By Noel Michaels
Several of the winningest jockeys in Breeders’ Cup history are still active, and if you’re looking for a tie-breaker in your 2021 Breeders’ Cup handicapping, you could do a lot worse than looking at horses with Hall of Famers such as Mike Smith and John Velazquez aboard.
In addition to Smith and Velazquez being best bets among riders in the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar on Nov. 5-6, there’s also Joel Rosario, Irad Ortiz, Jr., Javier Castellano and Florent Geroux.
Based on past results, the worst bets will be horses ridden by Jose Ortiz, Luis Saez, and Flavien Prat.
Smith is the all-time wins leader with 26 Breeders’ Cup wins, and there’s no better rider to have aboard your horse than ‘Big Money’ Mike – he’s set to ride Art Collector in the $6 million Classic.
Smith is picking his spots this year, and has 18 victories in 2021, but 10 of those wins came in graded stakes. He hasn’t won a Breeders’ Cup race since 2017, and it may be time to start looking elsewhere for your go-to rider. In addition to Art Collector, Smith will be aboard Corniche in the Juvenile and Credibility in the Juvenile Turf.
And that leads us to Velazquez, who now has 18 Breeders’ Cup wins dating back to 2000 thanks to his two winners in 2020 – Gamine in the Filly & Mare Sprint and Authentic in the Classic. You can do a lot worse than having Johnny V. aboard your favorite contenders. He’s riding in 11 of the 14 BC races; among his mounts are Gamine in the Filly & Mare Sprint, Malathaat in the Distaff and Medina Spirt in the Classic.
Who else should you be betting on in the Breeders’ Cup? The other active North American-based win leader behind Smith and Velazquez is Rosario, who is up to 13 career wins from 123 mounts. With Rosario it also should be noted that he has 42 in-the-money finishes, giving him an outstanding 34% in-the-money rate in the Breeders’ Cup.
Rosario added two wins last year with Knicks Go in the Dirt Mile and Vequist in the Juvenile Fillies. Rosario has won at least one Breeders’ Cup race every year since 2014, and 11 of his 13 winners have come in that seven-year span. This weekend, he has 12 mounts, including Echo Zulu in the Juvenile Fillies, Snapper Sinclair in the Dirt Mile, Jackie’s Warrior in the Sprint, and Knicks Go in the Classic.
Javier Castellano does not seem to be getting as many high-profile stakes mounts as he used to, but perhaps he should be, particularly in the Breeders’ Cup where he’s a solid 12-for-127. Castellano’s streak of at least one BC win per year in each year since 2012 ended in 2020.
The jockey who currently is moving up fast on the Breeders’ Cup wins leaderboard is Irad Ortiz, Jr. Irad’s first BC win came in 2014 aboard Lady Eli, and he’s up to 11 total wins, including eight in the past three years. Irad won two at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup with Golden Pal in the Juvenile Turf Sprint and Whitmore in the Sprint, and that followed a four-win showing in 2019. That puts him on a career trajectory to some day pass Velazquez and Smith. His 11-for-63 record in the win column gives him a big 17% win rate, and already has him placed 12th on the Breeders’ Cup jockey earnings list at $16,320,345. All the other jockeys above him on that list have far more mounts.
Irad will have 10 mounts this weekend, among them Golden Pal again, this time in the Turf Sprint, Life Is Good in the Dirt Mile, Letruska in the Distaff and Tripoli in the Classic.
The only other current rider who can boast similar stats is Ryan Moore, who has come over from Europe and made bank on several occasions, winning nine Breeders’ Cup races from 76 mounts with earnings of $16,407,035. His most recent winner was back in 2016 with Tamarkuz in the Dirt Mile.
Jose Ortiz has yet to achieve the same level of success as Irad in the Breeders’ Cup. Jose Ortiz owns three Breeders’ Cup wins from 63 mounts, for a win rate of 5%.
A fellow Breeders’ Cup disappointment worth mentioning is Flavien Prat, who has won aboard three of his first 46 Breeders’ Cup mounts. That is a paltry amount considering the caliber of the mounts he’s gotten, and he will have a bunch of chances to up his win total next week on his home track. The last time the BC was at Del Mar in 2017, Prat won the Dirt Mile aboard Battle of Midway. His most recent winner was Storm the Court’s upset in the 2019 Juvenile.
Another jockey that will have plenty of chances to improve on his sub-par Breeders’ Cup career record is Luis Saez, who owns one Breeders’ Cup win from 34 mounts. That win came last year aboard Essential Quality in the Juvenile. Saez will be back aboard that horse in the Classic.
The final jockey note heading into next week is on Florent Geroux, who already has logged seven Breeders’ Cup winners from 28 mounts. That’s a whopping 25% win rate. Geroux won the 2020 Distaff aboard Monomoy Girl and the 2020 Juvenile Fillies Turf aboard Aunt Pearl and will have several live mounts again this season.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.