2014 Belmont Stakes Handicapping: the Jockeys
by Trevor Whenham - 6/3/2014
As always, the smallest people are some of the biggest storylines in the Belmont Stakes this year. Here is a look at six Belmont jockeys who will have a big impact on the outcome of the race with profiles to help with 2014 Belmont Stakes handicapping:
Victor Espinoza, California Chrome: Every eye in the sport is on Espinoza right now, and they will be right up until the winner crosses the finish line in the Belmont on Saturday. It's an impossible amount of pressure for any jockey to deal with.
The good news, at least, is that he has been here before - in 2002 he was aboard Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem. He had a disastrous Belmont and lost to 70/1 long shot Sarava, so he also knows the disappointment of falling short. If he can avoid dwelling on the failure and draw on the positives of that experience then he will have an advantage over a lot of jockeys who have faced this situation before.
The good news for Espinoza is that he faces relatively few choices in the race - at least compared to others. The horse has shown versatility and seems happy to sit off a pace whether it is rapid or lethargic. Espinoza can let the horse find his way and just keep him out of trouble. That's a good thing, too, because the jockey is far from the peak of his career at this point, and I would have a much easier time trusting him with a horse like this than one that was far more demanding.
The chemistry between horse and rider is a clear asset here.
Joel Rosario, Tonalist: Rosario will be the most nervous guy in the field next to Espinoza, and that's not just because he is on the likely second or third betting choice. He rode Ride On Curlin in the Preakness, and he did a very nice job on him. He could certainly have had that ride again, but he instead chose to go with Tonalist - largely because he works with trainer Christophe Clement on a regular basis.
There are few things more frustrating for jockeys than to get beaten by a horse you opted off of. He has a strong horse here, though, and the two combined to win last time out in the Peter Pan on this same track in very impressive fashion.
He has not won the Belmont but won the Derby aboard Orb last year, so he is not a Triple Crown virgin.
John Velazquez, Ride On Curlin: Velazquez is the beneficiary of Rosario's decision and becomes the third rider in three Triple Crown races for this horse. Velazquez has won the Belmont twice - in 2007 and 2012. He has also won more money than any other jockey ever has - with a good portion of it coming in New York - so there are no concerns that the horse will suffer from the change.
In both of the previous races, though, the horse has been further back early on than the trainer has indicated he would prefer. In the Derby it was a laughable distance, but even in the Preakness he found himself at the back of the pack early. Velazquez will likely be working hard to settle into a better position in early fractions - especially since closers don't typically thrive here, and there are a whole lot of closers in this race.
Mike Smith, Matuszak: Smith, who is 48, must be feeling mortal. He has won this race twice in the last four years, but he must be aware that the chances to keep doing it are fleeting, and any appearance could be his last. Otherwise, it's hard to explain why he would fly across the country to get on a serious long shot who hasn't won since breaking his maiden last fall and seems far from fast enough here.
There are a few things to like about the horse, but this is certainly not the caliber of horses that a guy like Smith - one of the pickiest and least-active top jockeys in the country - typically climbs aboard these days. If anyone can get the best out of the horse, though, it's Smith.
Rosie Napravnik, General A Rod: The storyline in the Triple Crown is typically that Napravnik is breaking new ground. Each year she seems to best her previous mark and post a new top effort for a woman in the Derby or Preakness. As good as she is, though, the best she can ever hope to do is tie Julie Krone for best effort in the Belmont - Krone won the race in 1993.
Seeing Napravnik in this race at all is a surprise - for two weeks it didn't seem like the connections had any intention of sending General A Rod here, but as they did before the Preakness they changed their minds and have entered him. It has been a long while since she has been on this horse, and Napravnik isn't nearly as familiar with the strange Belmont layout as several of her competitors. However, sooner or later she is going to win a Triple Crown race.
Javier Castellano, Commissioner: There are a lot of things I really don't like about Commissioner - mainly that he has consistently shown that he isn't as good as some of the horses he faces here.
One thing that really works in his favor, though, is that Castellano is aboard. For the second year in a row Castellano seems poised to run away with the national riding title, and he is winning more than a quarter of his races - a feat that is almost impossible on a circuit as tough and deep as the New York one he rides on.
Castellano is good, and has had some bad luck on the Triple Crown trail - top mount Constitution was injured leading up to the Derby. I don't think any
rider could turn this horse into a winner without a whole lot of things going their way, but if anyone can do it here it is Castellano.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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