Submitted by Noel Michaels on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at 12:00 PM
A horse's jockey is one of the most important handicapping elements to consider before horseplayers make their bets. When making selections, the jockey and various jockey moves and trends should always be considered in conjunction with your other handicapping angles to come up with your best possible pick in every race.
Two of the best jockey colonies anywhere at any time of the year are currently in action at the summer's premier race meets at Saratoga and Del Mar. With roughly a week of action in the books early on at both tracks, let's take a closer look into which jockeys are setting up for big seasons at The Spa, and at Del Mar.
After we look at the top jockeys at each track, we'll then focus on some ways handicappers can zero-in on some betting angles involving jockeys, and jockey moves that anybody can find right there in black-and-white in the past performances.
These jockey moves and angles occur so frequently as a matter of fact, that it is possible for you to make your picks almost exclusively based on jockey handicapping, if that is what you choose to focus on. Handicapping based solely on jockeys is not recommended, but it is possible to make a decent return on investment if you know how to pick your spots.
Horseplayers must weigh factors such as speed, pace, class, distance, and surface in order to come up with their bets, while also taking into consideration the horse's trainer, and the horse's current form and readiness to run its best race. Nevertheless, no matter how well a horse is prepared, and mo matter how well the horse has been spotted for today's race, once the bell rings and the gates open, it is just the horses and their jockeys who are the only ones that have control over the outcome of the race.
The human story early at the Saratoga meet has not been a jockey, but rather a trainer. Kiaran McLaughlin started the meet on fire with 6 wins from his first 8 starters to lead the way in the trainers race in the meet's first four race days. In terms of jockeys, Mclaughlin has been spreading the wealth, with no fewer than four different jockeys aboard his 6 winners - 2 wins apiece for Junior Alvarado and Joel Rosario, and 1 win each for Ricardo Santana and John Velazquez.
Junior Alvarado is interesting, because he usually benefits from riding first call for trainer Bill Mott. Alvarado has only 2 wins at the meet so far from 20 mounts (both for Mclaughlin), however, his win percentage will really start to go up when Bill Mott's turf stable starts to heat up at some point during the meet.
The other trainers off to good starts at Saratoga in terms of winners include Todd Pletcher with 5 wins, and Jason Servis and Chad Brown with 3 wins. Unlike McLaughlin, those trainers a bit easier to figure. Almost all of Todd Pletcher's winners are ridden by either John Velazquez or Javier Castellano. Jason Servis like to use Irad Ortiz (aboard all 3 wins so far), and Chad Brown, who is a little cold to start the meet with 3 wins from 20 starters, usually likes to use Jose Ortiz or Irad Ortiz.
Saratoga Jockey Standings
Jose Ortiz is coming out of his best-ever meet at Belmont, where he ran away to win the jockey title with impressive win and win percentage totals. He is off to a slow start at The Spa but will vastly improve his numbers. Jose Ortiz is a highly underrated turf rider and will have plenty of chances to strut his stuff.
Another jockey who had a breakout year at Belmont in the jockey standings is Manuel Franco, who enjoyed his best meet ever and should continue to hold his own at Saratoga. For handicappers, Franco is a good bet, too, because his horses often offer much better odds than the ones ridden by Castellano, Velazquez, or the Ortiz brothers.
Joel Rosario, who was coming back from an injury at Belmont, is also riding well now and will continue to post big numbers as long as McLaughlin stays hot. Rosario does not take as many mounts as guys like Castellano and Jose and Irad Ortiz, but he makes up for it with a good win percentage.
Irad Ortiz is off to a blazing hot start at Saratoga, riding for hot barns, but ultimately the jockey race should come down to Javier Castellano and Johnny Velazquez. Castellano and Velazquez will compile healthy win percentages, and take advantage of what figures to be a giant meet this season for Todd Pletcher. They'll also pick up their share of Chad Brown winners, as well, plus the cream of the crop from a long list of other trainers.
Finally, one jockey definitely worth mentioning based on Saratoga's first week of action is Ricardo Santana. He's been an Oaklawn leading rider for many years and has moved his tack to Saratoga for the first time this summer. So far, the move is paying off, and bettors and handicappers should take note. With just 13 mounts opening weekend, Santana won 3 and was in the exacta 5 times (38%) with mostly longshot horses. This means that Santana is the ROI king of the Saratoga meet thus far.
