The little men and women who will pilot the horses at the Breeders’ Cup are the bravest, toughest athletes on the planet. Here’s a look at the 2013 Breeders’ Cup jockey storylines that stand out most:
Mike Smith: Smith knows a thing or two about winning Breeders’ Cup races. He has done it 17 times — the record among jockeys. His first came in the Mile aboard legendary Lure in 1992, and he added two more last year with Royal Delta in the Distaff and Mizdirection in the Turf Sprint. Smith doesn’t ride a lot of horses anymore, but every time he is on one he has a good chance to win. His collection of runners this year is astounding — he’ll be active in 12 of 14 races and has by far the best overall set of mounts of any jockey. He’ll be on likely favorites Game On Dude in the Classic, Mizdirection in the Turf Sprint, and Royal Delta in the Distaff, along with top prospects like defending Turf champion Little Mike, Outstrip in the Juvenile Turf, and the wildly-talented-but-raw Tap It Rich in the Juvenile. He would have had another big shot at glory, but he was aboard likely Sprint favorite Points Offthebench on Monday when he broke down during a workout and was euthanized. Smith was thrown from the horse but was luckily unhurt.
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Gary Stevens: Stevens in in the midst of a remarkable year — and he is doing it as a 50 year old. He was forced out of the sport in 2005 when his knees couldn’t hold up to the abuse of riding. He came back earlier this year, and it’s like he was never gone. He won the Preakness aboard Oxbow and has won eight more Grade 1 races as well. He has won eight Breeders’ Cup races, but the last was back in 2000. He has the group of horses this year to end that drought. He’ll be riding in nine of the 14 races, with his best shots coming with Beholder in the Distaff, Mucho Macho Man in the Classic, Marketing Mix in the Filly and Mare Turf, Indy Point in the Turf, favored Ever Rider in the Marathon, and She’s a Tiger in the Juvenile Fillies.
Javier Castellano: Castellano is having a heck of a year — he leads the country in earnings, and has almost 50 more wins than any other jockey. He has two Breeders’ Cup wins to his credit — the Filly and Mare Turf last year and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2004 with Ghostzapper. Castellano has 10 entrants, but considering how hot he has been this year, it isn’t a particularly impressive group of mounts — only Princess of Sylmar in the Distaff and favored Bobby’s Kitten in the Juvenile Turf are what I would consider top-tier contenders.
John Velazquez: Velazquez is among the career leaders with 12 Breeders’ Cup wins. His last was aboard Wise Dan in the Mile last year. Six of the 12 have come on turf, where he is arguably the top rider on the continent. Velazquez is in every race except for the Marathon, and his best chance of adding to his win total is with another shot aboard defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Mile. He’s also on the favorite Verrazano in the Dirt Mile, second choice Justin Phillip in the Sprint, and Juvenile favorite Havana.
Joel Rosario: Rosario dominated the West Coast before moving to the East Coast recently. After an understandable transition, it’s as if he hasn’t missed a beat. He has won two Breeders’ Cup races — one in 2009 and one in 2010. Rosario returns to the West Coast with 12 mounts, but they are more intriguing contenders — like Za Approval in the Mile or Fast Bullet in the Sprint — than true top-level stars. He’s not on a single morning line favorite.
Rosie Napravnik: Unquestionably the top female jockey now, and likely ever, Napravnik is poised to finish in the Top 5 nationally in both earnings and wins this year. She won her first and only Breeders’ Cup race last year with Shanghai Bobby in the Juvenile. She had a scare on Sunday when she was thrown from a mount and stepped on at Churchill Downs. She skipped the rest of her rides that day, but she should be sore but ready to go by Breeders’ Cup time. Given her success this year, and her win last year, it is surprising that she only has one mount — Untapable in the Juvenile Fillies.
Rico Walcott: In the Dirt Mile there is a jockey making his Breeders’ Cup debut that deserves some attention. Walcott toils at obscure Northlands Park in Edmonton — hardly the epicenter of horse racing. I’ve seen him race in person dozens of times, though, and I don’t know anyone who knows how to win more than he does. Among jockeys with at least 200 starts this year, Walcott leads the continent with a stunning win rate of 32 percent. He also leads the continent by finishing in the Top 3 68 percent of the time. At his home track he always returns just pennies in profit to his backers, but there is no one more consistent. He’s on a longshot in Broadway Empire that won’t get quite as much respect as he should.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham