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Kentucky Derby Predictions: Jockeys Who Will Have Biggest Impact

Carlos TorresContributor IMay 2, 2013

Kentucky Derby Predictions: Jockeys Who Will Have Biggest Impact

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    The Kentucky Derby is mostly about the horses and how the winner then is perceived as a threat to become the next Triple Crown winner.

    But the horse needs help to achieve this. No horse has ever been declared a winner of a race without a jockey aboard. The jockey and the horse team up on the track to execute the plan set forth to win the race.

    It's true that the trainer and his crew are responsible for the preparation of the horse toward a race. But once on the track for a race, it's the jockey who is responsible for guiding the horse to victory.

    This of course, barring unforeseen circumstances like a bobbled start or an in-race injury to the horse, it's the jockey's abilities that will play the most influential part in the outcome of the race.

    The high profile and importance of the Kentucky Derby makes most of the trainers and owners seek those experienced, elite jockeys to ride their horses in the most important event. 

    It's not a guarantee that this will secure a win, but those abilities are at a premium price and you want the best riding in the most important event in an American thoroughbred horse's career.

    Let's take a look at which jockeys will have the biggest impact in this Saturday's "Run for the Roses."

Rosie Napravnik

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    Stats 2013 (as of May 1)

    Starts-1st-2nd-3rd: 448-115-87-61

    Earnings/Rank: $4,350,338/Fifth

    Derby Horse: Mylute

    Napravnik is trying to become the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. She finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby in 2011, the best finish for a female rider in Derby history.

    Last year, she made history when she became the first female rider to win the Kentucky Oaks with Believe You Can. The Oaks is the sister race for the Kentucky Derby, but restricted to fillies only.

    She also broke the 20-year-old record for the most purse money earned in a single year by a female rider. This year she is way ahead of last year's pace and is second in wins (115) behind only Joel Rosario.

    This year she will ride Mylute in the Derby for trainer Thomas Amoss. She has been aboard him only once, but that was an impressive 10-length romp over optional claiming company last Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds.

    Mylute did an improved race with the blinkers-off finish a hard fought second to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby. Naparavnik will look to follow the same plan with him on Saturday and could be the surprise winner.

Mike E. Smith

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    Stats 2013 (as of May 1)

    Starts-1st-2nd-3rd: 96-17-13-13

    Earnings/Rank: $3,029,215/13th

    Derby Horse: Palace Malice

    The Hall of Fame veteran Mike Smith is well known for riding champion mare Zenyatta. He has won two Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Jockey in 1993-94 and is the all-time leader in Breeders' Cup wins with 17.

    But he has only one Kentucky Derby win. That win came eight years ago (2005) when he rode 50-1 long shot Giacomo to a half-length victory over 71-1 long shot Closing Argument and eventual Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex. 

    His lone Derby win came one year after guiding 5-1 second choice Lion Heart to a second-place finish behind Smarty Jones. In that race, he set the pace for  most of the 10-furlong distance.

    Last year, he had a similar experience with Bodemeister. He led most of the way and was defeated by I'll Have Another in the final meters.

    His mount this year, Palace Malice, is a promising colt that has yet to fulfill his full potential. He will be wearing blinkers for the first time in the Derby, and that should have him running more forwardly placed.

    The pace is not expected to be a blistering one, so being close to the front is the place to be. This is something that could work to his advantage and Smith could exploit very well.

    If you like to look at coincidences, Giacomo was No. 10 in 2005 which is the same number Palace Malice drew.

Gary L. Stevens

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    Stats 2013 (as of May 1)

    Starts-1st-2nd-3rd: 141-18-28-20

    Earnings/Rank: $1,437,270/43rd

    Derby Horse: Oxbow

    Hall of Famer and three-time Kentucky Derby winner Gary Stevens returned to the saddle on Jan. 6 this year after retiring in Nov. 27, 2005. 

    He is a big-time rider that was a fixture in the Kentucky Derby while active. His last Derby win was in 1997 aboard the Bob Baffert-trained Silver Charm. He lost the Triple Crown when Touch Gold beat him late in the stretch by three-quarters of a length.

    Stevens won the Dubai World Cup in 1998 with Silver Charm.

    But his first two Derby wins were aboard two horses trained by D. Wayne Lukas. Winning Colors (1998) and Thunder Gulch (1995.) And his ride for this year, Oxbow, is also trained by Lukas.

    Oxbow is a grinding horse that likes to run forwardly placed, and didn't like getting dirt kicked in his face when he finished a disappointing fifth in the Arkansas Derby. Stevens rode him for the first time in the race and knows that very well now.

