What A Difference a Ride MakesWritten by Jon Stettin
It's always been surprising to me how many horsemen think that the rider of a racehorse doesn't make that much of a difference. You'll hear things like you have to have the horse, which we all know is obviously true. I have always disagreed and thought the jock makes a world of difference. I feel so strongly about that I will, at times, decrease or increase a wager depending on who is getting a leg up.
When some of the great trainers make statements alluding to the rider not mattering all that much and that anyone can win with the right horse, it can make you rethink your position. I have rethought mine several times over the years but always come back to the rider matters; they matter a lot.
Good horses can make any rider look good. It's easy to make the right split-second decisions on a fast horse. It's also a lot easier to overcome some trouble or a bad decision when you are on a good one. We all know that and see that on a daily basis. But to really grasp how important rides are, and where the horsemen who think it is not all that vital who rides miss the boat, is that you have to be involved wagering on different races often. That is when and where you really start to grasp how important the jockey is.
The really good ones and there are plenty of them, come prepared physically and mentally. They know their horse's past performances, and also the competitions. They know the pace and who is likely to set it. They can clock the race while running in their heads. So much goes into it, but the one thing that really stands out amongst the great ones is positioning. The great ones put their horse in a position to win consistently. Then it comes down to if the horse is good enough or not. If you are on the best horse but don't put them in position to win, or give them too much to do that whole anyone can win on the best horse argument goes bye-bye.
Some years back, Jerry Bailey got into a dominant groove riding where he just destroyed the competition. He put just about every horse he rode in position to win, and plenty of them did. I'd say Jerry won't ever get you beat, and he wouldn't. If his horse could win, they would win. He rode that way for years. When you do that, you start to get the picks of the litter, and that can be a double edge sword.
Some riders get to the top and get the choice mounts and continue riding in the manner that got them there. Some don't. A danger of being number 1 and getting the best mounts may go unnoticed by trainers but not the seasoned bettor. They can get overconfident. That's a wager killer. I won't call anybody out specifically but there is a top rider, a great and natural jockey who has reached the pinnacle of the game. They give a lot of great rides, especially on the big stages. That said, they also ride a lot of the best horses for top barns. This allows them to make some mistakes, overcome them, and ride many horses from off the pace with big wide moves, especially on the turf. Sure, a lot of them get up and win anyway. That doesn't help the bettor or owner or trainer who legged him up on one who needed a heady ride. An overconfident jock can kill a single faster than you can step on a fire ant.
I remember talking to Johnny Velazquez before the Breeders' Cup last year about a few of his mounts. He told me he had a plan A,B, C, and even a D., The great ones, have to be able to adapt to what happens once the gate opens. Horses and riders don't always do what we think they will. As a bettor, you're locked in and have to sit back and hope for the best. As a rider, you have to have and know when to go to plan A,B,C, or D. We all saw Johnny do that to perfection in this year's Kentucky Derby.
My handicapping regimen includes studying riders, their strengths and weaknesses, and their tendencies and preferences. Everyone knows Joel Rosario is a strong finisher and likes to come from off the pace. Do you also know when he decides to go, he's deadly and has hands that can relax a horse and let them re-break and finish? He does, and when he guns, he often wins.
Sure, Luis Saez is another finisher, strong all the way around. Do you know Junior Alvarado is also and can fly under the radar? These things are just as important to me as spotting the overconfident jock on a favorite not good enough to win with a wide one run from too far back trip. Sure some of those choice mounts are, but not all.
Anything to get an edge. Know your jock.