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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Monday, August 21, 2017 at 12:54 PM

One of the best jockey colonies anywhere at any time of the year is currently in action at the summer's premier race meet at Saratoga.  With roughly two weeks of action still remaining at The Spa, let's take a closer look into which jockeys make the best bets and are having the best seasons at Saratoga.  You can use this information to bump up your bankroll and make some money during the closing couple of weeks at the meet.

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.

After we look at the top jockeys, we will 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.

Saratoga Jockey Trends

The human story at the Saratoga meet has been yet another battle atop the jockey standings between Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz who are head and head and neck and neck in the jockeys race with 41 wins and 36 wins, respectively.  For Saratoga bettors, it often seems that nearly every race is one by an Ortiz, and beyond that, the two brothers seem to run 1-2 several times a week and it's never a surprise when you see an entirely Ortiz exacta.

Irad Ortiz trails Jose by 6 wins, but both have similar win percentages in the 20-21% range from nearly 200 mounts apiece. Both Ortiz brothers have been spreading the wealth riding live horses for a wide variety of trainers and figure to continue to do so all meet long at similar win percentages. Expect both Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz to continue to get the plumb riding assignments for top trainers like Chad Brown, Jason Servis, and Rudy Rodriguez, along with more and more of the mounts for Todd Pletcher that used to go only to John Velazquez and Javier Castellano.  

Speaking of Velazquez and Castellano, they are third and fourth in the current jockey standings with 29 and 22 wins apiece. John Velazquez is still the first-string guy when it comes to Todd Pletcher juveniles, and he is likely to lead the way at the meet in terms of juvenile winners. However, it should be noted that both Ortiz's have been able to keep up with Johnny V. this season in terms of juvenile winners.

This season, Velazquez has been king of the dirt track at Saratoga. Johnny V. has racked up 19 dirt wins from only 51 mounts for a giant 37% win percentage which is difficult to ignore when handicapping the Saratoga dirt races.  On the other end of the spectrum, Javier Castellano has been relatively cold. Castellano has won only 11 of 75 dirt starts for 15%.  In terms of number of dirt wins, Irad Ortiz and Jose Ortiz both have the most victories with 21, but their percentages are not as high as Velazquez because they have nearly twice as many mounts in those races.  The sneaky-good dirt rider at the meet has been Robby Albarado - he owns 4 wins from only 13 turf mounts for 31% wins in those races.

On the grass, Jose Ortiz has been the man. Jose leads all jockeys with 20 turf wins for a meet-leading 21% wins. That's amazing when you consider the wide-open nature of Saratoga turf races, and the fact that there are big fields in those races. Irad Ortiz, John Velazquez, and Javier Castellano, not surprisingly, have been the next-best turf riders at The Spa meet. Jose Lezcano has also quietly done very well on the grass in terms of win percentage, average win percentage, and return on investment [ROI].

Saratoga Jockey Standings (July 21-Aug. 20, 2017)

1Jose Ortiz1944121%
2Irad Ortiz1773620%
3John Velazquez1112926%
4Javier Castellano1512215%
5Manuel Franco1601811%
6Luis Saez1591610%
7Joel Rosario1251411%
8Jose Lezcano871315%
9Ricardo Santana971212%

One jockey not mentioned so far is Manny Franco. Franco had a slow start to the meet but had been hot since the Saratoga meet's mid-way point and should continue his strong riding through the second-half of the meet. Franco doesn't ride a lot of favorites, but has earned his 18 wins at the meet so far and has racked-up a 15% win percentage in allowance races. Because he flies under the radar, Franco has been a strong bet in terms of ROI, with his 18 winners paying an average win price of $19.10.  The only one of the main jockeys at the meet with a higher average win payoff has been Ricardo Santana, whose average Saratoga winner this season has paid $19.70 (12 total wins).  The place to catch Santana has been in the turf sprints.  In a role previously filled by the absent Corneleo Velasquez, Santana has become the king of the Saratoga turf sprints, winning with a good percentage and bringing in prices in those races.

In the ROI department, one of the underrated jockeys in that respect continues to be Luis Saez. He has 16 Spa wins with an average payoff in those races for an average win payoff of $13.50. He is again while bringing in good winners for trainers like Kiaran McLaughlin and Linda Rice, among others.

At the other end of the spectrum, the jockeys burning the most money at the 2017 Saratoga meet are led by P Lopez.  The "P" stands for Paco, but might as well be "poison" at Saratoga 2017, with just 2 wins from 71 mounts for 3%. It could also be "plague." Others to avoid like the plague are Julien Leparoux (4-for-59, 7%), Florent Geroux (3-for-62, 5%), and riding-scared Rajiv Maragh, who is 4-for-58 for 7% wins and clearly has yet to return to himself following serious injury.

Lonsghot-positive riders worth mentioning this season at The Spa meet are led by Dylan Davis, who is 5-for-65 for 8% wins, but is riding almost exclusively longshots and has racked-up a gigantic $32.20 average win price. Junior Alvarado has been overlooked so far with only 60 mounts at the meet. He has four wins, but an average win payoff of $20.00, so he is also worth watching, especially when named riding for his main trainer, Bill Mott.



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.


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.


3) When you see a horse dropped in class into a spot where he looks good, it is the rider move that 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.

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 will tell you that the most difficult races for bug jockeys are going long on the turf. In grass routes, 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 the leading journeymen 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.


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.



With so much information floating around, and so much difficult handicapping to focus on at a premier meet like 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, and jockey angles at 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

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