    Oxbow had been improving with each race before that effort, and could get a shot at winning with a clean trip. Stevens will have to use all the ability he showed winning his three Derbys with Oxbow starting from post No. 3.

    Not an easy task, but you can expect a big race from him on Saturday.

Garrett K. Gomez

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    Stats 2013 (as of May 1)

    Starts-1st-2nd-3rd: 228-50-36-24

    Earnings/Rank: $3,438,238/10th

    Derby Horse: Vyjack

    Gomez is another big-time jockey, two-time winner of the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey in 2007-08. He also won the money titles four consecutive years from 2006-09.

    He is third in the all-time Breeders' Cup wins list with 13. But he has not been able to win a race of the Triple Crown yet. He has hit the board in the Derby twice in seven tries.

    He looked like a winner in 2009 before Calvin Borel skimmed the rail with Mine That Bird and drew clear for the win. His other good shot came with the 2010 favorite Lookin At Lucky, but was squeezed and bumped in the first 100 meters and lost any opportunity.

    Lookin At Lucky started from the rail, and Gomez soon found out the problems he can find from that spot.

    This Saturday he will learn what it feels to start from the opposite side of the gate, No. 20. His ride Vyjack drew that spot, and everyone, including his trainer, trusts Gomez's ability to compensate for the bad post.

    Vyjack won his first four races, including the Jerome and the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. He lost his fifth and last start to Verrazano and Normandy Invasion in the Wood Memorial, but that was a hard-fought loss.

    Gomez knows what he has to do, the issue is if the mid-pack runners to his inside can let him get to the turn in a lane no farther than the third. His chances lie on that, but if someone can do it, it is Garrett Gomez.

Rafael Bejarano

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    Stats 2013 (as of May 1)

    Starts-1st-2nd-3rd: 359-101-63-44

    Earnings/Rank: $5,686,526/Second

    Derby Horse: Overanalyze

    Originally from Arequipa, Peru, Bejarano has been running in the U.S.A. since 2002. He was the Champion Jockey by win in 2004 with 455.

    Ever since, he has been one of the top riders in the West Coast where he is based.

    He has run in the Derby six times and his best finish was fourth with Papa Clem in 2009. The only time he has hit the board.

    This year, he has maybe his best shot at winning with Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze, trained by Todd Pletcher. Bejarano rode him for the first time and gave him a flawless ride and won in runaway fashion.

    Bejarano is at his best with a ride like the one he gave Overanalyze in the Arkansas Derby. The ninth post position doesn't hurt him with his strategy.

    Expect him to be mid-pack and make one run at the leaders from the quarter-pole on. Bejarano's best riding style, fits Overanalyze like a glove and enhances his shot at winning.

Javier J. Castellano

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    Stats 2013 (as of May 1)

    Starts-1st-2nd-3rd: 491-111-91-59

    Earnings/Rank: $6,356,611/First

    Derby Horse: Normandy Invasion

    Originally from Maracaibo, Venezuela, Castellano started riding in the USA in 1997.

    He is best known for winning the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2004 with Ghostzapper, and the 2006 Preakness with Bernardini. But in 2005 he rode the heavy favorite Bellamy Road in the Kentucky Derby and finished seventh—his best finish in the Derby to date.

    Last year he had the mount of then-undefeated Wood Memorial winner Gemologist and finished a disappointing 16th. This year it would be very disappointing if he doesn't hit the board or threaten for the win.

    He raised more than a few eyebrows when he chose to stay aboard Normandy Invasion instead of Louisiana Derby winner and Todd Pletcher-trainee Revolutionary. Normandy Invasion finished a hard-charging second to Verrazano in the Wood Memorial.

    But Revolutionary was sporting a three-race winning streak with Castellano and the move was unexpected. With Castellano, Normandy Invasion left behind his slow-starting gate departure woes and ran closer to the slow pace and closed well.

    Castellano—an alert starter—will look to make a repeat of that race, with the not-so-fast pace expected in the Derby. Just with a better result.

Calvin H. Borel

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    Stats 2013 (as of May 1)

    Starts-1st-2nd-3rd: 104-13-17-13

    Earnings/Rank: $869,578/82nd

    Derby Horse: Revolutionary

    Recently inducted into the Hall of Fame and winner of his 5000th race, veteran Calvin Borel is at his best in the Run for the Roses where won three times in a four-year stretch.

    His first two wins, with Street Sense (2007) and Mine That Bird (2009), were almost identical carbon copies. Rail-skimming rides, just getting moving to the outside of a horse once and off you go in the stretch to win.

    In 2010 with Super Saver, the only difference is that he came from sixth place instead of being in the back of the pack. This year he will reunite with his Derby connections of that year, WinStar Farm and Todd Pletcher, to ride Revolutionary.

