There is no single thing that can make a bigger difference to the performance of a horse than the jockey. A good jockey can make a decent horse a winner and a great horse unbeatable - especially if there is chemistry between horse and rider. A bad jockey, or even just an unsuited or unprepared one, can burn up bettor's money in no time flat. Bettors often curse jockeys, but you have to respect them, too - what they do is pretty much insane. As we get ready for the Breeders' Cup this year, here are eight of the more interesting jockey storylines:
Gary Stevens: Stevens is 52 years old and rides with a newly-installed artificial knee, yet he still has earned over $6 million in purses this year. Incredible. He has 10 Breeders' Cup wins to go with his nine wins in Triple Crown races, so he obviously is competent on big days. His last wins were in 2013 when he won both the Distaff and the Classic. The Distaff was on Beholder, his mount in the Classic and the clear second choice to win the race. He has four other mounts, though none nearly as impressive. He's the smartest rider there has ever been in my eyes, and he's still very dangerous at his age - especially with a horse like Beholder that he gets along with so well.
Mike Smith: The guy has won 21 Breeders' Cup races. No one can even begin to touch that. He's not slowing down, either - four have come in the last two years. He's a legend and is very much a big-race rider. He has some big races ahead of him this weekend, too. He has seven mounts planned, but none is bigger than in the Juvenile Fillies - a race he has won once, finished second in twice, and third three times including last year. Songbird is a very special filly who will vault into superstardom if she and Smith look as good here as they have up to this point. There isn't a two year old of any gender that I like any more than this horse right now - and it's not even close.
Irad Ortiz Jr.: Ortiz is second in the country in earnings this year behind only Javier Castellano. His brother Jose sits fourth. Irad has a much better Breeders' Cup lineup, though. After winning his first Breeders' Cup title last year in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, he will have 10 more tries to add to his trophy case this year. There is no shortage of intriguing horses, either. Got Lucky is very much a threat in the Distaff. Stephanie's Kitten in the Filly and Mare Turf and Cocked and Loaded in the Juvenile are both intriguing at their longer odds. Keen Ice in the Classic is the only horse to beat American Pharoah this year.
Victor Espinoza: Espinoza, who has two Breeders' Cup wins, has six mounts this weekend. He'd happily finish last on all of them, though, if it meant that American Pharoah won the Classic. Despite a reasonably light slate of races, no jockey will feel more pressure or face more scrutiny this weekend than the only active jockey to win a Triple Crown. Obviously, big moments don't get to him, though - he did just win the freaking Triple Crown.
John Velazquez: Velazquez, who has 13 Breeders' Cup wins to his credit, sits third in earnings this year, which puts him on track to finish the year in the Top 5 for the 14th time. Some Breeders Cup earnings would solidify his position, and he'll have 11 chances to get some. His best shot is probably aboard Rachel's Valentina, the daughter of the great Rachel Alexandra, in the Juvenile Fillies. It's striking that just four of his 11 mounts are for trainer Todd Pletcher - a much lower proportion than we would normally expect.
Ryan Moore: Moore has been Britain's champion jockey three times. He has won six Breeders' Cup races, including taking the prestigious Turf three times. All six of his wins have been on the grass. This year he has nine mounts, with three on the dirt. Legatissimo, the solid favorite in the Filly and Mare Turf, is the best of the group. Found in the Turf and Gleneagles in the Classic are both impressive and accomplished horses that seem to be entered in unnecessarily tough spots. Hit It a Bomb in the Juvenile Turf is a very interesting horse - he's favored in British betting markets at 7/2 yet is just the 15/1 eighth-choice in the morning line.
Frankie Dettori: Dettori, despite winning 11 Breeders' Cup races, is still best known for how he jumps out of his saddle in the winner's circle. Things have been rougher for him lately - since 2012 he has been fired by the stable that earned him most of his glory, and he served a six month suspension that was allegedly for cocaine use. He won the Juvenile Turf last year, though, so he's still relevant - just not dominant like he once was. He has seven mounts this year and would be having a very, very bad day if he doesn't get his 12th win and fifth win in the Turf with overwhelming favorite Golden Horn.
Javier Castellano: He leads the country in earnings as he has each of the last two years, and he has long been a fixture in the Top 10. It's somewhat surprising, then, that he has only four Breeders' Cup wins. One did come in the Classic with Ghostzapper, though. He has a full dance card, with mounts scheduled in every one of the 13 Breeders' Cup races except for the Mile. He has some strong opportunities, too. Liam's Map is favored in the Dirt Mile, Honor Code is a popular upset pick in the Classic, and Nickname in the Juvenile Fillies is among the others getting solid attention.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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