Kentucky Derby Preview – The Jockeys

The jockeys are a huge factor in the Derby – more than almost any other race. With the field so large, the crowd massive and loud, and the horses young an relatively inexperienced, a jockey can make the difference between a winning effort and a disappointing one. That means that jockeys, and their match to their horses, is a crucial and often underutilized handicapping angle. Here’s a look at four jockeys that need to be considered because they could be difference makers here:

Garrett Gomez, Lookin at Lucky
– Gomez is the best jockey in North America, yet he has never won the Derby. That’s a clear sign of just how tough this race is. He’s on a live one here in Lookin at Lucky, the likely second choice in the field. Gomez will have an added motivation to put forth a big effort here because his last ride on this horse, in the Santa Anita Derby, was one of the worst of his entire career and a big reason that the horse was only third. Gomez is too good to be that bad twice in a row, so this horse will be even better than it is because of his presence.

Calvin Borel, Super Saver
– Borel has ridden this horse twice and they were two of his best performances. The jockey from Louisiana is the king of Churchill right now. He won the Derby in 2007 aboard Street Sense, and then did it again last year on Mine That Bird with perhaps the most incredible ride in the history of the sport. This horse will be near the front and that might not be Borel’s best spot, but there’s no arguing with his success.

Joe Talamo, Sidney’s Candy
– Talamo, a 20 year old who races in Southern California is making his Derby debut, though that shouldn’t be the case. Last year he was aboard I Want Revenge, the likely favorite who was scratched on the morning of the race. Talamo is obviously an enormously talented rider, and he has won many big races including his first Breeders’ Cup event last year. He has a horse with heart to burn as well. I’m just a little concerned about him in this spot, though. He’s so young and new to this stage that the spectacle of the Derby could be too much for him and force him into a bad decision. That’s especially important with the horse he has – Sidney’s Candy wants to be on or near the lead, so it would be very easy to burn him out if Talamo isn’t sharp.

John Velazquez, Eskendereya
– Velazquez is, like Gomez, a top jockey who has never won the Derby. He won the Belmont in 2007 aboard Rags to Riches, and his trophy case is packed with an impressive assortment of other hardware – seven Breeders’ Cup wins, a Dubai World Cup and two Eclipse Awards. Johnny V is, at his best, an immensely talented rider who is more than capable of piloting this favorite home. He has an incredibly annoying habit, though – he can turn his brain off and ride a race like he has never been on a horse before. He’s getting older and hasn’t been as sharp over the last couple of years, so his presence is definitely a strike against the favorite in my eyes.

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