The Del Mar jockey colony is basically the same as the SoCal jockey colony the rest of the year, with the main difference being that there are bigger fields at Del Mar, which means more mounts to spread around beyond just the few top riders, and more wins from a greater variety of jockeys. Therefore, paying attention to hot and cold riders at Del Mar becomes important, and you must stay on top of it because once the trend is known, it may already be too late to take advantage of it.
The jockeys notable for getting off to hot starts at the 2016 Del Mar meet include leading riders Flavien Prat and Santiago "Gonzo" Gonzalez, each with 10 wins through the first 8 race days. Prat was the second-leading jockey at Del Mar in 2015 with 30 wins (including 13 turf wins) and he has picked up right where he left off, riding tons of winners for trainers like Doug O'Neill, Jerry Hollendorfer, Simon Callaghan, and of course Richard Mandella.
Gonzo, meanwhile, gets his wins for Mike Puype, John Sadler, James Cassidy, and of course Jerry Hollendorfer. Both Gonzalez and Prat should stay at or near the top of the jockey standings all season long and consistently bring in winners.
That brings us to the most notable cold rider to begin the Del Mar meet, perennial leading rider Rafael Bejarano, who only has 5 wins through the early part of the meet and just a 15% win percentage. He'll need to pick it up if he wants to approach his 2015 leading win total of 39 wins, including a leading 14 on the grass. If Bejarano is to be leading rider again in 2015, he will need to stop losing mounts to other riders for leading trainers like Phil D'Amato and Richard Baltas.
Here is a look at the top Del Mar jockeys early in the 2016 meet:
Del Mar Jockey Standings
As you can see from the list, veteran Victor Espinosa has been the hottest jockey on the grounds to begin the season, riding 32% wins. Gary Stevens is being selective as always, and therefore riding 19% wins. He can be expected to stay in the 20% ballpark, at least, all season long.
On the cold side of the ledger, it should be noted that while Tyler Baze does have 5 wins and will probably stay in the top 10 all season long due to how many mounts he gets, he is currently winning just 11% and burning a lot of money in the process.
Also burning a lot of money right now for bettors at Del Mar are Joe Talamo (2-for-23, 9%, Martin Garcia (1-for-17), Edwin Maldonado (1-for-20), and Chad Lindsay (1-for-24). Stay away from that group like the plague until you see signs of a turnaround. Of that group, the most likely guy to expect to see better from the rest of the meet is Joe Talamo. Talamo was the third-leading Del Mar jockey in 2016 with 27 wins, and is most dangerous with front runners. If and when he does start to turn it around this season, it will probably be riding horses for trainers Vann Belvoir and Phil D'Amato, so be aware when Talamo draws aboard speed horses for those barns.
Finally, some other jockey/trainer combos worth looking out for at Del Mar include the following, based on 2015 results: Rafael Bejarano/Phil D'Amato (5-for-11, 7-of-11 in the exacta), Gary Stevens/Simon Callaghan (3-for-5, 60%), Mario Gutierrez/Richard Baltas (3-for-6. 50%), Mike Smith/Jerry Hollendorfer (4-for-10, 40%), Martin Pedrosa/Adam Kitchingman (4-for-14, 9-for-14 in the exacta), and Mike Smith/Jeff Mullins (3-for-6, 50%).
SUMMER JOCKEY ANGLES
When it comes to which horses to ride on any given day, a jockey often has decisions to make. Much of this process involves the jockey's agents, who ultimately are responsible for finding the best mounts for their riders in any race. Most of the above-mentioned decision process - the process of jockeys "jockeying" for position aboard the best mounts - goes on behind the scenes before race entries are even taken.
As horseplayers, we generally are not privy to the ins-and-outs of this process and not privy to the information that goes into the decisions about the mounts that the jockeys choose to get aboard. However, just because we do not get to witness the behind-the-scenes moves that go into jockey's mounts, it doesn't mean we have to be completely in the dark, either.
It is always possible to handicap races using the jockeys, based on certain clues that are available to all of us in the past performances if you know the right things to look for.
