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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at 12:00 AM

EVALUATING JOCKEYS…THE FINER POINTS

(The Listed VS. The Real Leaders)

By Jim Hurley

When it comes to evaluating jockeys the first question you should ask is…HOW MUCH DO JOCKEYS REALLY EFFECT A RACE?

Back in when Calvin Borel steered Mine That Bird to the rail and remained there through the slop to emerge from nowhere in the final furlong on his way to upsetting the Kentucky Derby at $103.20, the jockey became cause célèbre and for months, no matter what horse Borel was riding, whether a 10K claimer or another Stakes horse the onsite commentators would rehash the same Calvin Bo-Rail nonsense that undoubtedly made for considerably more than there ought to have been. Over bet horses he piloted.

There are many ways to make this same point but ask even the most astute handicappers and analysts in the game to measure the “worth” of the jockey and as subjective as that task might be you will probably get an answer (if quantified at all) of 5% to 10%.

I mention this because if you went to the NYRA Web Site right now (as of noon, Mon. 8/3) you would find the following list of the Top 5 “Leading Jockeys.”

Entering Racing Monday 8/4

  Starts Wins Seconds Thirds Win % On the Board
Javier Castellano 89 21 16 15 24% 58%
John Velazquez 83 17 11 11 20% 47%
Jose Ortiz 86 14 14 14 16% 43%
Joel Rosario 81 13 10 10 16% 43%
Irad Ortiz 93 13 13 13 14% 46%

Logically the web site lists the jockeys by the number of wins. Most casual bettors will take this at face value and “lean” towards those with the highest win totals. Obviously a jockey such as Javier Castellano, who has won 21 races in 15 days, has to be a pretty good rider, as does John Velazquez, who has also won more than one race a day on average. But to a more discerning analyst there should be many more questions.

For instance, the national league batting average list has Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki on top with a .340 mark. The NL home run leader is Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton with 26. In the American League the highest batting average belongs to Jose Altuve of Houston at .339 and the AL home run leader is Chicago’s Jose Abreu with 31. But the excellence on the part of each of those athletes should not encourage you to use them as a guide to bet Colorado (44-67), Miami (54-57), Houston (47-65) or Chicago (54-58) to be anywhere near the front when the baseball season race gets to the wire.

Furthermore, since winning and losing any individual race compounded to winning or losing at the race track involves value and value is measured by R.O.I. (return on investment), it is easily argued that the impact of jockeys in any given race as projected by as base a statistical measurement as how many races they have won and even the percentage of winners is even more divorced from their overall impact on the horse race than the statistical baseball leaders are on the prospects of their teams.

All that being said, let’s dig a bit deeper into the statistical analysis of the “5 Leading Jockeys” listed above…especially as those statistics apply to R.O.I.
I have already alluded above to the idea that most bettors are likely to give more credence to jockeys than they should. But there are more detailed ways to evaluate a jockey than simply by a “leader board” of wins and percentages. Of course that takes the kind of work that most bettors either don’t have the willingness or time to do.

Let’s take a closer look at the “5 Leading Jockeys” by applying just a few basic standards.

Javier Castellano (89-21)

Average Off Odds Of All 89 Horses—5.44-1
Average Payoff Of All 21 Winners—$8.41
R.O.I. (Return On Investment) Of A $2 Wager On All 89 Runners $1.98
Winning Favorites—11
Beaten Favorites—15

NOTE: Castellano is an interesting case study because with 11 of his 21 winners being favorites you would imagine that the average payoff for winner and the R.O.I. would be a bit lower. But 7 of his 21 winners were also double digit payers which made him a passable investment despite a high profile that caused 26 of his 89 mounts to be the post time favorite. All in all he does reasonably well, especially in comparison to the others at the top of the list we are referring to…and most bettors refer to) for a jockey who is constantly in the spotlight. His $1.98 R.O.I. is much higher than one would expect. Moving forward we will see that he is the exception that proves the point I am making about how jockeys have to be evaluated beyond the generic leader board.

John Velazquez (83-17)

Average Off Odds Of All 83 Horses—5.37-1
Average Payoff Of All 17 Winners—$5.52
R.O.I. (Return On Investment) Of A $2 Wager On All 83 Runners $1.19
Winning Favorites—12
Beaten Favorites—10

NOTE: If you are a two-eyes-open handicapper and bettor then you undoubtedly learned many Saratoga seasons ago that John Velazquez’s Saratoga numbers are inflated by his success with Todd Pletcher 2-year olds. Pletcher has always made it a point to have his juveniles ready (for the most part in maiden races) to win at the Spa and the public long ago began betting them down to an odds-on prospect. Of Velazquez’s 17 winners, 12 went off as the favorite and 9 0f those were odds-on. This is brought home even more by the statistics that show the other 4 jockeys listed above as having considerably more beaten favorites than winning ones while Velazquez is just the opposites. If you are comfortable with chalk then by all means bet Velazquez on a favorite to eke out a smallest of profit. But take away the favorites and he is 5-61 on all the rest. This is why I say it is probably prudent to realize that for the most part jockeys are more valued than they should be.

