Through the sporting world, the peak age of sporting performance is generally considered to be around the ages of 26 and 27. This would appear to agree with the statistics, with the mean age of athletic entries in the Guinness Book of records being around 26.1.
These rules obviously aren't hard and fast, but at first glance they certainly seem to apply to the man who has redefined the jump jockey - AP McCoy. During the 2001/2 season, which started just after his 27th birthday, McCoy famously eclipsed Sir Gordon Richards' 1947 record total of 269 winners by 20, and it's not difficult to imagine the new figure lasting for a least as long as the original.
At Timeform, we believe that when evaluating performance there is much more to consider than simply numbers of winners, strike rates or returns to level stakes whether it be for horses, trainers or indeed jockeys.
Whereas a jockey will usually feel like they are going out from the parade ring with the goal of winning, independent of the quality of horse or its chance in the race, all they can realistically aim for is to ensure that it runs to the best of its ability. We at Timeform can measure the success of this by assessing a horse's post-race rating against its pre-race counterpart to formulate performance against expectation. A number of statistical techniques are applied to ensure performances that don't warrant a rating have little impact.
Additionally, to counter the fact that horses can be expected to improve over the course of their initial efforts in a given discipline, each individual performance rating is subject to an adjustment for context.
Although the rating of each horse the jockey has ridden is linked closely to the performance of the trainer in its preparation, by taking a large enough sample (minimum of 100 rides in a given discipline per season), we believe a good guide to jockey skill is achieved.
Indeed, using these statistics, there was very little difference in A.P. McCoy's calculated rating in the seasons he made his major switch from the Martin Pipe yard to become J.P. McManus' retained jockey.
Using Timeform ratings, McCoy actually had his peak season in 1997/8. He clearly topped the ratings for all National Hunt jockeys in both Britain and Ireland that year, despite the huge uplift in qualified runners (706 compared to 564 the year before).
The 2010/11 season saw McCoy ride 218 British winners, which was his best haul for eight years. But, despite this, Timeform ratings suggest that he was actually performing a bit below his magnificent best. It would be conjecture to suggest why, and, nevertheless, he bounced back the following year to achieve a rating superior to his record-breaking season of 2001/02.
His other relatively poor season, probably does have tangible events to which this can be attributed. The year prior to his breaking Sir Gordon's record, A.P. had 21 days off the track in the early part of the season due to a concussion. Coupled with the Foot and Mouth crisis crippling racing during early 2001, he never seemed to get into a rhythm and as a result he slipped down the jockey rankings with the lowest rating of his career.
This season so far has seen McCoy post a rating slightly below his own high average, but still above his two poorest seasons, suggesting no performance drop-off is imminent.
Clearly only one man is going to decide when the time comes to hang up the whip, but our ratings don't suggest this should be anytime soon for AP McCoy.
Over the coming weeks, we will be using our Timeform ratings for various purposes, including trying to identify those jockeys who are performing at a high level despite not being affiliated with top stables and owners. Often, the price of a horse is influenced by the name of the rider on the race card, but we'll be aiming to establish who may be sneaking under the radar without such an impact on value.
Additionally, we'll be using these ratings to establish which conditional jockeys are good value for their claims as well as investigating if certain jockeys show different levels of ability in making sure their rides perform to expectation over hurdles or fences.
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