Over the last couple of months, I’ve discussed various horse racing bets and strategies in great detail in this series. Whether it be the Pick 6, trifecta, or a straight bet like win, the most obvious detail is you must pick the winning horses, in some order, to cash large tickets. While we have spent some time going over how to find winners, more energy has been spent on strategies for wagering. Let’s take a few minutes to talk about one element of picking horses: jockeys.
It has been my personal philosophy for a long time that human connections are overvalued when it comes to handicapping. Of course, like any other profession, not all people are created equal, and inevitably some are better than others at what they do. But, by and large, most people are capable when you get to a certain level.
Recently, I have been forced to reexamine this theory.
When Mike Smith guided Tamarkuz to the winner’s circle of the Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile last month, it seemed innocent enough. Then he won the the Filly & Mare Sprint with Finest City, and beat California Chrome aboard Arrogate in the Classic. Smith has won a record 24 Breeders Cup races. Add that to four Triple Crown victories, and it is not shocking to learn he is in the Hall of Fame.
While Smith is unquestionably brilliant, it has always been my argument that he gives you no great advantage over other great riders, like Javier Castellano or John Velazquez. Though this may be right, it turns out to be irrelevant. Sure, Smith competes against the best riders in the sport several times a year, but on a daily basis, his rivals are nowhere close to his equal. Smith is a special case since, at the age of 51, he rides a trimmed-down schedule and frequently goes to whatever meet has the best races; other great jockeys tend to stay in their lanes.
Castellano and Velazquez spend most of their time in New York. They are joined there by the talented brothers Irad and Jose Ortiz. That quartet won 211 of roughly 400 races at Saratoga this summer. In other words, they are all really good. Before you wager on anybody else, make sure the odds are appropriate and that the horse is good enough to potentially make up for a lesser rider. (It’s kind of like betting on a talented football team that you think has a bad head coach.)
One great thing about analyzing jockeys is how easy it is. If you don’t know a track well, but happen to be in the area, or are betting the races online, looking up stats is simple. You may not know any of the riders at Golden Gate Fields. But it takes all of five minutes to learn that Juan Hernandez has been in the money on more than half of his mounts, and he is winning about a quarter of the time. It is just as easy to see that Joe Crispin is struggling. That doesn’t mean bet Hernandez all the time; the odds on his horses might make passing on the race the best option. At the same time, Crispin’s lack of success could make a horse that would otherwise be 5/1 closer to 8/1.
At the end of the day, the rider matters to some degree. It is the handicappers job to determine to what extent. Don’t ignore numbers and trends, but don’t be a prisoner to them either.
Photo credit: David Ohmer [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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