

So, let’s come back to ‘now’ and look at the last two years’ data, a minimum of 50 rides. I’ve sorted this table by A/E, a measure of betting value. See if you can spot the theme:

The top two on profitability measures, three of the top four, and five of the top twelve are female. That is from a huge under-representation in the apprentice population as a whole.

To me, this is remarkable output. Of course, some of the higher profile boys will have better strike rates; but you cannot eat strike rates in most cases!

Finally, let’s look at the past year, 25+ rides (to 6th January as I write):

Once again, only more strikingly still, we see the same pattern. Based on A/E, three of the top four jockeys claiming five or seven pounds were female. And eight of the top thirteen! Again, keep in mind that they are hugely under-represented in this cohort compared to male riders.

Selecting all female riders in this ‘25+ rides in the past year’ list produces a loss, which is hardly surprising given what I said previously about not all jockeys – regardless of gender – being made equal. But we can see from place strike rates that some girls a) are getting better opportunities, and b) are taking them frequently.

Who to Follow in 2021?

In an ideal world I’d have left you with the above thoughts and called it a wrap. But I know some readers will prefer to have a few names to work with.

So, while I still strongly believe that finding your own edges is the best way, I will tentatively offer three riders to look out for in 2021.

Millie Wonnacott

Attached to the Neil Mulholland yard, Millie came to prominence when guiding Fingerontheswitch to success in a decent Class 2 handicap chase in January last year.

She’s only had 86 rides under Rules at time of writing but scored 13 times and made the frame 36% of the time for 65 points of each way profit.

Erika Parkinson

Erika is riding for Mick Appleby which means she may get plenty of opportunities this winter. Her 7lb claim will be valuable to Mick’s owners and, given she’s only had 37 public rides, she ought to improve considerably for experience.

Her 40% place strike rate may come down a bit, but I expect she’ll boot home a few winners at fair prices in coming months. Her form will be closely pegged to that of the Appleby yard, which can blow hot and cold, so take note of that.

Charlotte Jones

Riding in the north for Jimmy Moffatt primarily, Charlotte is a touch more experienced than the other two, having already steered 111 runners under Rules. 17 of them won (15%) and she has a place rate of 27%, for a win profit of 134.5 points – mainly down to winners at 22/1, 33/1 and 66/1 (imagine the Betfair SP’s on those!).

A couple of others to consider

It seems everyone is aware of Laura Pearson after her recent all-weather performances. She is getting plenty of opportunities just now and the next couple of months will be instructive as to which way she goes career-wise; she certainly rides well, and I’ve been impressed with her patience/clock in terms of not going too soon. A function of that – and her inexperience – is that sometimes she leaves it too late, but she’s learning fast and getting some good opportunities.

Saffie Osborne, daughter of Jamie Osborne, was going great guns until a very unfortunate incident in a five-furlong race at Windsor in mid-October where her horse clipped heels and fired her into the turf. She broke her arm there and hasn’t ridden since, but her rehabilitation is going well so it shouldn’t be too long before she’s back.

Interestingly, perhaps, only three of her nine winners to date have been for ‘the old man’ and she might be worth looking out for on ‘outside’ rides.

The above was researched using the Query Tool, a part of Geegeez Gold’s multi-award-winning service. Learn more at geegeez.co.uk

Matt Bisogno


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Steve Carter

Steve Carter is the Associate Editor of On Course Profits magazine. He has relied on his betting skills and knowledge for his income for the past 15+ years. He specialises in horse racing and football betting & trading and knows what it takes to make a living from betting. He is always looking for new angles for himself and On Course Profits readers.

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