Those little guys in the saddle will have a big impact on how the Preakness Stakes turns out. It's always the case. This isn't the toughest or craziest race by any means, but there is almost always a strong favorite, and the rest of the Preakness jockeys have to figure out how to maximize their chances while best limiting his potential. It's like a chess match. And, as is also typical in this race, we have a very strong field of riders assembled. Seven of the 10 jockeys in the field are what I would call 'plus riders' - guys who make their horse better by being on them. There is one who is a notch below that (and a second I thought about putting there, too, as we will discuss). And there are two guys who are serious question marks in this race.
John Velazquez, Always Dreaming: Velazquez is the reigning Derby winner, so he obviously has credibility. Not just that, but his ride in the Derby was among the best in his long and storied career. He didn't do a single thing wrong. He doesn't have as many Triple Crown race wins as he probably should be this point - a risk of being the first-call rider for Todd Pletcher - but he has won all there is to win and obviously has strong chemistry with this horse.
Julien Leparoux, Classic Empire: Leparoux is the guy I debated about dropping down a level. I don't like his efforts in the Triple Crown races as much as I would like to. He has seven Breeders' Cup wins, though, so he can shine on big days. And the most recent of those wins was on this colt, so there is chemistry here.
Javier Castellano, Cloud Computing: Castellano has won the Eclipse Award for top jockey each of the last four years, so he obviously knows a thing or two about winning. Oddly, though, he has just one Triple Crown race win - the 2006 Preakness aboard Bernardini. This is a new horse for him, and in a way that is notable - he rode Gunnevera in the Derby and was offered the mount again, but he opted off of that colt even before he had locked down this mount officially (though he obviously knew it was likely to happen). That's either very complimentary to this horse or damning to Gunnevera.
Mike Smith, Gunnevera: When Castellano didn't want this mount, Smith, who had ridden Girvin in the Derby, jumped here. Smith is having a crazy year - he leads the nation in earnings despite just having ridden 93 races. Jose Ortiz sits in second but is well over $2 million behind despite having ridden in 468 races. Thanks in large part to Arrogate, Smith is having a huge year. He's also one of the great big-race riders of all time. He won his first Triple Crown race in the Preakness in 1993 aboard Prairie Bayou and since has a Derby and two Belmonts to his credit. He doesn't know this horse, but that isn't a concern. If the horse is ready to run then Smith will get him there.
Jose Ortiz, Term of Art: Ortiz and his brother Irad are both in the Top 5 in earnings nationally and will be for many years to come. They are wildly talented, and it's just a matter of time until they win their first of several Triple Crown races. It won't be here, though - this horse is a dud that is outclassed. That Ortiz is on it for the first time here is proof of how much Ortiz wants to win Triple Crown races - he wants to get his reps in so he is ready for the experience when he has a live mount.
Florent Geroux, Hence: Geroux is new to the big time. He announced himself with two Breeders' Cup wins in 2015 and has carried that momentum forward right through last year and into this year. He's a magically good rider, and I have nothing but good things to say about him. He's going to win more than one of these at some point - though likely not this year.
Joel Rosario, Multiplier: Rosario won the Derby in 2013 with Orb and the Belmont the next year with Tonalist, so he is looking to complete the career Triple Crown here. He'll have to ride the race of his life to get this horse there. This is his first time on this colt, and it's by far the best jockey the horse has had.
Good but not great
Corey Lanerie, Lookin at Lee: Lanerie is capable of winning races, and he has been red hot at times in Kentucky. He is a clear step or three down from the true elites in this field, though. He rode this horse to a surprising second in the Derby, so the chemistry is obviously strong. He has only ridden four Grade 1 winners in his whole career, though - Smith, Velazquez and others can ride that many in a couple of good weeks. He doesn't hurt this horse, but he isn't a big asset, either.
Jorge Carreno, Conquest Mo Money: Remember the 2012 Canadian Derby in Edmonton by any chance? I didn't think so. That is the only graded stakes race that Carreno has ever won, and it is a Grade 3 that hardly attracts significant talent. He toils at places like Sunland Park and Prairie Meadows and doesn't rub shoulders with these types of horses or this caliber of rider. He has a nice horse under him, but he'll be tested severely by Velazquez early on up front and by the cavalry charging up behind them later on.
Channing Hill, Senior Investment: Maybe I'm just bitter because Hill rode one of the worst races I have seen in a long time in the Kentucky Oaks aboard Farrell - a horse I was very high on. Hill is just really short on experience, though, and doesn't always ride at a high level. He has just one Grade 1 win, and his win percentage is well below where it would ideally be. He's not a lousy rider, but in this group he doesn't measure up. I do have to give him credit for one thing, though - I really liked his ride on this horse in the Lexington Stakes last timeout.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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