There are plenty of horses that have shone brightly over the last few seasons, and some trainers have an enviable yard packed to the brim with Grade 1, Grand National, and Gold Cup winners.

However, to be truly successful in horse racing, you need a fearless, determined, and disciplined jockey. One that can stay focused over the entire season and, with some luck, not pick up any injuries.

Just like any other professional, whether that be an NBA player, a footballer, or even a professional poker player, jockeys need to employ certain techniques that will see them through their career.

On any given day, they can be booked to ride a horse they either know like the back of their hand or one they’ve never ridden until they get into the parade ring.

Either way, by the time they get to the racecourse, the hard work has already been done.

Staying Focused

We can all have an off day, but if you can’t put it out of your mind, you can tank on the racecourse, basketball court, or poker table.

Mental stamina, emotional control, and strategic knowledge are the foundations for all professionals. Jockeys have to be able to read a race and weigh up the opposition as quickly and effectively as poker players.

Those playing online poker games are likely to be sat on their own, so they’ll need to find what works for them to keep them focussed, whether that’s music, regular breaks, or even a certain food/drink.

Similarly, jockeys will spend hours training alone, so they need to keep their focus and motivation intact if they are going to deliver the best possible results.

Being able to spot a horse or fellow jockey who may not look like they are having a great day is as valuable as being able to spot a tell from across the table.

Much like race days, poker tournaments can last for hours, requiring sustained concentration. While it may not be as physically enduring, poker players still need to be physically fit to handle these potentially long sessions.

So, what techniques do they use? Several jockeys have spoken openly about their process for staying mentally strong and resilient, even when things are not going their way.

Frankie Dettori mentally rehearses each race, visualising every aspect and the potential outcome so that when he races for real, he already has a plan for every eventuality.

AP McCoy worked extensively on his work ethic and self-belief, convincing himself, pre-race, that he would win on every horse he rode.

Likewise, Ruby Walsh has spoken about his use of psychologists to help improve his mental game and to help him stay calm under pressure.

Strategic Decision Making

Mental stamina and the ability to focus or visualise what may or may not happen are equally attributable to jockeys, athletes, and poker players. And so is strategic decision-making.

No professional, particularly those at the top of their game, has simply turned up and played with no decision-making prep.

Jockeys must make split decisions during a race. When to hold a horse back, when to push, when to navigate and move up through the field, and when to make their final move.

Similarly, poker players must know how to analyse opponents, know when to fold, raise, bet, and call, and all based on the strategy of managing the risks and calculating the odds of each hand.

Changing race tactics or adjusting a style of play is crucial, and many a race or tournament has been won or lost based on one wrong decision.

In the 2012 Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, jockey Christophe Soumillion made a critical error in judgment when leading the field with victory in his sights. He let his horse, Orfevre, drift, losing his advantage, and got pipped to the post by Solemia, losing by a neck.

Phil Ivey’s misjudgment in the 2009 WSOP Main Event cost him big time when he mucked a flush against his opponent’s two pairs.

He was so convinced that Smith had a winning hand with AAQQ, which was better than his QQ88, that he didn’t even realise he had a flush, mucking his cards and losing the $2,180,000 on the table.

It just goes to show that strategy, even when victory or loss seems inevitable, is an invaluable tool in the arsenal of every profession, be it riding horses or playing poker.

Weight Discipline

Did you know that professional basketball player, LeBron James, prioritises sleep over every other aspect of his training? In fact, he requires twelve hours a day, including naps, believing that rest is crucial for recovery and performance.

Of course, this is only one aspect of his daily routine, and it is rather unusual given that most athletes put nutrition at the top of their list.

While most sports personalities can afford to put on or lose a few pounds every now and then, despite their rigorous diets, jockeys do not have that luxury, particularly when it comes to weighted handicap races.

When the BHA Handicapper allocates a weight for a horse, that includes everything on its back, including the jockey. So, if a horse is given 10-02 for a race, including the saddle, the jockey cannot exceed that weight.

That’s why the average weight for a jumps jockey is 130-145 pounds, roughly between nine and ten stone. This may not seem like an awful lot, and it isn’t, but it’s more than flat jockeys.

Given the speed at which flat races are run, lighter jockeys fare better, and that’s why they usually weigh between 108 and 118 pounds, which is statistically the same weight as the average 14-year-old boy.

In 2017, Frankie Dettori famously lost 7lbs in six days by living on a diet of fish and water to make the weight to ride Enable at 8st 7lbs!

To never veer off course, being they’re only human after all, requires enormous discipline and focus on nutrition and diet. And that’s only half the battle.