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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, October 21, 2015 at 12:00 AM


By Noel Michaels

Handicapping the Breeders’ Cup is a complex puzzle with too many variables to list. Horseplayers must weigh factors such as speed, pace, trainers, current form, and much more, in order to come up with their selections in every Breeders’ Cup race. However, no matter how well a horse is prepared and how well the horse has been spotted, once the bell rings and the gates open, it is just the horses and their jockeys who are ultimately left to decide the outcome of the races, and whether or not you will cash your bets or tear-up your tickets.

Good handicappers know that you just can’t base your handicapping solely on just simply betting the leading jockeys all of the time, especially at the Breeders’ Cup, where, let’s face it, they’re all essentially top jockeys. So when it comes to jockey handicapping in the Breeders’ Cup, horseplayers will need to delve far beyond just looking at the various current win percentages of the jockeys named to ride. At this level, you are dealing with the best of the best and just picking a jockey with a good current record is worthless. This is because on Breeders’ Cup Day, virtually all of the jockeys are top-rung, and the differences between them is small and usually not worth basing your bets on.

That being said, it does not mean you should not factor the jockey into your handicapping at all. You just need to know specifically what to look for.

I suggest looking at the following handicapping points when it comes to evaluating jockeys into your Breeders’ Cup handicapping:

  • Is the jockey the horse’s regular rider, and has the horse already been successful with the jockey aboard on Breeders’ Cup Day?
  • Has there been a jockey switch aboard a horse for the Breeders’ Cup? Was that switch positive of negative? Did the regular rider choose another horse?
  • Is the jockey familiar with the Breeders’ Cup venue (Keeneland), and is the jockey an experienced and proven winner of Breeders’ Cup races?

Let’s take a closer look at these handicapping points, one-by-one in more detail, to see how you can use jockeys to help you pick winners on Breeders’ Cup weekend.

Is the jockey the horse’s regular rider, and has the horse already been successful with the jockey who will be riding on Breeders’ Cup Day?

From a handicapping perspective, it is always beneficial to see the mount on a horse going to a jockey who already "knows the horse." Many times trainers are faced with a decision in the Breeders’ Cup to stick with their regular riders or to take an "upgrade" by switching from a non-big-name rider to one of the marquee jockeys in the country. In these circumstances, I prefer to see the trainer stick with the horse’s regular rider, even if that rider is not necessarily a household name.

In order to have arrived at the Breeders’ Cup and to be a contender, a horse must have racked-up quite an impressive year. Chances are that a good portion of that success was due to the winning jockey(s). When readying a horse for the big race, it is up to the trainer to weigh his options and make the critical decisions to give his horse the best chance to win. These decisions include which jockey is the best fit to ride the horse.

In my opinion, the trainers that make the right moves are the ones who stick with horse’s regular riders, or when all else fails at least give the mount to a jockey that has already earned at least one win aboard the horse. Otherwise, I recommend downgrading horses with jockeys aboard who have never ridden them, or never won aboard them.


Has there been a jockey switch aboard a horse for the Breeders’ Cup? Was that switch positive of negative? Did the regular rider choose another horse in the race?

As handicappers, it is always possible for us to handicap each race using the jockeys based on certain clues that are in front of us in the past performances. When you are making your selections, the jockey, as well as the various jockey moves and switches, should always be considered.

Rider switches can be most confusing for the betting public, but reading something into these switches forms the beginning of potentially effective betting angles. Jockey choices, moves, and switches - both positive and negative - can help you separate pretenders from contenders.

In the Breeders’ Cup there are always riding conflicts. Many jockeys are the regular riders of more than one horse in the race, forcing them to choose between horses. This can amount to a handicapping angle for horseplayers. When jockeys choose one horse over another, it is a positive betting factor for the horse the jockey is choosing, and a negative betting factor for the horse the jockey is not choosing.


Is the jockey familiar with the Breeders’ Cup venue (Keeneland), and is the jockey an experienced and proven winner of Breeders’ Cup races?

Two things you should consider in the Breeders’ Cup when taking a horse’s jockey into account in your handicapping are, 1) Whether or not the rider has successful experience winning Breeders’ Cup races; and 2) Whether or not the jockey is an experienced winner at the Breeders’ Cup host track - which is Keeneland in 2015.

More important than a jockey’s current race record and win percentage is a jockey’s past record specifically in Breeders’ Cup races. Is the jockey a "big race rider?" There is no better time to prove it than at the Breeders’ Cup. Horsemen will be lining-up to get guys like Gary Stevens and Mike Smith aboard their horses if their horses regular riders are not available.

Breeders’ Cup Leading Jockeys

Several of the all-time winningest jockeys in Breeders’ Cup history are still active. The all-time leading rider in the history of the Breeders’ Cup is Mike Smith with 21 career wins (through 2014), and there is no better rider to have aboard your horse at the Breeders’ Cup than this veteran proven big race rider. Other top riders in Breeders’ Cup history can also improve your horse’s chances, such as John Velazquez (13 Breeders’ Cup wins), Gary Stevens (10 wins), Frankie Dettori (11 wins mostly on grass), Cornelio Velasquez (dangerous when he participates, 5-for-27, 19% wins) and Corey Nakatani (10 wins, great in the Sprint).

Some current jockeys with disappointing Breeders’ Cup career records (all stats thru 2014) so far include Kent Desormeaux (5 wins from 87 mounts, won aboard Texas Red in 2014, but has only two BC wins since 2007), Javier Castellano (4-for-69, but one win in each of last three years), Joel Rosario (3-for-62, but won the 2014 Turf Sprint), Rafael Bejarano (5-for-72, including back-to-back wins on Goldencents), Joe Talamo (1-for-29, no seconds), and most of all, the rider of American Pharoah, Victor Espinoza, who is only 2-for-53 lifetime in the Breeders’ Cup, even with his win last year aboard Take Charge Brandi.

Finally, if you are stuck between two horses and looking at the jockeys aboard the contenders to perhaps be your deciding factor, it can’t hurt to consider how well a jockey knows the host track and how much experience he has on that particular surface. Every track and turf course has its specific ins-and-outs that can only be learned with experience. No matter how good a ship-in rider might be, sometimes it helps to have a locally-based top rider aboard your horse. His experience on that track could come in very handy in a key situation in a big race.


So, when factoring the jockeys into your Breeders’ Cup handicapping, you must look deeper than just a jockey’s current record in order to help you pick winners. Instead, use tips like finding jockeys with winning records aboard specific horses, positive and negative jockey switches, and whether a rider has winning experience in Breeders’ Cup races and/or at the Breeders’ Cup venue to help you separate the contenders from the contenders on horseracing’s biggest and best weekend. Best of luck, and enjoy the Breeders’ Cup.

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