For bettors, jockeys are always an important part of any horse race. When the race is as unique and as challenging as the Belmont Stakes, though, the role of the jockeys takes on even more significance. As we get ready to pick a winner in the Belmont here are five questions about the jockeys that bettors will want to consider:
Do they know the track? – This is the single biggest factor for handicappers to consider in this race. The track at the Belmont is a mile and a half. There is no other track on the continent that is that long, and the large majority of major tracks are just a mile long. The extra length means that the corners are wider and the stretch is much longer. If a jockey doesn’t know the track well then they are not familiar with the impacts of that added length. The most common problem is when a jockey who doesn’t know the track starts his final move at the same place on the last turn that he would on another track only to discover that there is a really long way left to race and he doesn’t have the gas left to get there. You wouldn’t think it would be too difficult to adjust, but if a jockey has ridden thousands of races on a one mile track then the geography of the track becomes instinctive, and the moves become automatic. At the very least you want to be reasonably sure that the jockey has taken the time to ride a few races over the track before the Belmont to get a feel for the uniqueness of the place.
Do they know the horse? – In a lot of cases, I don’t really care if a jockey knows the horse. Jockeys are used to getting on several different horses each day and rapidly developing chemistry, so it is an overblown factor. In the Belmont, though, I much prefer a jockey who has at least worked the horse a few times, and preferably one who has ridden the horse in a race. The race demands so much from horses that they have never been asked for before because of the distance and the potential for a challenging pace, so a jockey who knows the horse is more likely to be able to judge the capabilities and needs of the horse and put him in a situation that suits him and gives him the best chance of success.
Can they handle the pressure? – The Belmont is a Triple Crown race, so it holds an almost mythical place in the hearts and minds of jockeys. It’s not the same as the Derby, but it is easily the second most significant and prestigious of the races. The more a jockey has been exposed to the challenge and pressures of a Triple Crown race, the more they know what is involved, and the more they are going to be able to block out all the noise and focus on what is important. This is important when handicapping this horse race.
Does the running style suit them? – Veteran handicappers understand that the longer a race is the more pronounced the significance of running styles in a horse. In a long race the closers are almost certain to have fallen well off the pace early on, and the front runners are going to have to set the pace for a long time if they want to win. Because of that it becomes more significant than ever that the jockey is well suited to the running style of the horse he is on. Some guys are much stronger at some styles than others. For example, I would happily back Calvin Borel on a horse I like if the horse likes to come from off the pace and is brave and aggressive, but I wouldn’t be happy at all if he was on a horse that likes to set the pace, or one that is tentative and requires a subtle ride.
Why are they on the horse? – The top jockeys all just want a seat in the big races – you can’t win them when you aren’t in them. That desire often leads guys to be on horses that aren’t particularly inspiring and which don’t stand a really great chance of winning the race. Before bettors get carried away with excitement because a jockey is perfectly suited to the race – he knows the track and as done well in the race in the past – they need to be sure that he has a mount that is worth backing as well. Is he on the horse because he truly wants to be, or because he wanted to be in the race and this was the best he could do?