Thoroughbred horse racing is a fantastic sport to watch. You go to the track or watch it on TV to cheer on your favorite horse and, of course, to bet on them.
For a horse to make it to the track in top form there is a lot of work done prior to the race by their trainers, handlers and owners. They are the ones who provide them with the tender-loving care they require.
But once they hit the track and get to the starting gate, it's all on their jockeys. There are things that can affect the horse during the race, but for the most part it will come down to what the jockey does that will be influential to the final outcome.
The top jockeys are very sought after, and their mere presence aboard a horse sometimes is enough to make you bet on an average horse you would've never even thought of.
There are many top jockeys in the world, but for this article I will limit it to the top jockeys in US racing.
There are many great jockeys right now that are not on the list such as Joel Rosario, Robbie Albarado, Martin Garcia, Joe Talamo, Cornelio Velazquez and Rosie Napravnik. They might be later on, but as of now the ones you'll see are to be considered the best in the business.
Let's take a look at the top jockeys in US thoroughbred racing.
From: Vancouver BC, Canada
Career wins: 11,569
Career Earnings: $178,893,947
Baze is worth mentioning because he is the record holder for the most race wins in US horse racing history and is a Hall of Famer since 1999.
He has won the wins title 11 times throughout his career—every time winning more than 400 races. No other jockey has done that more than three times.
Baze might not have won an American Classic race yet, but he is the true definition of a winning jockey.
From: Arequipa, Peru
Career wins: 2,714
Career Earnings: $123,909,944
Derby 2012 Ride: El Padrino
Bejarano started racing in the US shortly after emigrating in 2002.
He has been a constant fix in the top 10 in earning since 2004—the year he won the title for the most wins by a jockey.
Bejarano won all five of the California meet wins titles in 2008 and is constantly among the best on that western circuit.
He has three Breeders' Cup wins on his resume and is looking for his first Triple Crown win.
This year he had the rides of Bodemeister and Secret Circle and chose to stay aboard Secret Circle. Unfortunately for him Bodemeister is now one of the Derby favorites and Secret Circle got injured and is off the Derby.
He is not out of the Derby as he got the call on Todd Pletcher's El Padrino.
From: Senlise, Oise, France
Career wins: 1,652
Career Earnings: $85,086,623
Derby 2012 Ride: Union Rags
Leparoux started racing in the US in 2005 and won the titles for wins and Apprentice of the Year in 2006.
He also won an Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey in 2009. That year he finished second on the earnings list and became just the second jockey to notch three Breeders' Cup wins in one year—Garret Gomez is the other.
He has a total of five Breeders' Cup wins.
Leparoux is still looking for his first Triple Crown race win, and last year he was the rider for the Derby favorite Dialed In. This year he will have another chance with top contender Union Rags.
From: Maracaibo, Zulia, Venezuela
Career wins: 3,066
Career Earnings: $148,121,991
Derby 2012 Ride: Gemologist
Castellano has been riding in the US since 1997.
He has been on the rise since last year when he finished third on the earnings list. This year he seems to be on every top horse and leads the earnings list by more than $1 million over Ramon Dominguez.
Castellano has become one of the trio of elite call riders for top trainer Todd Pletcher.
His two biggest wins have been the 2004 Breeders' Cup Classic aboard Ghostzapper and the 2006 Preakness Stakes aboard Bernardini.
This year he had the luxury of having to decide between four of the top Derby prospects: Union Rags, Algorithms, Gemologist and El Padrino.
He is finally aboard unbeaten Gemologist who should be among one of the top-three Derby betting choices this year.
From: St. Martin Parish LA, USA
Career wins: 4,943
Career Earnings: $118,143,741
Derby 2012 Ride: Take Charge Indy
Borel started riding in 1987 and has become a fixture in the Kentucky scene.
He has won three Kentucky Derby races (2007, 2009, 2010) and one Preakness Stakes (2009).
In 2009 he won the Derby and the Preakness aboard two different horses—Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra, respectively.
He is a very smart and fearless jockey that is known as "Calvin Bo-rail" for his liking on rail-skimming, ground-saving rides.
He is at the top of his game and can never be counted off a race, especially a Kentucky Derby.
From: Corvina CA, USA
Career wins: 3,549
Career Earnings: $204,174,565
Derby 2012 Ride: Sabercat
Nakatani started racing in 1998 and has won 10 meet titles across Southern California's four top tracks in his career.
He is a jockey that runs big on big races, and it shows—he has nine Breeders' Cup wins, including two wins twice in a year (1996, 2011).
