Over the period of time I’ve been writing for the Practical Punting Monthly, there have been numerous references to position in running, either in words or by the various tables that have accompanied my articles.

I well remember posing the question, “How many times have you blown your money in the first few seconds of a race?” This question is as relevant today as ever before, in fact the three “Ps” of position, pace and performance are ones that all serious punters need to consider as an essential part of their form analysis.

One of Australia’s finest young form analysts, Daniel O’Sullivan, who has penned articles for this magazine from time-to-time, bases his detailed analysis on the suitability of pace and position.

This is what Daniel has to say:

  1. Pace suitably needs to be considered in the context of the horse’s ability and current form.
  2. Runners that don’t measure up on ability will struggle to win no matter how suitable the pace conditions are.
  3. Runners competitive in ability need at least neutral, but ideally favourable pace to win.
  4. While not ideal betting propositions, runners with ability beyond others can often overcome unsuitable pace and still win.
  5. The best type of bet is a horse with an edge in ability that will be well suited by the pace, especially if other closely rated runners will be unsuited. 
  6. By incorporating the study of pace into your form analysis you will make smart decisions to stay off losers that are unsuited and bet with more confidence on your fancies that are well suited. You will have the knowledge and confidence to take your punting to a whole new level…a level that delivers fewer losers, more winners and a stack of extra money in your pocket.

But are there any additional “edges” to the form analyst’s armour? I believe there are and it is one of these that I wish to discuss this month – jockey ability and understanding of pace as disclosed by their performance.

The majority of form analysts now accept as a “given” that the closer to the lead a horse is positioned at the 400m, the better the chances of winning. A survey of over 55,000 races over the last few years confirms this, as per Table 1.


The results of this survey are very linear in their disclosure, with close to two-thirds of all races being won by horses positioned in the first four at the 400m and over 80 per cent of races being won by horses positioned in the first six.

In recent years, my opinion based on observations, but no hard facts, were that one of the best front-running jockeys was the now retired Brian York. But opinion is one thing; fact is another and was it just another case of a perception born out of a punter’s pocket?

Based on 3,175 rides Brian York rode 476 winners, a strike rate of 15 per cent or one winner in approximately every six-and-a-half rides, with an overall performance on winning rides that placed him slightly ahead of the “norm” by 2 per cent when riding horses posi­tioned in the first six at the 400m.

In this case, observations and the resultant opinion were supported by the facts, but what  about today’s jockeys, the Beadmans, Browns, Munces, Olivers and company?

Well, as the state-by-state tables of the top-10 jockeys disclose there are some very interesting outcomes, with some jockeys displaying distinct preferences, one way or the other, for riding frontrunners or backmarkers, with the majority performing close to the “norm”.

However, my interpretation is that some jockeys are very much one dimensional in their performance, which may be due to reasons other than their natural ability.

As an example take Victorian-based Mark Flaherty, one of the best jockeys in Australia, who is second only to Perth’s Paul Harvey in regard to long-term strike rates amongst the top 50 jockeys in Australia (as per the tables contained in this article).

Flaherty gets a lot less rides than most other leading jockeys in this country, not because of a lack of ability but because of weight problems. That factor places him as a huge disadvantage, as close to 95 per cent of races won by horses carrying 57kg or more are positioned in the first eight at the 400m.

Therefore, the combination of a big weight and a backmarker horse is often just too much to overcome no matter what level of ability a jockey may possess.

Since 1997 Flaherty has ridden only on four occasions at a weight less than 55kg, winning three of those races and finishing second in the other, while riding with a weight of 55kg he has won 13 races from a mere 40 rides; he is a very talented jockey, that is limited only because of his weight.

With a strike rate of over 81 per cent when Flaherty rides horses that are positioned within the first four at the 400m he is without much doubt the most dominant front-running jockey currently riding in Australia today.

In fact, it pays to get on when he rides leaders (at the 400m) as on 175 occasions where that has been the case he has ridden no less than 81 winners (46.3 per cent) for a return of 391 units, a profit of 216 units (POT 123.4 per cent)!

On the other hand, South Australian-based Michael Hoppo, a jockey who doesn’t suffer from a weight problem in the same manner as Mark Flaherty, would appear to be very much “one dimensional” in his performance.

Not only does he have a very low overall strike rate of 8.9 per cent, but over 71 per cent of his winning rides are on front-runners, having ridden winners that are fifth or worse at the 400m mark on only 18 occasions from 446 rides.

There are many other conclusions and observations that could be made about the statistics presented in this article but a lack of space precludes, other than for two final ones:

  1. the dominance of Paul Harvey in Perth to such an extent that all other jockeys ride less than the national average of 14 per cent winners achieved by Australia’s top 50 postilions; and
  2. the wind factor influences the outcome of races in Perth to a greater extent than anywhere else in this country, as indicated by the fact that eight of  the top-10 Western Australian jockeys have strike rates in excess of 10 per cent when riding back­markers (thus affecting leaders/ front-runners).




By EJ Minnis