2012 Belmont Stakes Jockeys
by Trevor Whenham - 6/6/2012
Jockeys are always one of the most important parts of any race. They are never more important than they are in the Belmont Stakes, though.
Their mounts are being asked to do something far beyond what they have ever done before. The jockeys need to get their horses comfortable and manage their limited energy perfectly — all while running on one of the toughest tracks to judge in the country.
A great jockey won’t necessarily make a bad horse shine, but a poor ride can give a great horse no chance to win.
Here’s a look at the 12 jockeys charged with guiding their mounts to victory in this year’s Belmont Stakes:
Mario Gutierrez, I’ll Have Another
At this point you can’t apply logic to this story because it just doesn’t make sense.
Gutierrez is brand new to the elite-level of the sport, and he is averaging just four wins per month this year. Two of those wins have been in Triple Crown races, though, and both have been absolutely masterful rides.
There is no reason to believe that he’s up for the challenge of the Belmont — on a track he will ride on for the first time the day before the race. He has given us no reason not to believe in the impossible, though, so anything could happen.
He’s gotten advice from Belmont legends like Jerry Bailey and Richard Migliore leading up to the race, so hopefully some of their ample experience rubs off on him.
Javier Castellano, Dullahan
Castellano is one of the reigning kings of New York racing, and he currently tops the jockey rankings for the year.
He rode Dullahan well last time out in the Derby, and the horse has been training just great since then. He knows the track as well as any rider in the race, and is a big asset for this horse.
There’s not a jockey I would rather see on him right now.
John Velazquez, Union Rags
We have our highest-profile jockey change here. Julien Leparoux had been on this horse, and he’s a top-level rider essentially on the caliber of Velazquez. For some reason, though, this horse has underperformed in the last two outings, and Leparoux has ridden poorly and made mistakes in both races.
Velazquez knows the track well and he has won this race before, so he’s an improvement over Leparoux at this point. Now all he has to do is find a way to tap the massive potential of his horse and to get him to run as well around two turns as he has around one.
Mike Smith, Paynter
Smith is the ultimate big-race rider. He doesn’t ride nearly as many horses as many top jockeys these days, but when the stakes are highest he is at his best.
He has been second in both Triple Crown races already this year on a front-runner trained by Bob Baffert, and he’s on another one here.
He won the race two years ago on Drosselmeyer, and he rode for well over a decade in New York with lots of success, so he knows the track.
I’m not convinced he has enough horse under him, but he’ll make it interesting because there is no one who judges pace better than him.
Jose Lezcano, Street Life
Lezcano rides in New Jersey and Florida, and he has been establishing himself as the guy to beat in both places.
He took over this horse last time out, and he looked better in that outing — a third-place finish in the Peter Pan at Belmont — than he had before that.
This horse has become a bit of a popular longshot pick, and Lezcano is a big reason for that.
Corey Nakatani, Optimizer
Nakatani, like the trainer of his mount here, D. Wayne Lukas, hasn’t been nearly as effective recently as he was in the past. He’s experiencing a minor renaissance, though, and he’ll be hungry to shine on this one.
He took over this horse in the Preakness, and he ran much better than he did in the Derby. The horse is bred to run forever, so Nakatani could be in position to pull off a major surprise.
Ramon Dominguez, My Adonis
Dominguez has been the top earner in the country the last two years, and he was named top jockey both years. However, he has never won a Triple Crown race.
He has been very successful at Belmont, and he is one of just two jockeys to win six races on one card at the track. He’s a huge asset for this horse.
The horse just doesn’t seem good enough, though trainer Kelly Breen and these owners pulled off the upset in the race last year with Ruler on Ice.
Junior Alvarado, Unstoppable U
Alvarado is a young jockey, but in 2009 he won the riding title in just his second meet at Arlington, so he obviously has talent.
He has won some nice stakes races, but has yet to break through to the biggest levels.
It’s hard to believe he’ll get his break here, though trainer Ken McPeek won in 2002 with 70/1 Sarava so anything can happen.
Julien Leparoux, Atigun
As we talked about earlier, Leparoux lands here after getting booted off of Union Rags. He’s a very good rider, but seems to have a mental block when it comes to Triple Crown races.
It’s hard to imagine his struggles ending here.
Alex Solis, Ravelo’s Boy
Solis is almost a decade removed from his best riding, and he’s nearing the end of his career. At this point he’s probably just happy to be here, and he doesn’t have the horse to shock the world here.
Rosie Napravnik, Five Sixteen
Napravnik is having an incredible year, and is currently sitting seventh in the jockey charts. A month ago she became the first woman ever to win the Kentucky Oaks.
Now she wants to become the second woman to win the Belmont — the first since Julie Krone in 1993. That would be a great story, but it’s just not going to happen with this horse — no matter how well she rides it.
Kent Desormeaux, Guyana Star Dweej
I can’t remember a horse that less deserved to be in a Triple Crown race than this one.
Desormeaux doesn’t really deserve to be here at this point, either. He missed the Preakness after failing a breathalyzer test a couple of days before the race, and his stellar career is in a downward spiral.
The only thing he has going for him is that he won this race as recently as 2009 on Summer Bird.
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