Of course, you don't have to be a master handicapper in order to figure out who the top jockeys are at any given track. Both seasoned handicappers and weekend warriors alike are on even footing when it comes to knowing who are the top leading jockeys at every track, therefore you can't make any money just flat-betting top jockeys in the long run, because the horses ridden by the top riders at the track are almost always well-bet favorites paying low prices even when they win.
Therefore, you not only need to know who the best jockeys are, but you also must be able to discern when are the best times to bet the best jockeys, and when are the best times to bet against the leading riders in favor of a capable but lower-profile jockey who is correctly spotted on a legitimate contender with a good chance to win at a better price.
Here are five jockey handicapping angles that any player can use to cash more winning tickets at the races:
1) When you see a jockey that has ridden the last race of more than one horse in a race, upgrade the horse the top-rung jockey choses to ride, and downgrade the horse(s) the jockey gets off of.
A jockey almost always will opt for what he thinks is the better horse, or the better trainer, when he has a choice of more than one horse to ride in a race. Many times the top riders end up with a conflict of two (or more) horses in the same race. When this occurs, the jockey and agent have a decision to make about which horse to ride and which mount to give up. Usually they make the right choice, but not always.
Usually the choice is determined by their assessment of the relative abilities of the two horses in question, but sometimes other factors enter into the decision, such as which trainer he has a better relationship with, or which trainer has the better win percentage, or simply if might even be a case of which trainer the rider was committed to first.
All this leaves the bettor in a situation where he must weigh the various factors, and then make a handicapping judgment in these conflict situations whether they think the jockey accepted his mount based on a loyalty or relationship with a certain trainer, and/or whether they did their best to choose the best horse. Either way, from a horseplayer's perspective, when a handicapper is on top of jockey conflicts and choices jockeys must make, you can benefit strongly from paying attention to these moves.
This angle helped narrow down the contenders and pick the winner in several recent races at Saratoga and Del Mar, including in race 7 on Saturday, July 23 at Saratoga when John Velazquez has the choice of two contenders, No. 8 Ascend trained by Graham Motion, and No. 4 Taghleeb trained by the red-hot Kiaran McLaughlin. In this case, Johnny V's decision pointed the way to the winner. After having ridden both horses in their last races, Velazquez got off Taghleeb to ride Ascend. His choice won the race, paying a nice $9.40.
2) When you see a top jockey switching off a horse he has ridden in favor of having no mount at all in a race, consider the move to be a double negative, unless the top jockey is being replaced by another of the track's leading riders. It might mean the horse is not doing well in terms of form, fitness, or soundness.
Rider switches can be most confusing for the betting public, but reading something into these kinds of switches forms the beginning of potentially effective betting angles - the use of jockey moves and switches, both positive and negative, to help you separate pretenders from contenders.
These jockey moves work both ways. If the jockey has failed to have any success aboard a horse after several tries under varying conditions, such as tries at various distances and class levels, a jockey or his agent are likely to tell the trainer that they just can't get any run out of the horse and take themselves off the horse for future races. This will even happen if the top jockey does not have another mount in the same race.
Conversely, after a few unsuccessful tries with a certain jockey aboard a horse, the trainer usually comes to the same opinion anyway and is also probably thinking of making a rider change. Sometimes this won't even take two or three or four tries aboard a horse. Sometimes a top jockey and a horse are ready to part ways and make a change right away if the jockey realizes the horse can't run.
For example, at Saratoga on August 27, jockey Javier Castellano got off the morning-line third choice in race 10, a horse named Tambourin, with no other mount in the race. He simply walked away from his mount on this otherwise well-regarded horse. The move turned out to be an effective tip-off. Tambourin ran sixth and was not a factor beaten five lengths.
3) When you see a horse dropped in class into a spot where he looks good, it is the rider move makes all the difference for a handicapper. A horse dropping and switching to a lower-rung journeyman is a red-flag negative. Conversely, when a rider change has been made to one of the best jockeys on the grounds in conjunction with a class drop, this becomes a prime best bet.
