2012 Kentucky Derby Jockeys
by Trevor Whenham - 5/2/2012
Jockeys are perhaps the single most important player in the outcome of the Kentucky Derby. They can win a race with a brilliant ride — like Calvin Borel did aboard Mine That Bird. They can also turn a strong horse into a frustrating loser — like far too many riders to mention over the years.
As you get ready to make your Kentucky Derby picks for this year’s edition of the greatest two minutes in sports here’s a look at some of the more interesting and significant storylines with the jockeys:
You obviously can’t talk about Kentucky Derby jockeys these days without talking about Borel. After all, he has three wins in just five years.
In 2007 he broke the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile curse by winning both the 2006 edition of that race and the Derby aboard Street Sense. Two years later he stunned the world aboard Mine That Bird. The next year he won on Super Saver.
He’s only the second rider to ever win 1000 career races at Churchill Downs, so the track obviously suits him.
It’s a bigger question whether his mount this year, Take Charge Indy, suits him as well. Borel has made his name by daring moves along the rail to get to the lead, but Take Charge Indy is a horse that prefers to be on the lead.
It will take a strong ride from Borel to get the win here — especially since the horse faces a very tough fight to get the early lead because of the number of speed horses that are entered.
Castellano, who will pilot the unbeaten Gemologist, has a unique perspective on the field this year. That’s because it seems like he has ridden most of them at one point or another.
He was the regular rider at some point aboard both Union Rags and El Padrino. He could have ridden either here, but chose Gemologist — a ringing endorsement for the colt.
Castellano has never won a Derby, but he did take the 2006 Preakness on Bernardini. Castellano is red hot, coming off a record-setting 112-win meet at Gulfstream this winter. He’s also aboard Kentucky Oaks favorite Grace Hall on Friday.
It has been a big spring for Smith. First, he picked up his 5,000th-career win at Santa Anita Park in April. Then he landed on the potential Kentucky Derby favorite — Bodemeister — as he looks to win the race for the second time.
His only other outing on the horse was in the Arkansas Derby, but that explosive nine-length, front-running tour de force was easily the most impressive race of the year to date, so horse and rider are obviously well suited to each other.
Any long-time racing fan can’t help but think of 1994 when considering Smith’s chances this year, though. That year Smith was aboard the Derby favorite again, the legendary Holy Bull. The horse should have totally outclassed the field, but he was bumped hard out of the gate, never recovered, and finished 12th. Smith vindicated himself in 2005 when he rode Holy Bull’s son, Giacomo, to Derby glory. Now he’ll look to prove he can ride a favorite to victory.
Maragh is a strong, rising jockey who won his first Breeders’ Cup race last year after finishing third in the Derby aboard Mucho Macho Man.
His unquestioned talent makes his story this year particularly odd. He will be aboard Alpha — riding that horse for the first time. That seat came open because regular rider Ramon Dominguez chose to stick with Hansen.
Maragh wasn’t confirmed to have this mount, though, until Wednesday morning when pre-entries were due. Up to that point Alpha’s connections openly stated that they didn’t want to commit to Maragh because they knew he would be available and they wanted to wait to see if someone else opened up.
It was hardly a stunning vote of confidence.
Rosario is the fastest-rising young jockey in the country. The 24 year old has totally dominated the California circuit the last couple of years, and he led the country in earnings last year. He’s as good as there is, and several top jockeys and retired jockeys have praised him heavily.
What he lacks, though, is a statement win.
He has just one Breeders’ Cup victory, and no Triple Crown wins. This will be just his third Derby. It’s the first time, though, that he has really come on a live contender.
Creative Cause finished second in the Santa Anita Derby last year, but he is widely viewed as the top horse out of California. Whether Rosario can win with Creative Cause — a horse that is easily distracted, so Rosario will have his hands full in the chaos of the Derby — is up for debate, but he’s going to win several Triple Crown races before he’s done.
Gutierrez is one of those crazy stories that makes the Derby so great. The 25 year old was discovered in Mexico and brought to Hastings Park in Mexico to ride in 2006. That’s hardly the center of the racing universe.
He gave the Southern California circuit a try this winter, but was about to head back to Vancouver because he wasn’t getting anywhere. He managed to land the ride on I’ll Have Another in the Robert Lewis before he left, though. Top Jockeys Joel Rosario and Julien Leparoux had previously ridden the horse, but he was coming off a five-month injury layoff and was at 43-1, so Gutierrez was the best the connections could do. The win in that race was enough to keep Gutierrez in California for awhile, and he got the ride again in the Santa Anita Derby — a gritty win by a nose.
The owner and trainer could have gotten a much bigger-name rider at this point, but what Gutierrez is doing is obviously working, so one of the least likely Derby jockeys of all time will get his chance at history — and a likely starring role in a Disney movie if he wins.
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