Now that we know how to find a winning horse at Del Mar this summer, let's take a look at the human component.
Horses all have a preference – short on Polytrack, long on turf, or somewhere in between. Some sulk if they don't get the lead. Others prefer a more leisurely approach to winning. Jockeys are the same way, some know how to handle the immature two year olds, others excel at setting a deceptively slow pace and stealing the race. Matching the strength of a rider to the strength of the horse can be an art form. A so-so horse can come alive with the right ride. Let's take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of some of the California jockeys.
The jockey colony at Del Mar is highly competitive. Name riders jostle for mounts and the lesser known jocks pick up the crumbs. Anybody remotely familiar with California knows the names, Bejarano, Gomez, Smith and Talamo. Edwin Maldonado (16% wins) and Martin Garcia (15% wins) are knocking at the door of the top echelon. We may see a shift in the top standings this year as Gary Stevens will undoubtedly get his fair share of live mounts.
So what about the rest? These guys work a little harder for their money and they are just as competitive. Keep an eye on the following jocks. They don't visit the winner's circle as often, but they can screw up your exotics with long shots:
Alex Bisono – 23% wins 50% ITM in main track sprints. He was 9-1-1-0 in main track routes and 0 for 2 on the turf. His best riding style is sitting off of the pace.
Kevin Krigger – play him in dirt or turf sprints (13% win 32% ITM, MT, 14% win 53% ITM turf). In MT routes, he was 0-19 and 0-17 turf routes, although he was ITM 29% on the lawn. His strength is as a pace setter/presser.
Chantal Sutherland - while she has a respectable 14% win 21% ITM in MT sprints, her forte is main track routes, 18% wins, 59% ITM. Green isn't a good color for her. Chantal was a combined 0-16 in turf sprints and routes, with 5 runners finishing ITM.
Agapito Delgadillo – his strength is MT routes (17% win). He finishes in the money 36% of the time in MT sprints and turf routes. He's a mid-pack rider.
Victor Espinoza – this veteran rider must be respected, especially in turf sprints (20% win, 60% ITM). He has just a 9 – 10% win rate at other distances, but is consistently hitting the board 34% in MT sprints and 50% in MT routes. He's a mid-pack rider.
Corey Nakatani – another California staple, he's evolved into a decent turf rider at Del Mar, winning 17% of his routes (40% ITM). He gets his photo taken only 8 – 9% of the time in other contests, but is in the money 25 – 35% of the time. He's best with mid-pack runners.
Eswan Flores – like Nakatani, a competent turf jock, 18% win, 29% ITM going long. Play him in the exotics in everything else 25 – 35% ITM. He's good with front runners.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Patrick Valenzuela. P Val may be past his prime and winds up with long shots, but never, ever discount him if he has a live horse. He hit with 9% winners and 23% ITM. He's best over the main track at all distances and at turf routes. Not so good at turf sprints. P Val is crafty. He can put them to sleep on the front end and you won't find a more aggressive rider when it comes to a photo finish.
Jockeys who get 1-5 mounts are generally best avoided except for the following:
Modesto Linares doesn't get a chance to ride often, but when he does, he make it count. He had only seven mounts all last season and 4 finished in the money. Pay attention to his turf sprinters, as all three of those hit the board. He'll sit at the back and make one run.
(These are the jet setters who fly in to ride a big name horse.)
Joel Rosario – former terror of the California jocks room was 0-6 in main track sprints last year, with 3 horses ITM. He did win his sole dirt route and a turf sprint. Rosario was the only visiting jock to visit the winner's circle. John Velazquez and Julien Leparoux failed to win, but Leparoux hit the board with all three turf routers.
Like the jocks, certain trainers are known as conditioners of two year olds, turf horses, or older handicap horses. Some have a way with the fillies and others can improve a claimer into a stakes horse.
Everybody knows if the following trainers have a horse in a race, it will likely go off at low odds, deserved or not. Also, if there are two in from the same barn, keep your eye on the “lesser” stablemate, they win too many times to count, often at attractive odds.
High percentage main track trainers include Baffert, Dollase, Ellis, Gaines, Hess, Kruljac, R. Mandella, Miller, Mitchell, Mora, Mullins and O'Neil. Special mention about Jerry Hollendorfer. The king of Northern California generally does quite well shipping to the SoCal tracks. Last year it appeared that the king had lost his touch, going 0 for 22 in the beginning of the meet. His barn got it together three weeks in, earning an overall 7 wins from 60 starts, including four stakes. 12 of his runners finished second.
Some of the smaller barns may send out only five or ten horses, but they get the wins, often at long odds. Keep an eye out for the following:
Avila – excellent MT Route trainer scored with five of seven runners on the main track and half of his six sprinters hit the board. Only one of 18 turf routers hit the wire first, but six (36%) collected a check.
Belvoir – strong suit is MT sprints – a poor 3-23 win rate, but 52% hit the board.
Canani – fill in your exotics with his sprinters underneath (0-9 win 33% ITM), but watch his MT routers – out of 9 runners, 4 won and 1 hit the board. Same with his turf routers, three of five won/hit the board.
Adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, Del Mar has track bias' that can change throughout the day, likely due to humidity and possibly tides. Overall, the track plays pretty fair, but watch closely throughout the day for the winner's running styles. Only two days in main track sprints saw no front-running winner, yet two other days (later in the meet) contained five wire to wire victories.
There is a slight (44%) bias towards speed in main track sprints, but I think that's typical of most major tracks. In main track route races, pace setter/pressers won 40% while closers took 49% of the races.
Whoever gets the lead in a turf sprint, is the winner right? Maybe at east coast tracks, but at Del Mar, half of the winners were one run closers. Watch where the rail is set in turf sprints. The closers are at their best when the rail is at “0” or “14”, winning a combined 8 of 29 races. They won only once when the rail was set at 7.” In turf routes, rail placement didn't seem to matter much. One run closers hit the wire 50% of the time while front runners stole 39% of the races.
The shortest way around the track is at the rail, right? That's certainly true at Gulfstream and perhaps Churchill when Borel is on your horse. At Del Mar, not so much in the turf sprints. From 163 main track sprints last year, only 9% won from post #1 with 28% in the money. Posts #9 and #10 sent only 3% and 8% respectively, to the winner's circle.
Main track routes were a different story. 18% winners, 44% ITM from post #1. Post #5 was even better, with 18% winners, 46% ITM. Watch those outside posts - #10 – #12. Only one horse from a combined 24 won, with six hitting the board.
The most winners in the turf sprints shot out of post #7 (28% wins, 44% ITM). Post #4 caught 16% winners, while the rest of the posts were evenly divided at 11% winners each. In turf routes, the inside is the place to be. 18% winners entered the gate from posts #1 and #2. Posts #6 - #8 and #10 offered the least number of winners, between 5% - 8%.
The above statistics pertain only to last year's Del Mar meet. Remember, statistics are just numbers. Trainers who had a great meet last year may not have the same quality of horses this year. The track bias could shift, and a crop of new babies by freshmen sires will decide if they like the Polytrack. Like speed figures, running style, etc., statistics should be just one of many implements in the handicapper's tool kit.