Many times a top jockey will wait to pursue the mount on a horse they think has been racing at levels it can't win at. Remember, whether it's a cheap claiming race or a stakes, riders only essentially make money when they win and don't want to waste their time with losing when they don't have to. A jockey might pass on a mount for a horse that has been beaten repeatedly for $50,000 claiming, but then will be ready to approach a trainer in order to jump on the mount when the horse finally drops-in more realistically for $20,000 claiming.
A great example of this jockey angle in action occurred at Saratoga in Race 7 on the first Wednesday card of the meet. This was a typical tough and wide-open Saratoga race with several contenders, but of all handicapping methods, it was this jockey angle that pointed out the winner. In the race, the No. 1 Asset Inflation was dropping from allowance competition in for a tag for the first time since the claim by trainer David Jacobson. However, in conjunction with the class drop was a major jockey switch from Emmanuel Esquivel to leading rider Irad Ortiz. This was a sign of positive, not negative, trainer intent. Asset Inflation did what the angle predicted he would do. He won the claiming race and paid $8.70 to win.
This is especially true when the race in question is the last race on the card. The top jockey might not want to stick around for a cheap race after the feature, but he probably will be persuaded to ride the late cheap race if he thinks he is assured a reasonably good chance of winning.
4) A jockey switch from an apprentice or journeyman rider to a leading jockey is a particularly effective positive betting angle in turf route races.
Trainers moving a horse to the turf will often switch away from an apprentice jockey in favor of a journeyman rider. Most trainers and bug boys will tell you that it is difficult riding on the turf as opposed to the dirt - especially in turf routes. On the turf, certain things become extremely important for jockeys that take a lot of time to learn, such as pace, precision timing, and saving ground. Many horses win-or-lose turf routes due to bad or inexperienced rides. That is why handicappers must particularly look for jockey switches in turf routes away from inexperienced or lower-rung jockeys, going to leading riders, because these are the types of races that top jockeys and agents will have the most chance to make a positive difference aboard a horse.
A great-paying recent example of this method picking a winner was in the finale on the Wednesday, August 27 card at Saratoga. In the race, the eventual winner No. 7 Shalako was getting a major jockey switch in the 1 1/16-mile turf race from a 7-point apprentice rider to the red-hot riding Manuel Franco, the third-leading rider from the recently concluded Belmont meet. The jockey upgrade make all the difference. With the bug boy off and Franco on, Shalako improved and posted the upset, paying $20.40 to win.
5) Anytime you see a top-name or leading rider picking up a mount aboard a horse or a first-time starter from a small barn, you can bet that the horse will have an excellent chance to win.
When it comes to lesser-known or lower-profile trainers, or trainers with small stables, those trainers can seldom get the services of the top-rung jockeys aboard their horses. Riders of that stature have long lists of big-time stables that they ride for, and it is difficult for low-profile trainers to pry them away from these outfits regardless of how good the small stable guy thinks his horse is. This means that the lower-profile trainers will usually jockey for position for the best of the second-tier or journeyman riders at their track most of the time, even with their best horses.
This tip is particularly effective with first-time starters. Leading riders generally do not like to ride first-time starters for any trainer they are not very familiar with, because many first starters are untested and often unpredictable. When you see a leading rider stick out like a sore thumb on a horse like this from a smaller stable, go to the windows and bet on this kind of horse because there's a good chance there is more to this small-stable runner than meets the eye.
An example of his happened at Saratoga on opening Monday, when Javier Castellano showed up aboard Gary Contessa first starter Mo Promise in a turf sprint race. Contessa is a find trainer, but not known for winning turf sprints and not known for winning much at Saratoga, especially with first starters. Castellano, however, was the clue. Mo Promise went off as the fourth choice in the 10-horse field, ran strong for second, and is nearly certain to break his maiden next time out, especially if Castellano is back aboard.
With so much information floating around, and so much difficult handicapping to focus on at premier meets like Del Mar and Saratoga, it is easy to forget about simple handicapping angles and trends such as the horse's jockeys when making your selections. However, perhaps more than at any time of the year, it is beneficial to pay attention to hot and cold jockeys, jockey/trainer combinations, and jockey angles at Del Mar and Saratoga. Jockey handicapping is a major part of the overall summer handicapping puzzle, and it can help to make you a successful horseplayer during the summer and beyond. Best of luck!
By Noel Michaels