The twelve jockeys slated to compete in this weekend's Breeders' Cup Classic have 31,906 wins between them, but for all but a few, a win in this race would be the greatest victory in their careers.
Since the Breeders' Cup was first introduced in 1984, it has become one of the most important events in horse racing. It is one of the most widely attended races in the United States and has one of the largest purses in the world, and its marquee race, the Breeders' Cup Classic, has become one of the most sought after titles in the sport.
This year's field features some truly exceptional jockeys, including two previous winners of the Classic, some of the hottest competitors in the sport, and an indisputable legend of the sport. Here is a look at five of the best jockeys who will ride in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
Along with Garrett Gomez, Mike Smith is one of only two previous Breeders' Cup Classic winning jockeys in this year's field. Smith has won the Classic three times, most recently atop Drosselmeyer in last year's race.
Smith first won the Breeders' Cup Classic in 1997 atop Skip Away, helping to turn around a horse who until that point had not lived up to his potential. His 2009 victory at the Classic came atop Zenyatta, who Smith rode to 16 consecutive victories, earning the distinction of the first female to win the Grade I Breeders' Cup Classic. Smith then rode Drosselmeyer to his third Classic title after leading the horse to a win at the Belmont Stakes, the first Belmont victory of Smith's career and the final leg of his career Triple Crown.
Smith will attempt to win his fourth Belmont Classic title atop Mucho Macho Man, the third-place finisher at the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Mucho Macho Man has finished in the money in 14 of 17 career races, including three wins in five attempts this year; he last finished outside of the money in June 2011.
Mucho Macho Man is currently handicapped at 8/1 odds at the Classic, expected to finish in the middle of the pack, but still very much in the hunt for the $3 million purse.
Garrett Gomez won nine Breeders' Cup races before his 2010 effort, where he picked up three more wins, including his first title in the most important race, the Breeders' Cup Classic. His victory was the biggest win in a career of over 3,000 wins and two top jockey nods at the Eclipse Awards.
Gomez's 2010 victory came atop Blame, a Kentucky horse who never finished out of the money in 13 career races, ending the perfect 19-0 streak held by Zenyatta.
Gomez's mount in his 2012 attempt will be Richard's Kid. Richard's Kid is an experienced horse, running in 37 races in his career and finishing in the money 23 times with 11 wins. After a mediocre start to the 2012 racing season, Richard's Kid has finished in the money in five consecutive races, though he hasn't won a race since July.
Gomez will have to fight off up to ten jockeys hoping to win their first Breeders' Cup, and at 12/1 handicappers believe him to have only a decent chance of finding his way to the winners' circle.
John Velazquez has won two Belmont Stakes, a Kentucky Derby, ten different Breeders' Cup races, and nearly every other major thoroughbred race since his first victory 22 years ago. Along with a victory at the Preakness Stakes, a victory at the Breeders' Cup Classic would be the last remaining item to check off the list in Velazquez's Hall of Fame career.
Velazquez has found success in 2012, winning the Belmont Stakes for the second time earlier this year atop Union Rags. He also won the Canadian Woodbine Mile atop Wise Dan, his third time winning that race in his career.
Velazquez's mount at this year's Breeders' Cup is To Honor and Serve, the winner of eight races in 16 career attempts, including two wins this year, most recently on September 1st. To Honor and Serve ran in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, finishing in seventh place after missing much of the racing season to injury. Currently pegged at 8/1, Velazquez is seen as having a good, if not great shot at winning his first Breeders' Cup Classic.
There is no hotter jockey in the sport that Mario Gutierrez, who is coming off victories at this year's Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Santa Anita Derby, all aboard I'll Have Another.
The 25-year-old jockey has been riding since he was 14, but 2012 has been his breakout year. Gutierrez has also picked up wins this season at the Wilshire Handicap, Royal Heroine Miles Stakes, Longacres Mile Handicap and Robert B. Lewis Stakes.
Gutierrez will be aboard Handsome Mike, one of the race's long shots. Handsome Mike was owned and trained by the same team behind I'll Have Another, and is developing nicely after a victory at the Pennsylvania Derby in September, his first win in 2012 and the second of his career. Handsome Mike is currently posted at 30/1 odds, but Gutierrez hopes to continue the magical year he's been having by riding him to victory at the Breeders' Cup Classic.
It might just be impossible to find a jockey who wins as often as Ramon Dominguez. Dominguez, who received the last two top jockey honors from the Eclipse Awards, wins races at a truly daunting rate. He has been named the most winning jockey in the United States in multiple years, and has won dozens of major races. He currently leads all jockeys in earnings this year while racking up 288 victories and 406 additional finishes in the money.
Dominguez has had some previous success at the Breeders' Cup, but never in the top race. He won the 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf atop Better Talk Now and the 2011 Juvenile atop Hansen, and this year hopes to break through with what would be the biggest victory in his career to date.
Dominguez will ride Alpha, one of the longer shots in the race at 20/1. After finishing first and second in his first two races, Alpha struggled to an 11th place finish at the 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. 2012 has been a strong season for the colt, as Alpha has earned four victories in seven attempts. He struggled in his most recent race, finishing sixth at the Pennsylvania Derby, five spots behind Handsome Mike.
Though he has won countless races in his career, Ramon Dominguez has yet to find success in the biggest races in the sport, and a victory at the Breeders' Cup Classic would get the monkey off his back.