2012 Preakness Stakes Jockeys: Analysis and Handicapping Profile
by Trevor Whenham - 5/17/2012
You could argue — probably quite convincingly — that the jockeys don’t play quite as important a role in the Preakness as they do in the Kentucky Derby or the Belmont.
In the first race of the Triple Crown the jockey has to stay out of an incredible amount of potential trouble, while in the Belmont they have to judge how to handle the potentially crippling distance.
In the Preakness the distance is the shortest, the field is smaller, and the pace usually isn’t as chaotic. It still takes a good ride to win, but the pressure isn’t quite as intense as it can be. Still, the little guys have to be a big part of the Preakness Stakes handicapping process. Here’s a look at the 11 jockeys scheduled to ride in the Preakness this year:
Mike Smith, Bodemeister
Smith has 15 Breeders’ Cup wins and a win in each of the Triple Crown races, so he obviously knows how to come through when the pressure is intense. He’s a master at judging pace, and he has all sorts of experience riding the fastest horse in the race — as his time aboard Zenyatta clearly showed. He clearly has chemistry with this mount, and will be tough to beat — especially if no horse takes a suicidal risk and tries to push the early pace.
Jose Lezcano, Cozzetti
Lezcano is still reasonably young at 27, but he’s proving to be a top jockey. He has two Breeders’ Cup wins and a handful of meet titles, and he currently sits 12th in the country in earnings for the year. The closest he has come to a Triple Crown win was a second in the 2010 Derby aboard Ice Box.
Joel Rosario, Creative Cause
Rosario is only 24, but he is immensely talented and has already asserted himself as perhaps the top active rider in California — at least one who rides a high volume of horses. He’s sixth in the country in earnings and is currently riding well. He is short on Triple Crown experience, though — his first appearance was in the 2010 Derby, and he has yet to have a real breakthrough in one of the three races. His ride aboard this horse in the Derby wasn’t bad but could have been better.
Julien Leparoux, Daddy Nose Best
Leparoux is back with this horse after moving off of him in the Derby. Garrett Gomez has the ride there because Leparoux chose to ride Union Rags. His ride in the Derby was terrible, though, and it is unlikely he’ll be on that horse again. He’s the top rider on the Kentucky circuit, and has led the nation in wins, but for some reason he can’t seem to ride to his potential in Triple Crown races. He’s been on this horse eight times, though, and has won half of those outings, so this is a comfortable spot for him.
Mario Gutierrez, I’ll Have Another
This is an incredible story — right out of a Disney movie. Gutierrez was based at Hastings Park in Vancouver — the minor leagues of the sport — until this winter. He tried his luck on the tough Southern California circuit and was about to give up because things weren’t going well for him when he landed the ride on this horse in the Robert Lewis — a ride no top jockeys wanted because he was at 43-1 in that race. He won that race and the Santa Anita Derby to earn his first Triple Crown mount.
Despite only having 14 wins on the year (the top riders had over 100), Gutierrez rode a nearly flawless Derby to snatch the win and give his career a massive boost. Now we have to see how he can perform when he is the hunted man instead of the guy no one is paying attention to. He probably shouldn’t be up to the challenge, but then he shouldn’t have been up to the Derby challenge, either.
Corey Nakatani, Optimizer
Nakatani was a leading rider in the late 1990s, but he has had to get his career back on track in recent years after on-and-off-track struggles caught up to him. He’s riding reasonably well again, though, and is a capable rider — though one without much of a horse under him here. He has never won a Triple Crown race, but he has nine Breeders’ Cup wins — including two last year — so he is capable of performing on big days.
Javier Santiago, Pretension
Santiago is a journeyman with a shot on the big stage here. Riding on the smaller circuits in the northeast — including Maryland — he has won his share of races, but he hasn’t stolen many headlines doing so. He currently sits 105th in the country in earnings, and that’s about typical for him. He has the advantage of knowing the track much better than most, but he doesn’t have the experience or frankly the talent of most of the riders here. His horse is outclassed, and he doesn’t add a whole lot to the situation.
Joe Bravo, Teeth of the Dog
Bravo has been totally dominant on the New Jersey circuit for two decades. His success there has not consistently led to a national presence, though. He has not won a Breeders’ Cup race, has not been a frequent participant in the chase for the Triple Crown, and has only won New Jersey’s biggest race — the Haskell Invitational for three year olds — once in 2004. He’s a very talented rider, but faces a step up in class here, and doesn’t really have the horse to compete at that level.
Kent Desormeaux, Tiger Walk
In terms of the Triple Crown, Desormeaux is the most decorated rider in this field. He has three Derby wins, two Preakness victories, and a Belmont. Most recently he won the Preakness is 2008 on Big Brown. Desormeaux had his first national breakthrough on the Maryland circuit starting in 1987 when he led the nation in wins for three straight years. That means he knows the track and this race very well. He doesn’t have much horse under him here, though, and hasn’t been riding particularly well this year as he has struggled with some off-track issues.
John Velazquez, Went the Day Well
Velazquez struggled with a personal Triple Crown slump for a long time. He had twice been named top jockey in the country and had won six Breeders’ Cup races and a Dubai World Cup before he won his first Triple Crown race in 2007 aboard Rags to Riches in the Belmont. He added a second last year when Animal Kingdom won the Derby. This horse shares the same connections as Animal Kingdom, though seemingly with a bit less talent. Still, he’s a live mount and Velazquez is a very capable pilot.
Junior Alvarado, Zetterholm
Alvarado, based in New York, is a young rider on the rise. He’s currently sitting ninth in the country in earnings, and a win here — though very unlikely on this horse — would almost tie him for his best ever year already. He hasn’t had a whole lot of top-level experience so far, but he will get plenty of chances before he’s done — especially if he keeps riding like he has been this year.
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