Jockeys are the toughest dudes in all of sports. Running backs in football take crazy abuse, and there are lots of other athletes you could make a case for. No other athlete embraces the danger that these guys do many times a day every single day, though - and all while starving themselves. They are relentless workers who are constantly injured and always one fall away from death, but they just keep climbing on - as calmly as if I was walking into the grocery store. Incredible. And on Breeders' Cup weekend the best jockeys around gather and climb on the best horses out there to really impress us. What a treat. There are so many great jockeys and storylines. In this spot, though, I have focused on five of the jockey storylines I'll be keeping the closest eye on.
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Mike Smith: Smith has won 22 Breeders' Cup races. Jerry Bailey is second way back at 15. Among active riders, John Velazquez is second best at 13. Needless to say, Smith is pretty good at winning these races. And he shows no signs of slowing down on the winners, either - he's loaded again this year. The highlight is the great, undefeated filly Songbird in the Distaff. Smith has a way with great fillies and mares, and this is the next in line - and she potentially could one day be the best yet. Tamarkuz is a live contender at longer odds (8/1 ML) in the Dirt Mile on Friday as well. In the Juvenile Fillies he's on an unbeaten and unchallenged filly - stop me if you have heard that one before. Masochistic is favored in the Sprint. Ambitious Brew is the most experienced runner on the downhill turf course in the Turf Sprint. And he's on potential wonder-horse Arrogate in the Classic. He's got two others on the weekend that are tougher to get excited about. Add it all up and it would qualify as a major disappointment if Smith didn't add at least one more title to his count and probably more than that.
Gary Stevens: It is very tough to talk about Smith without also mentioning Stevens. They are the elder statesmen of California racing and two of the very best big-race riders ever to climb into a saddle. Stevens isn't riding a whole lot these days, but he still gets strong mounts and still knows what to do with them. He sits far behind Smith with 10 Breeders' Cup wins, but being retired from 2005 to 2013 had a lot to do with that. This year he has an intriguing collection of rides - especially on Friday. First he is aboard Runhappy, the second choice in the Dirt Mile. The horse was the brilliantly-dominant winner of the Sprint last year, but this is only his second race of a very tumultuous and drama-filled calendar year. If he recaptures his magic he can win, but that's a big if. His last race in early October was ugly, but Stevens wasn't aboard. He's also the permanent rider for Beholder, the legendary mare who has a date with Songbird in a Distaff for the ages. Horse and rider paired to win the same race in 2013. On Saturday he's on Om, an interesting contender in a wide-open Turf Sprint, the very intriguing long shot Ashleyluvssugar in the Turf, and real long shot Win The Space in the Classic. Like their rider, Stevens in on board a couple of incredibly-talented stars who aren't quite at the top of their game and need to prove they still have what it takes to shine.
Flavien Prat: There are lots of incredible young stars I could write about in this spot - several of whom are going to win plenty of these races before their careers wind down. Florent Geroux and the Ortiz brothers are the ones who jump to the front of the mind. The one I am going to concentrate on, though, is Flavien Prat, because it's his collection of rides that are most exciting. The young rider is on a meteoric ascent. The 24 year old started riding in Europe at 16 before making the move over here gradually - he had just four North American starts in 2013 and 36 in 2014. As I write this he has 828 starts to date this year and sits in the Top 10 nationally in earnings. He's also based in Southern California, which should give him a good edge here. He has found his way onto nine Cup mounts. Most will need a whole lot of luck to win, but a couple are interesting - Obviously is a warrior who could be in the mix in the Turf Sprint, and Lord Nelson is extremely dangerous in the Sprint. He may not get his first Cup win this year, but they will come in bulk soon enough.
Joel Rosario: All of North America's best jockeys - and several of Europe's as well - make their way to the Breeders' Cup each year, and they try to get on as many horses as they can. Of the hottest North American riders, though, it's Rosario, currently sixth in earnings, who has the most impressive dance card. He doesn't have a mount in the Juvenile Fillies. And that's it. He is aboard a horse in each of the 12 other races. You can't win if you're not in, so Rosario is in good shape. He doesn't have any strong favorites or sure winners, but almost every mount is a live one. He needs to give his agent a raise.
Martin Garcia: Garcia isn't the best jockey in the world, and he doesn't have the deepest complement of mounts this year, but I'm very glad he is here nonetheless. He was long the first-choice rider for Bob Baffert, but the two had a falling out at Kentucky Derby time this year and hadn't worked together all summer or fall. They patched things up finally, though, and now Garcia is on two Baffert horses here - Drefong in the Sprint and Dortmund in the Dirt Mile. Dortmund is very well positioned to win, Drefong is right in the mix as well, and the world is still better with him on the card. With Garcia on Baffert horses you always know what you are going to get - trainer and jockey seem to share a brain, so Baffert always gets the ride he wants for a horse when Garcia is on board.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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