Jamie Spencer – Riding Style & Results: What Does The Data Tell Us?


The recent criticism by Luca Cumani of two of Jamie Spencer’s rides this year on Mount Athos by Luca Cumani ( “it’s on record that he was given two very bad rides” has caused a good deal of comment and publicity. Simon Holt devotes his column in the Racing Post Weekender this week (25th September edition) to a discussion of Jamie Spencer’s riding style, concluding that “this is a jockey with a bit of star quality and his career record provides impressive defence against the critics”.  As Simon Holt points out, the hold up style he adopts can lend itself to criticism if a horse is perceived as being delivered too late, such as his recent ride on York Glory in the 2013 renewal of the Beverley Bullet. However much of the criticism leveled appears to be founded on one or two rides, rather than by considering his performance over many rides.  In this blog post all of Jamie Spencer’s rides in the 2013 flat season (to 25th September) were examined in terms of riding style, Impact Values and ratings. The rides of a number of other jockeys (Ryan Moore, Richard Hughes, James Doyle and Joe Fanning) were also examined. With each of these jockeys having ridden over 400 rides each this season to date, there is plenty of data to interrogate.

Definition of Running Style/Early Pace Position

The analysis that underpins this piece was carried out in the R statistical environment accessing Raceform Interactive (RFI) data. This is the same data used by the Racing Post. In running comments were used to identify the Early Pace Position (EPP) adopted by each horse in each race contained within  the database. In this blog post the terms EPP and ‘running style’ are used interchangeably. Five categories of running style were defined: leading(1), prominent (2), midfield (3), held up (4) and in rear (5).   Armed with an EPP by horse by race, the most frequently adopted running style by each horse can be identified. These EPPs can be used in conjunction with the remainder of the information contained within the RFI database to examine the relationship between running style and jockey performance. Horses had to have run at least 3 times for an EPP to be assigned to the horse, so if for example, Orfevre ran three times, twice in the lead (style 1) and once prominently (style 2), he’d be assigned an EPP of 1. After this parsing exercise we have the running style adopted by each horse in each race that it took part, and the running style each horse has adopted most frequently in the past.

Jockey Rides, Horse Ability and Starting Prices

To help put Jamie Spencer’s riding style in context the following jockeys were chosen for comparison: Ryan Moore, Richard Hughes, James Doyle and Joe Fanning. The first two are vying for champion jockey in 2013, James Doyle has recently been appointed Prince Khalid Abdullah’s jockey, whilst  Joe Fanning is known for adopting front running tactics and should provide a contrast with the riding style adopted by Jamie Spencer. Table 1  gives information about the ability of horses ridden (using the median rating across all rides ) by each jockey and betting market expectations  using average and median Starting Prices (SPs). All rides in the 2013 flat season were considered. Ryan Moore rides horses with the most ability, posting a median RPR of 81, followed by Jamie Spencer , Richard Hughes, James Doyle  and then Joe Fanning. Note that the SPs for Ryan Moore and Richard Hughes’s rides are close, suggesting the betting markets typically rate their chances similarly. Jamie Spencer comes next in terms of market expectations, with James Doyle last after Joe Fanning, even though, on average, he rides more highly rated horses.

Jockey Median Rating of Rides Average SP Median SP
J Fanning 69 10.4 7.0
R Hughes 76 5.7 4.0
J Doyle 73 12.7 7.5
J Spencer 78 8.7 6.0
R Moore 81 5.5 4.0

Table 1: Median ratings of rides and SP information for selected jockeys

Early Pace Position Profiles

The proportion of horses in each EPP category is given in Table 2, along with wins per category and associated Impact Values (IVs). Impact Value has its usual definition. The IV for front runners is 1.88. As is widely known front runners win more frequently than other  running styles. IVs  for EPP styles 2 (prominent) and 3 (mid-division) are similar at 0.94 and 0.99 respectively, with hold up horses performing somewhat worse at 0.83 and horses that race in rear reporting the lowest IV of 0.60. The IVs reported here by riding style suggest that the most important decision a jockey can take is whether to front run or not. After that, racing prominently or in mid division has similar outcomes, whilst being held up or in rear suggests that the further back you race from a midfield position, the less likely it is that you will win races. There is an important caveat here – the EPP adopted it is not entirely in the jockeys hands, but conditioned on a number of factors, only some of which are in his control. However we do know that on average horses do appear to have a favoured EPP, and this is useful for some of the analysis that follows.

EPP wins runs proportion IV
1 963 4466 12% 1.88
2 408 3787 10% 0.94
3 1714 15097 39% 0.99
4 814 8550 22% 0.83
5 479 6329 17% 0.66
TOTAL 4378 38229 100% 1.00

Table 2: EPP running styles, proportions and Impact Values

Jockey Riding Styles

Perceptions are borne out by the data – Jamie Spencer rides far fewer horses in mid-division than other jockeys, preferring to hold them up or ride them in rear.  Table 3 takes every ride of each jockey and amalgamates by EPP. The differences in EPP adopted by Jamie Spencer are substantial compared with the other jockeys in the table. Note that he rides as least as many front runners and prominent horses as Ryan Moore and James Doyle, it is the mid-division category that he eschews, with more than half of his rides categorised as either held up or in rear.

