The Jockey Shuffle takes place all year long in thoroughbred racing, and the Kentucky Derby is no stranger to jockeys changing mounts from one day to another.
Many of the top jockeys in the nation usually ride more than one top Derby contender as they weight their options with them. Or they just play the wait-and-see game in hopes that none of them come down with an injury.
This had happened plenty of times before to John Velazquez, who for four straight years, had various top horses, and decided among them who at the moment was the top contender for the Derby. Then that horse got injured and he was out of the Derby, or at least out of a top candidate.
Last year when Uncle Mo was scratched because of health reasons, he got a twist of fate. Robbie Albarado—the jockey for Animal Kingdom—got thrown off a horse and kicked in the face, having to miss two days of racing.
The uncertainty on Albarado's availability for Saturday, prompted Team Valor owner Barry Irwin to seek a capable replacement. When Velazquez got relieved from his commitment to Uncle Mo early on Friday morning, Irwin came calling.
The rest is history as he went on to win the 137th Kentucky Derby aboard Animal Kingdom.
This year, leading jockey Javier Castellano had five promising Derby contenders, Union Rags Algorithms, Gemologist, El Padrino and Discreet Dancer.
And his first big decision came earlier this year when he had to decide between two top contenders, Union Rags and Algorithms—who had just beaten 2011 two-year-old champ Hansen at the Holy Bull Stakes.
Castellano decided for Algorithms and Julien Leparoux got the mount in Union Rags and is still his jockey for the Derby. Later, Algorithms got injured and Castellano, who seems to do anything wrong on the racetrack this year, looked like he made the wrong decision off the track.
But he still had Gemologist and El Padrino to choose from since he had already stepped down from Discreet Dancer. He finally decided for Gemologist after he won the Wood Memorial, and is now one of the top contenders for the Derby.
El Padrino is still hoping to get in the Top 20 in graded earning—something very likely due to some defections—but his ride is still open.
One recent big decision was cleared yesterday as reported by Bloodhorse.com, when Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith—who had committed earlier last week to ride Daddy Nose Best—decided to stay aboard Arkansas Derby winner Bodemeister.
I think we all know that when the horse you are riding a horse that just crushed the competition by 9.5 lengths in a Grade I prep race, and has three straight Beyer figures in the 100's going into the Derby, you de-commit yourself as soon as you pass the wire.
That was how tough I think Smith's decision had to be.
Daddy Nose Best's jockey when he won the Sunland Derby was Julien Leparoux, who is with Union Rags, so he needed a jockey after Smith left for Bodemeister. But it didn't take long as Garrett Gomez will be aboard Daddy Nose Best, so there is no slack there.
Another interesting dilemma is the one two-time Eclipse Award winning jockey Ramon Dominguez has. He is the jockey to both two-year-old champ and Blue Grass runner-up Hansen and Count Fleet and Withers winner Alpha—who just finished second to Gemologist at the Wood.
After Hansen's loss to Dullahan in the Blue Grass, Dominguez has yet to commit to either one of them. And is understandable, given the fact that after that last race and the presence of Bodemeister, Hansen's chances seem to be shrinking by the minute.
Another top rider to keep an eye on is John Velazquez. Right now he is the jockey of Vinery Racing Spiral winner Went the Day Well. The colts is owned by Team Valor International and trained by Graham Motion, the same connections from Animal Kingdom.
With the ride of El Padrino open, and Todd Pletcher being Velazquez's main contractor, anything can happen. I don't think he would change rides, maybe Pletcher will most probably go with Cornelio Velazquez.
Things keep getting interesting as we start to approach the first Saturday of May and finally the Run for the Roses will be upon us. This next few weeks, the action will pick up. You can count on me to keep you updated.