When it comes to horse racing, there are two main people that can have an impact on the ability o the horse to win an event. The first person is the trainer, who works with the horse, often for months, getting them ready to take part in any given race. The second person in the jockey, who is responsible for riding the horse in the race and guiding them through the process of winning.
The question that crops up for many is which of the two matters more to the eventual outcome of a race. It is obviously an entirely subjective thing to discuss, but interesting nonetheless. You only need to visit a race meeting to see how differently people weigh this too. Some people will pick horses based on the trainer, others the jockey and some on the trainer jockey combination.
Of course, it is common for specific jockeys to work with certain trainers, so it isn’t always easy to discern the difference between the two when it comes to the success of the horse. If you had a jockey riding a horse that was under-performing, it is unlikely that they’d be able to get more out of them merely by virtue of them being a good jockey.
On the other hand, a horse that has been well-trained will still struggle to make an impact in a race if the jockey riding it makes the wrong decisions during the race. The two need to be working together well for a horse to have a real chance.
What Does A Trainer Do?
It would be entirely fair for some people to wonder what it is that a trainer actually does with a horse. The answer isn’t an easy one to give, when you consider the fact that trainers need to be business people in the modern age. They need to worry about the likes of running their yard, managing staff, planning strategies for the seasons and maintaining good relationships with owners.
Ultimately, though, their main job is to get horses ready for races in much the same way as a trainer of an Olympic athlete would work with them to ensure that they are ready to take one the big race.
They work with them to make sure that they are fit, as well as teach the horse the skills it needs in order to succeed. This will include introducing it to hurdles or fences, depending on the race type that it is being entered into. It will see certain drugs being introduced to the horse’s diet, all within the rules and regulations of the sport.
The trainer needs to know how the horse learns, which is key to being able to teach it what it needs to know in the right manner. Trainers need to get the horses as sharp as possible for the race that it is being entered to run in, as well as ensuring the right race has been chosen for the horse’s skillset.
What Does A Jockey Do?
Whilst the trainer is the key figure in the majority of a horse’s life, when it comes to race time there is little that the trainer can do and the power is all switched over to the jockey. This is when the person riding the horse takes charge and puts into practice all of the things that the horse will have learned from the trainer.
This includes the likes of getting the horse to switch its lead at the right time. Horses tend to run either with a left-foot lead or a right-foot lead, swapping them naturally whilst running. The problem is that they need to be left-foot leading in the turns and right-foot leading on the straights.
A jockey is responsible for cueing the horse to take one lead or another during a race. The will indicate when the horse needs to jump, when it should speed up its running and when it will benefit from slowing down. This all comes from practice and experience, as well as from a jockey’s time spend working with the horse to know what it prefers to do in certain scenarios. If a jockey gets these sorts of things wrong then the horse will not be able to win the race, regardless of how well they have been trained by the trainer that they’ve been working with before the event.
Which Matters More?
Having a rough sense of what the two people involved in a horse race tend to do, is it possible to decide which one is the more important? The honest truth is that a poorly trained horse is unlikely to be able to win a race irrespective of how well the jockey works with it and how good the jockey is at their job. At the same time, a brilliantly trained horse can only do what the jockey instructs it to do during a race, so they might well end up losing in spite of how well a trainer has worked with them in the time preceding the event that they’re running in going under starters’ orders.
Does one matter more than the other? There is certainly a general feeling that the skill of the trainer is the most important thing when it comes to the possible success of the horse. One need only look to the likes of Willie Mullins to see how important a horse trainer is.
The Irishman is the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, seeing 94 winners come under his tutorship by the end of the 2023 meeting. These all ran with different jockeys and in different events, proving his skill as a trainer and its importance to the horses getting across the line first.
That being said, the most important thing is that a well-trained horse is able to work with a jockey that is in good form. Part of the training of a horse is that they can work with the person riding them, so it isn’t as if they are going to ignore their instructions and do whatever they fancy during a race.
There is a reason why trainers work with the best jockeys out there, because they know that this combination of talents is what is most likely to ensure that a horse wins the race that it has been entered into. It is a partnership, with both aspects working together to enjoy success.