There have been some classic horse-jockey partnerships over the years.
Frankel made the career of Tom Queally, there is no doubt about that. You could say similar for Jim Culloty with Best Mate or even Charlie Swan and Istabraq.
They key question is, are horses always ridden by the same jockey every time they race?
Horses and Regular Riders
Well, the answer to the basic question is no. Horses don’t have to be always ridden by the same jockey, and the vast majority aren’t.
Horse and jockey partnerships are common however, either because a jockey is based with a certain trainer or owner or simply because it is recognised that the rider gets on particularly well with the animal and can get the best out of it.
When a training yard or ownership isn’t large enough to have one attached jockey, they often simply go for the best available. This can mean agents of top jockeys calling round stables to get their rider onto the best horses, or it can come from the yard itself.
In some cases, jockeys are familiar faces in many yards.
Those riding out each morning in places like Lambourn, Newmarket or Middleham will be well known by a number of trainers in the area who may ask them to ride their horse in a race.
Horse-jockey partnerships however are more common in racing because of paid retainers.
Some jockeys in Britain and Ireland make less than the national average. Those lucky enough to have a retainer however are getting a set salary before any riding fees or prize money is taken into account.
The retainer can mean a jockey is contracted to either a trainer or an owner. Both contracts work essentially the same way.
However, even if a jockey is ‘attached’ to a specific stable and gets first pick of all of their rides, they will be “jocked off” should an owner of a horse have a different retained rider. The owner’s choice of rider is the most prevalent one.
For example; Frankie Dettori had a long-established partnership with John Gosden. When Nashwa however was declared for races for the stable, she was always ridden by Hollie Doyle as retained rider for Nashwa’s owner Imad Alsagar. The same can be said of Mostahdaf, with Shadwell’s no.1 rider being Jim Crowley.
Some may wonder why a prominent jockey heads off to a track to ride one horse when there was the possibility of better and more numerous rides elsewhere. This will usually be because of a retainer. They have been “claimed” by the owner to ride their horse at the other track.
Even when the preferred jockey is on hand at the track, they may still be claimed by their retainer. A good example would be when Shaquille went to Royal Ascot for the Commonwealth Cup. The horse was seen as being James Doyle’s mount, but he had to ride Noble Style in the same race for owners Godolphin.
Famous Recent Retainers
In the past, a trainer retaining a rider was much more commonplace.
Trainers believed that, at the top level and often with 100+ horses in training, they needed a top jockey to be at the yard every day.
That meant they knew the horses inside and out, and were always on hand to ride them on the big occasion.
Good examples would be Kieren Fallon riding for Sir Henry Cecil and later Sir Michael Stoute, or Ruby Walsh riding for Willie Mullins.
That sort of partnership is no longer de rigeur on the Flat, though continues more often over the jumps.
These days, it’s the major owners who tend to retain jockeys.
These are just some of the very well-known contracted jockeys which owners have at their disposal on the Flat:
In Britain, best pals William Buick and James Doyle ride almost all of Charlie Appleby’s horses for Godolphin. There is a different arrangement with Saeed bin Suroor and the John & Thady Gosden team however who use their own stable jockeys.
Godolphin retain bin Suroor and Appleby themselves to train their horses exclusively. They have as similar arrangement in Australia with James Cummings.
The Coolmore team and their partners have horses trained primarily by Aidan O’Brien. Some go elsewhere. O’Brien and Coolmore give first pick on all rides to no.1 rider Ryan Moore, though they have lots of other very capable jockeys at their disposal and all are contracted.
The famous blue and white colours of Shadwell have been worn by some of the greats such as Nashwan, Al Bahathri and Dayjur, or more recently Battaash and Baaeed. The horses were formerly run under the name of Shadwell’s great founder, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.
Many will remember first Willie Carson and later Richard Hills being Sheikh Hamdan’s retained riders, then later Paul Hanagan and since late 2016 Jim Crowley taking over the top job. Dane O’Neill has been a very admirable second jockey to the outfit for many years.
How Do Trainers Pick Jockeys to Ride Horses?
Assuming there is a not retainer in place or a jockey isn’t unofficially attached to a stable, trainers still have to make a decision on who is best to partner their horse.
This could become a long-established partnership and it’s important to get it right.
These are some of the reasons they may use:
- Familiarity. We would be naïve to think that some trainers don’t give rides to their close acquaintances. This may work out OK if the jockey is generally good of course.
- Best Available. The term ‘best available’ is used by many a trainer. If your horse is in need of a jockey and Buick, Dettori, Moore, Doyle, Muprhy or Marquand are available to ride, then why not go for it?
- Riding Style. A horse may need a course specialist, such as Franny Norton at Chester, or perhaps a jockey very adept at stealing races from the front. Other jockeys are known to be specialist hold-up jockeys, ideal for horses being waited with out the back in a competitive handicap.
When picking or changing jockeys goes right, there’s no more to be said. When it goes wrong however, it reflects badly on all involved.
Many will remember Tom Marquand being jocked off Derby favourite English King before the 2020 Derby. The owner wanted Frankie Dettori to ride the horse, thinking he was more equipped to handle the occasion despite not having the best Derby record.
In the end, Dettori was one of a whole host of jockeys who allowed soft leader Serpentine to get away from the field and win, as admitted to by Oisin Murphy. Just to rub it in, English King ran the fastest finishing burst by some way only to come home a well-beaten fifth.