The next time you’re betting Aqueduct and look up on the tote board to see the 3-5 favorite with Dylan Davis, Trevor McCarthy, Kendrick Carmouche or Angel Arroyo named aboard the mount, you don’t need to check your eyeglass prescription or question the accuracy of your Daily Racing Form or the track program. It’s probably not a misprint. The Aqueduct jockey colony has been turned upside down and inside out this winter, and it is expected to stay that way or perhaps get even worse until the big-name riders begin to filter back into town after April 1.
Aqueduct bettors need to make major adjustments this season due to some big changes atop the jockey standings. Perennial leading New York jockeys Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz, who have ruled Aqueduct winter racing jockey standings in all recent years, will now both be spending the rest of the winter riding at Gulfstream. The void that their absence has left in the jock’s room has been enormous and, as a result, New York handicappers have been left off-balance as a host of lesser-name riders are now realistic choices for the mounts aboard prime favorites from the top stables.
The Aqueduct winter jockey leaderboard contains anything but household names, to say the least. Quite the opposite is true, as a matter of fact, as New York bettors have been left scratching their heads, as names like Davis, McCarthy, Carmouche, Franco, Cancel, Alvarado, and Arroyo fight for the best mounts and battle for supremacy atop the winter standings.
Since racing returned to Aqueduct following bad winter weather which wiped out the first half of January, four jockeys have clearly risen to the top of the local standings and they may not be names you’re used to — Manny Franco, Carmouche, Davis and McCarthy. Of that quartet, Carmouche leads in wins (16) and winning percentage (24), while Carmouche, Davis and Franco all sit at 50 percent in the money [ITM]. Beyond those four, there are four more jockeys doing well and who conceivably could contend for spots in the jockey top five this winter, including Junior Alvarado (currently 7-for-38, 18-percent wins and 47-percent ITM), Paco Lopez (5-for31, 16 percent, 42 percent), Eric Cancel (5-for-34, 15 percent, 53 percent) and Arroyo (4-for-42, 10 percent, 43 percent).
To give you an idea of what kind Bizzaro World this is for New York players, you only need to look at the Aqueduct meet jockey standings from prior to the winter exodus to Florida by the Ortiz brothers and others like John Velazquez, Javier Castellano, Luis Saez, etc. During the November-December portion of the meet, the only current Aqueduct rider who was close to the top of the standings was Franco, who was second with a 29-for-190 record (15-percent wins and 44-percent ITM).
Out of the current riders at Aqueduct, Franco would have to be considered the favorite to pull away to win his first New York riding title this winter. However, Franco’s agent, Hall of Famer Angel Cordero Jr., threw a potential monkey wrench into the whole thing by suggesting that even Franco may relocate to Gulfstream for a portion of this winter. If Franco stays in New York, there’s little doubt he should rule the jockey standings at Aqueduct for the next 2 ½ months, so stay tuned.
The next winningest riders still remaining at Aqueduct for the current meet, which started Jan. 1, are Davis (finished fifth in the November-December Aqueduct standings with 21 wins) and Carmouche (finished fourth in the November-December standings with 22 wins). Both of those riders have been getting prime mounts this month and, along with Franco, should round out the top 3 this season.
Alvarado, a 14-percent rider at Aqueduct in November-December is now an 18-percent rider at Aqueduct in January. Lopez, who struggled badly in New York all of 2017, but raised his game to become a 14-percent rider during the November-December portion of the Aqueduct meet, is now riding at an unheard-of-for-him-in-New-York 16-percent level in January.
None of the other current Aqueduct jockeys were even among the top 11 in the jockey standings there during November-December. Nevertheless, two riders from that bottom group of New York journeymen riders — Arroyo and Cancel — as well as NY newcomer Trevor McCarthy will have major roles to play in the Aqueduct results for the rest of the season. It would be no surprise if any member of that trio ends up cracking the top four in the final standings.
From November-December to the current January portion of the meet, Cancel has raised his win percentage from 10 percent to 15 percent. McCarthy, whose arrival in New York from the mid-Atlantic was originally met with a few yawns and chorus of crickets, has gotten the luckiest of all due to the absence of the Ortiz bros. He is currently in the leading group of Aqueduct January riders with 11 wins.
The remaining jockeys, such as slow-starting Joe Rocco, Rafael Hernandez, Luis Reyes, Martin Garcia and a back-from-the-deep-freeze Jeremy Rose will each make marginal impacts on the Aqueduct results. Still, all will no doubt earn far more wins than they would have expected to achieve under normal circumstances.
Stay on top of the Aqueduct riding assignments as the meet progresses, and don’t be surprised when you see a guy like Junior Alvarado or Eric Cancel booting home a $3.20 winner on a Saturday afternoon. These are strange times we are living in at Aqueduct, which may resemble Bizzaro World for the next few months — not only for jockeys but also for us handicappers.
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.