Jose Ortiz (86-14)

Average Off Odds Of All 86 Horses— 9.91-1
Average Payoff Of All 14 Winners—$10.13
R.O.I. (Return On Investment) Of A $2 Wager On All 86 Runners $1.65
Winning Favorites—4
Beaten Favorites—10

NOTE: On an overall R.O.I. basis Jose Ortiz is well ahead of both John Velazquez and Joel Rosario, who have been in the limelight longer, get more top level mounts in graded races, etc. and are therefore more over bet than Ortiz would be. You’ll notice that his off odds speak volumes as they are considerably higher than Castellano, Velazquez and Rosario. Of course over a larger sample of races Castellano, Velazquez and Rosario also ride for high visibility trainers more often and the deflationary value standard is also determined by that, but the numbers are revelatory enough to feed back into the point being made that jockeys are more often than not valued more than they ought to be. It is also worth considering that since Ortiz rides a smaller number of favorites you might want to consider the idea (in general) of demanding more of the horse ridden by a lesser known jockey on a favorite. For instance if you eliminate Ortiz’ favorites his average win payoff increases to $12.64 and his R.O.I. to $1.74.

Joel Rosario (83-13)

Average Off Odds Of All 81 Horses—6.48-1
Average Payoff Of All 13 Winners—$8.15
R.O.I. (Return On Investment) Of A $2 Wager On All 89 Runners $1.30
Winning Favorites—5
Beaten Favorites—11

The jockey who took New York by storm before getting injured last year has gradually retuned to form and still remains the kind of high visibility jockey (rode Tonalist to the Belmont Stakes victory among others) who falls into the same over-lit visibility as most “top name” jockeys. Rosario has only had 4 double digit winners, his highest being $18.60 while the other 3 were $10.80, $10.80 and $10.40. He is like the Castellano’s and Velazquez’s of the colony a prime example of why you will have deflated value with him, especially on a middle-of-the-contention candidate who might pay more when ridden by a lesser known jockey. 

Irad Ortiz (93-13)

Average Off Odds Of All 93 Horses—7.15-1
Average Payoff Of All 13 Winners—$9.24
R.O.I. (Return On Investment) Of A $2 Wager On All 89 Runners $1.29
Winning Favorites—4
Beaten Favorites—11

NOTE: Apparently Irad Ortiz’s successful meet at Belmont has carried over to Saratoga and shined a light on him. His average off odds of $7.15-1 is relatively low for a jockey who has the most mounts but only the 5th best number of wins. And despite the fact that only 4 of his 13 wins have been favorites it is also noteworthy that he only has 4 double digit favorites. You’ll also find that if you eliminate the 15 favorites you would have 9 winners from 78 mounts and the R.O.I. would actually drop to $1.28.

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JUST A BIT MORE PERSPECTIVE

The next 4 jockeys on the NYRA Top List are…

Luis Saez66 Mounts—9 Wins
BUT—Average Win Payoff $14.03…R.O.I. $1.91

Cornelio Velasquez…35 Mounts—8 Wins
BUT—Average Win Payoff $11.09…R.O.I. $2.54

Jose Lezcano…52 Mounts—7 Wins
BUT—Average Win Payoff $14.16…R.O.I. $1.91

Rajiv Maragh…51 Mounts—7 Wins
BUT—Average Win Payoff $13.79…R.O.I. $1.89

It doesn’t take much to see that other than the $1.98 R.O.I. by Javier Castellano the value of these four is arguably considerably more than that of the Top 5. This can only go further to support the contention that for the most part jockeys are much more often overvalued than undervalued.

It is also important to point out that what I have constructed above only scratches the surface of how you need to calculate and apply the best spots to use certain jockeys. How do they match up when used by certain trainers? What is the value of their place and show vis-à-vis back up bets and exotic usage…and on and on? You didn’t think I was going to do all the work did you.

All of this might seem to be overbearing work but it is the work that must be done in an investment game in which “true value” and what creates it is essential. That is why if you want to show a profit betting horses it really is a full time job or left to the work of those that do it fulltime.

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