How Often Do Horses Fall In Jump Racing

fallerElsewhere on the site you can read about how a horse falling tends to affect its next couple of races. Yet the races that come after a fall aren't the only thing to think about when it comes to horses taking a tumble. It's also worth thinking about how often horses tend to fall in jump racing because that's the sort of thing that is most likely to have an impact on your betting.

There are numerous things that can have an impact on the answer to this question, including the type of race that it is that you're looking to bet on. The National Hunt also have standard open flat races, which obviously won't have any fallers because of fences as there aren't any. There are also hurdle races that involve smaller obstacles and then fences, which are bigger and tougher to traverse. The latter race type is likely to see the most fallers. Here's a closer look.

Looking for faller insurance? See our dedicated page.

The Cheltenham Festival

cheltenham racecouse entrance and signThe best way to explore the likelihood of a horse falling is by looking at a specific event and looking at the number of fallers that the event had. In this instance we're going to look at the Cheltenham Festival for the simple reason that it is one of the most famous jump racing meetings and offers a good cross-section of race types.  Most races are also high grade races with elite horses and jockeys, therefore this is a good benchmark for how likely horses are to fall in top level jump racing.

Here's a look at the various events that took place during the Cheltenham Festival 2019, including the number of horses that took place in each race and the number of fallers in that race. We'll break them down into the different days of the Festival.

Champion Day - Day One

RaceNumber Of RunnersNumber Of Horses That Fell
Supreme Novices' Hurdle 16 0
Ankle Challenge Trophy 12 1
Festival Handicap Chase 24 1
Champion Hurdle 10 1
David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle 14 2
Novices' Handicap Chase 20 1
National Hunt Chase 18 8

All information taken from the TimeForm website.

The most noteworthy thing on Day One is that there were relatively few fallers until the end of the day. There could be any number of reasons for that, of course, including the following:

  • Degradation of the fences
  • Wear and tear on the course
  • Changing Going
  • Tiredness of horses and jockeys

The most likely reason, however, is the fact that the National Hunt Chase is an event for amateur jockeys. Though they'll mostly all have had a decent number of rides under them, amateur jockeys are, by definition, not as well practiced as their professional counterparts.

It's not entirely unreasonable, then, to assume that a worsening of the conditions as the day wore on combined with a lack of experience on the behalf of the jockeys led to an increase in falls. Let's see if they plays out on the other days of the Festival:

Ladies Day - Day Two

RaceNumber Of RunnersNumber Of Horses That Fell
Ballymore Novices' Hurdle 16 0
RSA Chase 12 1
Coral Cup 25 0
Queen Mother Champion Chase 9 0
Cross Country Chase 15 0
Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle 21 0
Champion Bumper 14 0

What does Day Two tell us? The first thing is that either conditions had improved markedly, the course had made changes or else the races weren't as challenging on the second day of the Festival.

The reality is that it's unlikely that any of those things are true, with the possible exception of the conditions having changed. The thing that might perhaps be relevant is that there are a number of top class races on Day Two, more than on the opening day of the Festival, so it's possible that the standard of horse has improved.

Let's see what the other days can tell us.

St Partick's Thursday - Day Three

RaceNumber Of RunnersNumber Of Horses That Fell
JLT Novices' Chase 10 0
Pertemps Final 24 0
Ryanair Chase 12 0
Stayers' Hurdle 18 0
Festival Plate 22 1
Dawn Run Novices' Hurdle 22 0
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir 23 2

Day Three brought just three more falls, with the interesting thing being that the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir is another race for amateur jockeys and is the race that saw the most falls at Cheltenham since the National Hunt Chase.

That is certainly suggestive of the fact that it is a lack of experience of racing in big events that increases the chance of a horse falling. It's also fascinating to see that there are fewer falls the more that the week goes on, perhaps putting the lie to the idea that the degradation of the course might cause more falls.

Gold Cup Day - Day Four

RaceNumber Of RunnersNumber Of Horses That Fell
Triumph Hurdle 14 0
County Hurdle 24 0
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle 20 0
Cheltenham Gold Cup 16 1
Foxhunter Chase 24 0
Grand Annual Chase 19 0
Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle 24 1

The final day of the Festival is also the most exciting, witnessing the Cheltenham Gold Cup taking centre stage and inviting in some of the best horses, jockeys and trainers to take part in it. It was also one of just two races during the day that saw a faller.

The other particularly noteworthy thing from the day is the fact that the Foxhunter Chase is essentially the Gold Cup for amateur jockeys. Working on the theory that the Gold Cup is one of the most challenging races and the less experienced a jockey is the more likely they are to fall, you'd expect plenty of fallers in the race. Yet in realist there were none in the joint-biggest field of the day.

Cheltenham Safety Was Improved

heavy going horse raceOne thing to point out at this stage, given we've looked at the number of fallers from the Cheltenham Festival in 2019, is that improvements were carried out on the course after the previous year's Festival.

The improvements included the following:

  • Videos of horse's gait submitted to vets prior to Festival
  • Horse checked out by veterinarians before first race
  • Inexperienced jockeys had to walk course before racing
  • Grand Annual Chase maximum field reduced from 24 to 20
  • Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle conditions changed

Whilst the idea of looking at how often horses fall isn't limited to the Cheltenham Festival, it's worth noting that this is what happened as it's something of a microcosm for other racecourses. The level of protection for horses and the concern for their welfare from the British Horseracing Authority is always improving.