    He has been working the colt and schooling him like he has done with his previous Derby mounts, to get used to running in the rail. He got blessed with post position No. 3, which places him about six feet from the rail.

    Which is where Borel wants to be. He will need a faster pace to run down the early leaders, so expect Borel to run a carbon copy of his 2010 win. If he does, he will be tough to beat.

    No matter who he is riding, you have to take a look at Borel's mount, especially if it's in the slop. Two of the three wins came over sloppy tracks and there is a chance of rain for this Saturday.

Kevin Krigger

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    Stats 2013 (as of May 1)

    Starts-1st-2nd-3rd: 169-25-22-19

    Earnings/Rank: $1,333,204/46th

    Derby Horse: Goldencents

    St. Crox, USVI native, Kevin Krigger, knows the history significance of his mount this Saturday. He could become the first black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby since 1902 and is just the second black jockey since 1921 to compete in the race.

    Marlon St. Julien was the last one when he finished seventh on 24-1 long shot Curule in 2000.

    But Krigger isn't aboard a long shot like St. Julien was. He will be riding the Doug O'Neill-trained Goldencents, the third betting choice in the morning line. He has been aboard him for all of the six starts of the talented colt.

    O'Neill won last year's Derby with I'll Have Another, who was ridden by Mario Gutierrez, hardly a household name back then.

    Krigger is 29 and a veteran jockey who raced at Emerald Downs, winning a riding title in 2005 at the Auburn track. One thing that he won't lack on Saturday is confidence.

    In any interview you see from him on TV, he just displays it and you can see it in his rides with Goldencents. Especially his last race, the impressive win in the Santa Anita Derby, where he gave him a flawless ride.

    Expect Krigger to ride Goldencents, exactly the way he did in the Santa Anita Derby. Stalking the pace setter with confidence and come and get me in the stretch. He will be hard to catch.

Joel Rosario

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    Stats 2013 (as of May 1)

    Starts-1st-2nd-3rd: 497-123-83-77

    Earnings/Rank: $5,669,692/Third

    Derby Horse: Orb

    No rider in the nation and maybe in the world is hotter than Dominican Republic native Joel Rosario. He is leading all jockeys in the wins column with 123 and is third in the money list of U.S. earnings.

    That is because if you add the money earned recently when he won the Dubai World Cup aboard Animal Kingdom he would be ahead by leaps and bounds.

    He just captured the leading rider title during his first full meet at Keeneland, compiling 38 victories to set a record for most wins by a jockey in a spring meet. He eclipsed the previous record of 32 by Randy Romero.

    He will be aboard the morning line favorite Orb in the Derby. He rode him in his first five races including the first two of Orb's current four race winning streak.

    At the Fountain of Youth, he chose to go on Speak Logistics and John Velazquez took over and won with Orb. Subsequently Velazquez rode Orb to a win in the Florida Derby, but Rosario has the ride back after Velazquez stayed with Verrazano.

    Orb has been the best horse in the mornings and he will likely place him from seventh to 10th place, but not too far behind.  He will make one run at the leaders in the stretch and has shown the ability to run them down. Definitely one horse to bet on.

John R. Velazquez

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    Stats 2013 (as of May 1)

    Starts-1st-2nd-3rd: 310-75-59-38

    Earnings/Rank: $5,554,111/Fourth

    Derby Horse: Verrazano

    Hall of Famer John Velazquez, born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, is a two-time Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Jockey (2004-05) and won the money titles on those years as well.

    He has won 11 Breeders' Cup races and many international big races, among them, the Dubai World Cup (2005), Queen Mary Stakes (2009) and E.P. Taylor Stakes (2004-05). 

    He has won the Belmont Stakes twice (2007, 2012) and is trying to win his second Derby in three years. He won it aboard Animal Kingdom in 2011.

    Before that he had a streak of bad luck surrounding him in the Derby. He was the rider of early Derby favorites Quality Road (2009), Eskenderya (2010) and Uncle Mo (2011), but none of them made it to the starting gate.

    When Uncle Mo scratched, Robbie Albarado had been kicked by a horse the day before and Velazquez got the call on Animal Kingdom. The rest is history.

    This year, he will be aboard undefeated Verrazano, trained by his main employer and good friend Todd Pletcher. He got a perfect spot in the gate at No. 14.

    This gives him about an eight to 10 feet of room to work with to his outside because of the auxiliary gate being right to his outside. And he has Falling Sky, Goldencents and Oxbow to his inside.

    Verrazano has shown an affinity to like to run outside of horses and he will get that chance Saturday. While many have jumped ship since the Wood Memorial, Velazquez chose to stay with him and that alone gives him the nod to win.

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