Why this season's jockeys' title race is the most exciting in years
This season's jockeys' championship is building into the most exciting this decade, with three talented and hungry riders already locked in close-quarter combat after separating themselves from the pack.
Oisin Murphy has made no secret of his desire to win the championship this season and currently leads the way with 53 winners, four clear of Danny Tudhope – who former dual champion jockey Paul Hanagan backed this weekend to claim the title – and five ahead of Silvestre de Sousa, who has won the title in three of the last four years.
For some perspective, by July 2 last year De Sousa had ridden 54 winners, with Jim Crowley (38), Tudhope (37) and James Doyle (33) the only other riders with more than 30.
You have to go back to 2015 – the first year of the new, condensed championship – for a time when three jockeys have been close so far into the season.
Back then Ryan Moore (49) was nine clear of De Sousa and ten clear of Richard Hughes, so to have three jockeys within five winners of each other makes this the tightest title race since the Guineas-to-Champions Day season was introduced.
And, given the season previously started in March, it would have been even harder for things to be this close heading into July. Even in 2007, the year Seb Sanders and Jamie Spencer eventually tied for the title, the former had a lead of 14 on July 2 – with the earlier start meaning they had amassed 77 and 63 winners respectively.
The main contenders
The current leader is 23-year-old Oisin Murphy. Champion apprentice in 2014, his rise has been meteoric. He finished 16th overall the year he topped the claiming ranks, which he followed with a 31st in his first season without a claim. He then finished sixth, ninth and second (last season – 27 behind De Sousa).
His retainer with Qatar Racing gets him into some of the most powerful yards in the country, and the hard work of agent Gavin Horne means he has already ridden for 106 different yards in 2019.
Andrew Balding, Archie Watson and Stuart Williams are the only trainers to have used him more than 20 times this year, while only six yards have provided him with five winners or more – but 41 different trainers have given him a winner, which reflects the depth of his support.
Balding, who nurtured Murphy – as well as many others – as a youngster and guided him to that apprentice title, sits top of both categories, providing 15 winners from 75 rides.
How they bet
4-9 Oisin Murphy (Betfair, Paddy Power, Betfred, totesport.com, 888sport)
7-4 Silvestre de Sousa (bet365, Betfred, totesport.com, 888sport)
16-1 Danny Tudhope (Ladbrokes)
50-1 PJ McDonald (bet365)
Tudhope had a breakout Royal Ascot, partnering four winners from just ten rides at the meeting, but he has been a coming force in title terms for a few years now.
Since 2015 he has finished 32nd, 18th, fourth and fifth and, having established himself as the cock of the north over the last two years, he has began to build contacts in the south, with William Haggas a notable supporter.
Tudhope also has a retainer with Clipper Logistics, but predominantly rides as first jockey for the powerful David O'Meara yard – which has provided him with 144 rides and 27 winners this year, with Haggas next at a staggering 15 winners from 25 rides.
Archie Watson (six from 15) is the only other trainer to provide him with more than five winners, while Rebecca Bastiman is the only other trainer to provide him with 20-plus rides.
However his agent Laura Way has got him mounts for 48 different yards and 22 of those have supplied a winner.
If Murphy and Tudhope's careers have been doing what athletes in this modern PR-driven age of communication like to call 'trending', then the 38-year-old De Sousa's has somewhat stalled out. He does, however, have the course-and-distance form, with placings of 1211 since 2015, which suggests he is still the man to beat.
His new retainer with King Power may make matching his totals for the last few seasons more difficult, but at the same time it could also be keeping him in the title race as he has partnered 20 winners from 70 rides for Balding this year and, if the majority of those had gone Murphy's way, it could be done and dusted by now.
His agent, Shelley Dwyer, has De Sousa going at a similar pace so far and, while Balding and Mark Johnston (13 from 59) are the only trainers to have provided him with more than five winners, he has had 20-plus rides for Richard Hannon and Simon Crisford, and partnered winners for 28 of the 82 yards he has ridden for in Britain in 2019.
So what can we expect?
The title race runs until October 19 this year and given De Sousa's recent record, he seems a solid place to start.
His winning margins of 36 (132), 44 (155) and 27 (148) suggest he usually puts the title race to bed before the climax of the season and for the last four years he has averaged 24.25 winners in July, 30 in August, 24 in September and 12.5 in October. The next two months are where De Sousa usually kills off the hopes of his challengers.
The next few months are also going to coincide with the emergence of many of the two-year-olds in the Clipper Logistics, King Power and Qatar Racing strings, and all three will be required to ride at certain tracks for their employers – rather than where their agents can get them the strongest book of rides – so that too will have an impact.
The fact Murphy and De Sousa are both based predominantly in the south and will be in direct competition with each other is another advantage for Tudhope, who will face less competition for the best spare rides on the northern circuit.
But that lack of competition can also hurt him, as there is a decent proportion of likely winners in powerhouse yards like Richard Fahey's and Mark Johnston's that he is unlikely to get many rides for.
When Hanagan won back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011, the northern yards really supported him, and should the same thing happen with Tudhope, he would be a serious threat.
The major negative for Tudhope is the scales. His lowest riding weight in the last year is 8st 9lb, which compares unfavourably with Murphy's 8st 7lb and De Sousa's 8st 1lb. There will be a number of winners Tudhope, and to a certain extent Murphy, simply will not be able to ride.
The last remaining variables are injury, which is impossible to predict, or a ban. It requires five whip suspensions of between two and six days, or four suspensions of seven days or more during a rolling six-month period in order to be referred for a totting-up ban.
Murphy currently has no suspensions for whip misuse on his record, while Danny Tudhope had one two-day suspension and De Sousa picked up a seven-day ban at Ascot. At this early stage all four are a long way from picking up anything longer, but De Sousa has the biggest strike against his name.
There is everything to play for and all three will fancy their chances. De Sousa is the solid play in the ante-post market as he has been there and done it, which counts for a lot.
But it means he knows exactly how much of a grind the next few months will be and, given his new retainer and focus on the bigger races, he may not approach it with quite the same relish as Murphy and Tudhope.
Murphy's price is prohibitive, so that leaves Tudhope. He needs more support, though. He is currently holding his own off considerably fewer rides and it will take the north getting behind him if he is to win. But if the region decides to support him much in the same way it did Paul Hanagan then he is more than capable of landing the title and the 16-1 looks too big.
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