J Fanning 19% 13% 43% 16% 9%
R Hughes 17% 7% 35% 20% 21%
J Doyle 10% 6% 37% 29% 19%
J Spencer 13% 5% 25% 27% 31%
R Moore 10% 8% 40% 23% 20%

Table 3: Riding styles adopted by jockey

Does this result hold when checked against the most frequent riding style of the horses ridden by our jockeys?  Table 4 shows there is some evidence that Jamie Spencer tends to ride more horse that have a hold up running style. However, this could have been caused by the fact that he might be the only jockey to have sat on the horse and thus contributed to its running style. This makes  interpretation more difficult. On balance, however, comparing the riding proportions in tables 4 and 5  shows that Jamie Spencer does appear to ride his mounts with more restraint than is usually the case.

J Fanning 11% 15% 33% 20% 21%
R Hughes 6% 13% 31% 29% 22%
J Doyle 4% 10% 29% 32% 25%
J Spencer 4% 8% 31% 30% 27%
R Moore 6% 10% 33% 30% 20%

Table 4: Riding styles by horse

Relationship between Running Style (EPP) and Ratings Achieved

A  measure that compares the rating of each run relative to the maximum rating the horse has achieved is defined as the Relative to Maximum – RTM.  Table 5 below shows average RTM by running style style. On average horses run ca. 18lb below their maximum rating. This is no surprise – ratings are negatively skewed – bounded on the upside by ability and the relatively rare confluence of a set of circumstances that allows a horse to achieve its maximum rating,  and exposed to substantial downside as any number of events (going, draw, pace, opposition, trip and so on)  cause horses to run below their best. Horses with a  prominent running style (EPP 2) are most likely to perform below their best. Remember from table 2 horses that race prominently deliver lower IVs than those that race in mid-division.  It is possible that the pressure of racing prominently conspires against these horses. The best RTM numbers reported are for horses that are held up or ridden in rear. Given the IVs for these categories are substantially lower than 1, a likely explanation for them running more closely to their maximum rating is that they are running on past beaten horses to be placed rather than winning. This has implications for their handicap ratings relative to their ability.  In tables 4 and 5 we have IVs and RTM values by running style classification for all races that took place on the flat in 2013. These tables give us a sense of how often horses win given the their riding style, and to what degree they run close to their maximum form.  Now we turn to the same information at the individual jockey level.

Early Pace Position (EPP) Rating To Maximum (RTM) – average
1 -18.4
2 -19.0
3 -17.9
4 -17.7
5 -17.0

Table 5: RTM by EPP style category 

Jockey Performance: Impact Values & RTM Ratings

Two approaches to measuring jockey ability are those used by John Whitley, often mentioned by James Willoughby on Racing UK, and Timeform. In this blog post two measures already employed, Impact Values  (IVs) and Run To Maximum (RTM) , are calculated at the jockey level. Impact Values by jockey by running style are reported in Table 6 below, RTMs by running style are reported in table 7.  Ryan Moore performs the best across both measures.  On average his rides perform about 8lb better than average (-8lb vs -18lb) and ca. 3lb better than the other jockeys considered here. Particularly noteworthy is his performance on front runners, where he performs nearly 10lb better than average, with an IV of 3.9.  Joe Fanning performs best when he rides front runners.  Richard Hughes, James Doyle and Jamie Spencer perform similarly to each other based upon RTMs – about 5lb better than average, but ca. 3lb behind Ryan Moore. If Starting Prices and horse ability are considered, James Doyle performs particularly well. Perhaps the betting market has underestimated his abilities – if so, his recent appointment by Prince Khalid Abdullah and the likely increase in the quality of his mounts  is likely to change this.

Turning to Jamie Spencer:  he performs best on front running rides, delivering similar IVs to Richard Hughes and yet performing 2.5lb better on average.  What of his hold up rides? Considering horse that are held up or ridden in rear (EPP 4 and 5) , Jamie Spencer’s rides perform second only to Ryan Moore in terms of RTM. Yet the IVs for both of these categories are the second lowest of the jockeys considered here. There are a couple of interpretations. The first is that hold up horses are running into places, achieving respectable ratings and yet not winning. The second is that the horses are being ridden in a style that maximises their chances of running close to their maximum ratings, and the IVs will, over many more rides, reflect this.

J Fanning 2.52 1.41 1.13 0.39 0.93
R Hughes 2.76 2.25 2.04 1.65 1.75
J Doyle 1.35 1.14 0.97 1.69 1.79
J Spencer 2.73 2.24 1.69 1.21 1.05
R Moore 3.90 1.74 2.21 1.34 2.07

Table 6: Impact Values by jockey by EPP classification

Table 7 below shows RTM averages by jockey by EPP category. A discussion of IVs and RTM by jockey follows table 7.

J Fanning -15.3 -20.4 -17.8 -16.4 -15.5
R Hughes -13.5 -11.8 -12.9 -13.0 -12.9
J Doyle -12.6 -15.1 -11.7 -13.1 -13.9
J Spencer -11.0 -14.7 -13.3 -11.6 -12.6
R Moore -8.5 -10.2 -9.8 -9.4 -10.0

Table 7: RTM by jockey by EPP classification


  • Ryan Moore is viewed by many as the best rider in the UK – the analysis in this blog post supports this view.
  • James Doyle rides as well as Richard Hughes and Jamie Spencer and  has done so on longer priced horses with less ability.
  • Jamie Spencer rides horses further back than their usual position in races, and in doing so enables them to run closer to their maximum rating. The data suggests riding further back is a matter of choice. Whilst riding horse further back typically compromises their chances of winning races to a degree, the Impact Values for Jamie Spencer’s hold up rides are significantly above the average and also greater than 1. However they are also below that reported by Richard Hughes, James Doyle and Ryan Moore. It is possible that over time and over many more rides, the fact that his mounts are running closer to maximum ratings will be reflected in higher Impact Values than delivered in the 2013 flat season.