The horses are the main attraction at the 2013 Belmont Stakes, sure, but an experienced jockey could be the X-factor that makes the difference down the stretch in Saturday's race.
With a $1 million purse at stake, the field is packed with elite jockeys looking to bolster their year's earnings with great showings on the big stage.
Winning the Belmont will take plenty of savvy, composure and will. Here's a look at the top three jockeys according to their success this year in Triple Crown races and at Belmont Park.
Note: All information on jockeys, unless otherwise indicated, is courtesy of Equibase.com.
3. Joel Rosario (Orb)
Rosario is proving to have a prolific 2013 season thus far—he tops all jockeys on the earnings list at over $9 million this year.
Much of that financial success can be attributed to the heavy workload he's taken on this year. He has 664 starts to his name—more than any jockey in all of horse racing. Of course, he's also having regular success—154 victories have come out of that run.
Rosario will be aboard Orb in the race which makes him a serious contender to win. The pairing already claimed a victory at the Kentucky Derby. As Andy Sterling of NYRA.com pointed out, he's really racing smart even when he's not in high-stakes races.
You can't ride a horse better than Joel Rosario just rode Trophy Wife. Saving ground and being patient beats wide and impatient on the turf.— Andy Serling (@andyserling) June 2, 2013
With Orb's ability to charge late and Rosario's patient style, there's a good chance Rosario will top his previous best finish of third at the Belmont.
2. Mike Smith (Palace Malice)
Mike Smith hasn't been nearly as active as Joel Rosario—he has only registered 137 starts this year—but his $30,459 average per start is the highest among all jockeys.
Smith has quite the track record in Triple Crown races too. He has the impressive distinction of winning the career Triple Crown having won the Preakness in 1993, the Derby in 2005 and the Belmont in 2010.
He is also one of few jockeys that can claim he has finished in second place in each of the Triple Crown races when he was the runner-up at all three races in 2012.
When it comes to veteran savvy, there are few that can compare to Smith. Palace Malice has a much better chance with him aboard.
1. Gary Stevens (Oxbow)
Gary Stevens takes the top rank here with his blend of success in 2013, in Triple Crown races and the Belmont.
The 50-year-old has a Hall of Fame resume that includes nine combined Derby, Preakness and Belmont wins with 22 top-three finishes. Five of those have come at Belmont Park.
2013 has been kind to Stevens too. He already picked up the upset of the year when he took 15/1 long shot Oxbow to victory at the Preakness despite the heavily favored status of Rosario and Orb.
He hasn't been as successful as Smith this year, but he is the latest of the two to win a Triple Crown race and holds the slight advantage at this point.
Could Stevens' wisdom lead Oxbow to another great run?