He's very versatile, but if you have a speed horse, this is one of the few guys you would want aboard him.
He has yet to win a Triple Crown race. Last year he had the chance with top contender Nehro but fell short.
This year he will have his options with Sabercat, a developing horse who has yet to hit his best stride.
From: Caracas, Venezuela
Career wins: 4,721
Career Earnings: $170,891,236
Derby 2012 Ride: Hansen
Dominguez began riding in the States in 1996.
He has been on the rise since 2009 when he finished second on the earnings list to Garrett Gomez.
Dominguez went on to win the earnings list and the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey the past two years and has become one of the most sought after jockeys in the nation.
He has won two Breeders' Cup races, including last year with Hansen in the Juvenile.
In 2001 and 2003 he won the wins title and has been a fixture among the top two or three in wins every year.
Dominguez is still looking for his first Triple Crown race win, but he seems to be one of the top riders for the foreseeable future.
This year he got to choose between Hansen and the promising Alpha for the Derby ride, deciding on Hansen last week.
From: Tucson AZ, USA
Career wins: 3,578
Career Earnings: $189,305,057
Derby 2012 Ride: Daddy Nose Best
Gomez began riding back in 1988. He was the second-best apprentice rider the following year.
If there is a definition of money riders, Gomez has to be included in the discussion. It's not the quantity of wins but rather the quality of them.
Although he is still looking for his first Triple Crown race win, he has racked up a total of 12 Breeders' Cup races wins and has won many important International stakes races.
He won the earnings title four years-in-a-row (2006-09) and the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey two years-in-a-row (2007-08).
Gomez is a very tactical rider whose patience and strategy always pays off, especially on the big races. He seems to be on the money in every stakes race he participates.
This year, Gomez picked up the ride of Sunland Derby winner Daddy Nose Best after Mike Smith decided to stick Bodemeister for the Derby.
From: Roswell NM, USA
Career wins: 5,006
Career Earnings: $225,668,823
Derby 2012 Ride: Bodemeister
Smith began riding in 1982 in his native Roswell, New Mexico.
He is a Hall of Fame jockey (2003) and a two-time Eclipse Award winner (1993-94) for Outstanding Jockey.
Smith is the active jockey with the most Breeders' Cup races wins with 15. He has also won the Kentucky Derby with Giacomo in 2005, the Preakness with Prairie Bayou in 1993 and the Belmont Stakes with Drosselmeyer in 2010.
His most famous ride has to be 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta. He won the Breeders' Cup Classic with her in 2009 and was her rider for her last 17 races.
This is another rider with great patience and skill that gets the best out of every horse he runs, especially on the big races.
This year he will have the ride of the likely favorite for the Derby, Bodemeister. He picked up the mount after he rode him to his impressive win at the Arkansas Derby.
From: Maurice LA, USA
Career wins: 5,450
Career Earnings: $242,928,187
Derby 2012 Ride: Dullahan
Desormeaux started racing back in 1986 at Evangeline Downs.
He was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2004, won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice in 1987 and won Outstanding Jockey in 1989 and 1992.
In 1989 he set the record for the most wins by a jockey in single year with a whopping 598 wins. Nobody has ever come close to getting that record.
He won the wins title three years in a row, 1987-89.
Among his Classic wins are four Breeders' Cup wins and six Triple Crown races, three Kentucky Derby, two Preakness Stakes and one Belmont Stakes.
Twice (with Real Quiet in 1998 and Big Brown 2008) he has gone to the Belmont Stakes looking to win the Triple Crown and unfortunately failed both times.
This year he will have the chance with one of the top contenders for the Derby, Dullahan.
From: Carolina, Puerto Rico
Career wins: 4,808
Career Earnings: $264,315,097
Derby 2012 Ride: Went The Day Well
Velazquez started riding in the US back in 1990.
The very definition of money rider applies here. Many expected that when Jerry Bailey retired, Velazquez would take over. He did, in a way.
He won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey and the earnings title two years in a row in 2004-05. He has been among the top five in earnings every year since, including second the past two years.
Velazquez has been aboard the winner in 10 Breeders' Cup races, including winning two in four editions (2002, 2004, 2010-11).
He has won many International races including the Dubai World Cup in 2005 with Roses in May.
His first Kentucky Derby win was last year with Animal Kingdom. He also won the Belmont Stakes with Rags to Riches in 2007 in a thrilling finish over Horse of the Year Curlin.
Velazquez got inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.