The result of that is the courses are constantly being improved to reduce the chance of a horse falling, which in turn will reduce the chance of them dying. Limiting the number of horses that die is the ultimate aim of jump racing, so it's no surprise that courses such as Cheltenham are looked at on a rolling basis.

How Many Horses Fell On Average?

horse and jockey fallingNow that we know the numbers from the Cheltenham Festival in 2019 we can have a look to see the average number of fallers. Out of 498 horses that took part in the 28 races during the meeting, just 20 fell.

It's worth noting that this is not the same as saying a horse didn't complete the race. There were plenty that either unseated their rider, pulled-up or refused to race in the first place. We're specifically looking at horses that couldn't complete the race because they themselves fell.

20 is just 4.01% of the 498 runners that took part in the races. The figure is skewed by the presence of 8 fallers in the National Hunt Chase. If you accept that that race is an anomaly and shift it down to the average fallers of 1 then there would have been 13 fallers.

13 out of 498 is 2.61%. That's something worth bearing in mind when it comes to thinking about how often horses fall, as it's probably closer to the reality than including a one-off race in which there were an unusual number of fallers.

Is Racing Getting Safer?

horses jumping a fence at the aintree grand national

Earlier we mentioned the fact that changes were made to Cheltenham Racecourse as well as to some of the events that take place during the Festival. The idea behind the changes is to limit the number of horse deaths by making racing and safe as possible. Obviously it's impossible to remove any risk to horses just as it wouldn't be possible to ensure that no footballers get injured during football matches.

Do the changes mean that horse racing is safer and that fewer horses are likely to die thanks to a fall? Of the three horses that died during the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, two happened when they fell at fences and the other when it broke a leg between fences, so failing isn't the only thing that can lead to an injury so bad that the animal needs to be put down.

The British Horseracing Authority claims that the number of horse deaths sat at 2.6 per 1,000 race starts in 1994 to 2.2 deaths per 1,000 race starts in 2018. The best year was 2017 when just 1.8 horses died per 1,000 race starts.

That certainly suggests that things are getting safer, even if only at a slow rate. It's also worth noting that those figures include flat racing. When you look at jump racing alone then the figures are somewhat different. Between 1999 and 2004 the rate was 4.9 deaths per 1,000 race starts, whilst from 2013 to 2018 that figure sat at 3.9 per 1,000 race starts.

Falling Jockeys

JockeyPercentage Of Falls
Ruby Walsh 7.4%
Tom O'Brien 7.3%
Brian Hughes 6.1%
Paddy Brennan 5.9%
Dominic Elsworth 5.5%
Timmy Murphy 5.5%
Jason Maguire 4.9%
Andrew Thornton 4.9%
Denis O'Regan 4.7%
Tom Scudamore 4.5%
Richard Johnson 4.3%
Noel Fehily 4.2%
Paul Moloney 4.2%
Robert Thornton 4.2%
Graham Lee 4.1%
Richard McGrath 4.0%
Tony McCoy 3.7%
Jamie Moore 3.6%
Sam Thomas 3.5%
Mick Fitzgerald 2.9%

In 2008 The Guardian newspaper looked at the rate at which jockeys tend to fall. The figures were taken from the previous two seasons and are obviously out of date now, but it still gives a good indication of the number of falls that jockeys tend to suffer during their career.

The article looked at the careers of the top 20 jockeys and the percentage of falls that they suffered. One thing to bear in mind is that the jockeys ran a different amount of races, with Tony McCoy taking part in 567 races compared to the 169 rides that Denis O'Regan had during the same period. The table above shows the numbers.

Tom O'Brien fell 29 times, whilst Mick Fitzgerald only fell 5 times. Does that suggest that Fitzgerald is a better jockey than O'Brien? Without knowing the exact number of races that they both took part in and the level of each race it's obviously impossible to tell.

What we can say is that Tom O'Brien took part in 397 races, falling 29 times. Mick Fitzgerald, meanwhile, took part in 172 races during the same period and fell 5 times. Double both and that's 344 races and 10 falls, suggesting that Fitzgerald either took on less challenging races or is simply a better jockey than O'Brien.

Conclusions

What we know is that it's not all that common for horses to fall and not all that common for jockeys to fall. Those that do tend to be more inexperienced, though that's not necessarily a given that they're going to lose their ride before the race is over.

Using the Cheltenham Festival 2019 as our point of reference, just 2.61% of horses fell. Obviously the more challenging a race is the more likely it is that a horse will struggle to complete the course. In the Grand National of 2019, for example, 40 horses took part and 5 of them fell.

That means that during the Grand National, which is widely considered to be one of the toughest races run during the National Hunt season, around 12.5% of horses taking part fell. That is obviously significantly more than the 2.61% across the entirety of the Cheltenham Festival.

If you're looking to put a wager on and are contemplating how many fallers there might be or what the chances are of your horse falling then remember the following:

  • The difficulty of the race will influence things
  • Inexperienced jockeys are more likely to fall
  • Not many horses tend to fall on average
  • Conditions will play a part