Don’t Overlook Jockey Trends and Angles at Saratoga and Del Mar

A horse’s jockey is one of the most important handicapping elements to consider before making a bet on a race. 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 at both tracks, let’s take a closer look at which jockeys are setting up for big seasons at The Spa, and at Del Mar.

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 with this very basic handicapping information.  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 that have control over the outcome of the race.


The human story early 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 19 wins and 17 wins apiece. Irad trails Jose by two wins, but has virtually the same win rate as his younger sibling. 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 mounts for Todd Pletcher that used to go to John Velazquez and Javier Castellano.

Speaking of Velazquez and Castellano, they are third and fourth in the current jockey standings with 10 and eight wins apiece. 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 by a wide margin in terms of juvenile winners. Castellano, on the other hand, rides first-call in turf routes for Pletcher, as well as several other trainers and also gets his share of Chad Brown’s turf route win bonanza.


In the ROI department, the jockey that continues to be overlooked at the mutuel windows is Luis Saez. He had by far the highest average win payoff of any of the top jockeys at the last Belmont meet, and is again atop that category at Saratoga, while bringing in winners for Kiaran McLaughlin and Linda Rice, among others.

At the other end of the spectrum, the jockeys burning the most money early at the 2017 Saratoga meet are Manny Franco (4-for-71), Julien Leparoux (3-for-40), Florent Geroux (2-for-29), Joe Bravo (1-for-14), and Rajiv Maragh, who is 1-for-24 and has yet to return to form following serious injury.

Two positive riders worth mentioning early at The Spa meet are Jose Lezcano, who has had declining win totals every year since 2012 but is off to a good start at 8-for-43 for 19 percent wins.

Also, while Midwestern guys like Leparoux and Geroux have struggled, Ricardo Santana has been the lone bright spot for the Midwest contingent with 6 wins from 46 mounts for 13 percent. Santana has been particularly deadly in turf sprints, taking over the mantle in those races from former Saratoga turf sprint king Cornelio Velasquez.  As an added bonus, Sanatana doesn’t get bet at Saratoga and should, therefore, be able to rack-up a good ROI at Saratoga just as he did last year in his first year riding at the meet.

Del Mar

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 story early in jock’s room early in the Del Mar is 19-year-old Evin Roman, who is tops in jockey wins at Del Mar through Aug. 3.  Roman is no fluke, either. After becoming the first apprentice to win a riding title in 68 years at Santa Anita, where he tied for the jockey championship with Flavien Prat, Roman is already leading the pack early this season at Del Mar with 15 victories from his first 80 mounts (19 percent).

Other jockeys notable for getting off to hot starts at the 2017 Del Mar meet include second- and third-leading riders Flavien Prat and Rafael Bejarano — each with 11 wins through the first two weeks of racing. Prat was the leading jockey at Del Mar in 2016 and the second-leading jockey at Del Mar in 2015 and he has picked up in 2017 right where he left off, riding tons of winners for trainers like Doug O’Neill, Jerry Hollendorfer, Simon Callaghan and, of course, Richard Mandella.

After a very cold start but fast finish at the 2016 Del Mar summer meet, former perennial leading rider Rafael Bejarano is having a good early part of the Del Mar meet in 2017 with 11 wins and a 19-percent win rate. If Bejarano is to be leading rider again in 2017, however, he will need to get all the live mounts for leading trainers like Phil D’Amato and Richard Baltas.

Another jockey who started cold at the 2016 summer meet, but has been better early this summer, has been Tyler Baze. Before you go jumping on the bandwagon, however, note that even though he has six wins and will probably stay in the top-10 all season long due to how many mounts he gets, he is currently winning just nine percent of the time he rides and is burning a lot of money in the process.

The next leading rider at Del Mar this season in terms of wins, yet leading all regular riders in terms of win percentage, is Santiago “Gonzo” Gonzalez, who has 6 wins from only 27 mounts (22 percent) early in the season. He will continue to rack up the victories riding for Mike Puype, John Sadler, James Cassidy, and of course Jerry Hollendorfer.

Joe Talamo is a former third-leading jockey at the Del Mar summer meet, back when trainer Vann Belvoir was prominent. Talamo is most dangerous riding front runners but he currently has seven wins and a 17 percent win rate. If he is to make a bigger impact this season, it will probably be riding winners for Phil D’Amato, so be aware when Talamo draws aboard speed horses for that barn.

Here is a look at the top Del Mar jockeys early in the 2017 meet:


Others to watch include a bunch of veteran jockeys being very selective with their mounts and, therefore, likely to win at high percentages all season, even if they may not break the top-10 in terms of wins. Victor Espinosa is 3-for-20 for 15 percent wins, Gary Stevens is 4-for-24 for 17 percent wins, Corey Nakatani is 4-for-22 for 18 percent and Mike Smith is 2-for-10 for 20 percent.

Jockeys who are burning a lot of money right now for bettors at Del Mar to be weary of include Tiago Pereira (2-for-45), Edwin Maldonado (2-for-30), Jamie Theriot (1-for-22), and the 0-fer crew that includes 0-for-18 Stewart Elliott, 0-for-18 Brayan Pena, 0-for-16 Austin Solis, and 0-for-13 Kyle Frey.  Stay away from that group like the plague until you see signs of a turnaround.

Finally, some jockey/trainer combos worth looking out for at Del Mar include the following, based on recent summer meet results: Rafael Bejarano/Phil D’Amato, Gary Stevens/Simon Callaghan, Mario Gutierrez/Richard Baltas, Mike Smith/Jerry Hollendorfer, Martin Pedrosa/Adam Kitchingman, and Mike Smith/Jeff Mullins. All of those combos are known for lots of wins and/or high win percentages together when teaming-up at the Del Mar summer meet.

Final Thoughts

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, and jockey/trainer combinations 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!

Noel Michaels
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.
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