Some time ago, a friend of mine telephoned me to ask my advice about a horse he owned. It was entered in a ‘Restricted’ race at a provincial meeting in Queensland.

He wanted to know how the horse 'figured' on my ratings. Could it win the race, he wanted to know. I had a look at the field and, sure enough, this chap's horse had a sound chance. But I told him I was only going on the ratings, and that only he and the trainer knew if the horse was fit and well enough to run up to that rating and win.

"If you want it to win, and it's fit, it can win," I told him. To which he replied, "0h, we want it to win ... if we didn't I'd just get the jockey to miss the start."

I wasn't shocked by what he said. I've heard much the same many times in my life in racing. I know, as I guess many of our readers know, that jockeys (and owners and trainers) are not angels. And 'missing the start' is one way to wrecking a horse's chance if you don't want it to win.

Over the years, the ability of jockeys to actually play funny tricks with their rides has been diminished by the growth in technology. The course cameras of today see just about everything. Forty years ago, even less, jockeys could get away with blue murder. Not any more.

If stewards are vigilant, as most are, then shonky rides should easily be discovered. That's not to say that a few don't get through. Often, though, a ride can be explained by simply being a bad ride. Others need more explaining.

Rem Plante, in his legendary book The Australian Horse Racing & Punters'Guide (now, sadly, out of print) had quite a lot to say about jockey capers. But Rem was writing in the '60s, more than 30 years ago, when the camera revolution was basically in its infancy.

But his comments are worth considering, even today. In part, he wrote of the jockey capers in the following manner:

It's not unusual to see a rider sitting against his horse. Sitting well back, legs stretched forward and holding a tight rein on his mount. It is obvious the rider is applying the brakes.

For one reason or another he does not want his horse to run faster. At the horse's next start you would probably see him winning at long odds.

Another instance of not allowing a horse to run on its merits is a passive action and very hard to detect. The jockey is not in a real riding position; instead he just sits quietly on the horse without riding it.

Occasionally, race pictures show a horse being checked in the final stages of a race. The horse, almost running into his rivals in front of him, has to be stopped. You will see the rider standing in his irons and pulling hard on the reins.

These are just three of many situations that a jockey, and horse, can encounter in a race. If you have access to video replays, you can, at your leisure, dissect all riding performances.

The horse that was trapped wide all the way: Did it really need to stay out there? Could the rider have positioned it closer to the rails at some stage? What about the horse that is pulled out wide to make a run on the turn?

Was it a jockey error? Should he have stayed on the inside and waited for a clear run? How bad was any interference suffered, and could it have been avoided?

With video replays, all these important points can be taken into account. It's especially useful if you are compiling a list of horses to follow. So always keep the jockey in mind, and be on the lookout for those riders who may have set out with the purpose in mind to prevent their horses from racing 'on their merits'.

Can you pick up something the eagle-eyed stewards missed out on? I often stumble on questionable rides, especially when I'm looking at the video replays from midweek provincial meetings.

When you watch the jockeys at work on the video, try not to get too carried away by flashing late runs. These have to be examined closely to determine their true worth.

Rem Plante had some astute observations to make on this very issue in his book, and they certainly bear repeating today:

He wrote: "Remember, do not be over-impressed by a horse's final burst ... The merit of a finishing run depends on whether the horse was either overhauling a number of its weary rivals, or whether it was catching up on horses who themselves were also full of running.

"If the horse just missed out on catching the winner it could mean that:

  1. The rider had wrongly timed the finishing run,
  2. The rider could not obtain an uninterrupted run (checked or blocked for room),
  3. The horse could not give more than it did,
  4. The horse needs a race over a longer distance,
  5. The horse was over-exerted and feeling the pinch of the hard ride (getting weary)."

Jockeys, then, are vital cogs in the form wheel. We need, as punters, to examine their role in races as well as the horses'. Often we say a horse ran a poor race when, in tact, its rider gave it little chance of doing anything else.

Good jockeys should always be considered a bonus ahead of jockeys who we know to have low strike rates. It's also worth analysing jockeys in regard to their success rates at certain tracks, their success rates with certain trainers, their success rates at certain distances, even how well they do from various barrier positions.

An examination of individual jockey stats can be enlightening. For example, I suggest you keep in mind that Shane Dye has a terrific record on horses in major races which are drawn wide (14 upwards).

Obviously, the betting public tends to veer away from such rides, even though they are aware of Dye's brilliance.

This leads to his winning rides being sent out at much longer odds than they would have been had they drawn closer in at the barrier.

Professional punter Ron Merriman, who operates out of Melbourne, has this to say: "I regard jockeys as importantly as I do the horses. I mean, I'd rather have Dye on my bet than, say, a lesser rider. It's a simple matter of results.

"If I'm doing the weights and I find that two horses figure with not much between them, I always find it pays to give preference to the runner who has the top horseman aboard. If he is the edge, so be it. I'll back him, and I'll simply 'save' on the horse with the lesser rider.

"It's the same with apprentices. Years ago, I had little hesitation in backing a horse with a 3 kilo kid on top, but I'm older, wiser and uglier now and I just won't bet them anymore. It doesn't matter what the horse is; if there's a kid aboard, forget it. I can wait for another day.

"I know that for my profits to continue to come in, I have to look for strength on both sides, jockey and horse, and I can't compromise on that. If there's a weakness I see with the jockey I'll hold back from betting.

"Sometimes I'm wrong, but I can live with that. Most times I'm right. I can weigh up the to's and fro's and I'll be well ahead following this approach. I've seen ordinary jockeys slaughter good horses. I was just pleased I hadn't backed them."

The lesson, then, is to examine both horse and rider when you're assessing form. Always ensure you've taken full consideration of the abilities of both human and horse. It can mean the difference between winning and losing in the long term.

By Richard Hartley Jnr