Race of the Week 2017

Riders Up: Kentucky Derby Jockey Choices and Changes

Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
As it is every year at this time, Jockey’s and their agents are fast at work. The long road to the first Saturday in May gives a jockey the chance to jump into the saddle on numerous hopefuls and contenders. But, as we know, the long road can lead to more failed attempts than actual mounts.
Between injury and qualification standards no contender is a lock to make the field of 20 until they load into the starting gate. Even then, there is still no guarantee. But, that’s what the Kentucky Derby is all about for a jockey; a horse to ride and a chance to win. Therefore, jockeys and their agents can only hope that they land the right horse early on and never disappoint the connections along way. Because that is tough to do, a jockey must always stick to the plan and try to develop as many winning connections as possible.
For the accomplished and veteran jockeys, this approach eventually leads to a mount after their loyalty to another horse fizzles and the trail comes to an end. While there is always speculation that a mount won’t come their way, this year is proof that it normally will. But, when a horse loses a rider to another contender this question always follows: Will the jockey regret that decision?
We begin with a confirmation that came this earlier this week. Calvin Borel will ride Revolutionary. This is a prime example of a veteran landing a mount on a very strong contender after the major preps. What this also proves is that tough decisions need to be made. Similar to John Velazquez having to decide between Orb and Verrazano, another top jockey also had to trust his gut and pick the horse that he thinks will give him the best chance.
When it became apparent that Verrazano was the real deal, Pletcher made the decision to tap another one of his favorite jockey’s to take over the reins on Revolutionary. As it turns out, Javier Castellano was a perfect fit. However, one thing Pletcher can’t do is change Castellano’s instincts on a different derby hopeful. Unexpected to some and very wise to others, Castellano will return to the horse that he rode to a hard closing 2nd place finish in the Wood Memorial. It was his first ride on Normandy Invasion but he obviously liked what he had under him that day.  
However, I believe Revolutionary has a better shot at the Kentucky Derby than Normandy Invasion. Secondly, I applaud the decision to invite Calvin Borel aboard as opposed to any other available jockeys. I think they got it right because Borel might know Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby better than any other active rider. I wasn’t lucky enough (or smart enough?) to score in any of Calvin’s first three wins. Because I like this decision so much, I will have think long and hard about betting against my previous choices and go with Revolutionary in 2013.
With that being said, I don’t agree with Javier Castellano passing on Revolutionary. When you look at this Kentucky Derby contender you’re not looking at a horse that is sitting among the top five contenders without good reason. In his short career, he is two for two in graded stakes races and a winner in his last three attempts. Finally, he’s in very good company with TP and WinStar Farms. This one sticks out to me the most but I’m sure Castellano has been asked about this choice over a hundred times already. His decision has been made and he’ll be aiming to prove me wrong.
While we’re on the topic here are some more fun facts about Calvin Borel. Obviously, his last derby win was with the same exact owners and trainer. But, did you know that Calvin was asked to ride Super Saver prior to the Kentucky Derby? Probably.  Or, did you know that he has yet to ride Revolutionary? If that fact makes you weary of his chances then let me remind why Calvin “Bo-Rail” doesn’t care. In 2009, he pulled off the impossible when he guided Mine that Bird from off the radar into the winners circle at the Kentucky Derby. It was his first ever mount on the 3-yr-old but he raced him that day like he had known him for months. I guess I may be biased because of the result that year but I do think that Borel will also be familiar with Revolutionary come race day.
After War Academy had to be eased up in the Arkansas Derby Mike Smith was in search of a mount. But, like all former Kentucky Derby winners (Giacomo 2005) it didn’t take long before he was announced as the new rider for a probable Kentucky Derby starter.
Considering Palace Malice is on the rise after securing entry into the derby with a 2nd place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes I think that this is a huge win for Pletcher and Dogwood Stable. If Palace Malice is a horse that is on a path of peaking at just the right time then who’s better than a savvy veteran to guide him there. Mike Smith is that kind of jockey so it made total sense to get him quick.
I would judge this decision as very a good one and I also think that it helps the colt’s chances. However, I still don’t see him winning. There’s no doubt that a good ride is a key to winning the roses but I don’t think Palace Malice is on the verge of something special either. One thing I do see is that the addition of Smith will lead to more fans turning their attention towards him as a possible dark horse or adding him to any exotic wagers.
Next up is the rider that won’t be returning to Palace Malice in the Kentucky Derby. The reason is because Garret Gomez and his agent had already committed to Vyjack before the Blue Grass Stakes. He had the opportunity to do so because the mount became available when Joel Rosario elected to switch back to Orb once Velazquez announced his intent to stay with Verrazano.
So, just like we talked about when Johhny V made his decision we can now ask the same question to both of these jockeys. Will they end up regretting their decision? My answer is no. In fact, I don’t think Velazquez made the wrong decision either.
Vyjack has come a long way and has rightfully earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby. This gelding has also earned the right to be considered a top ten contender. However, as good as he’s become I cannot put him ahead of Orb. Therefore, Joel Rosario made the right decision in my book and will have a very fine chance at winning his first Kentucky Derby.
Because of those things that I just mentioned about Vyjack are also the reason that I believe Gomez is in the best position he could be in. Secondly, Vyjack has just shown me more than Palace Malice. For anyone that thinks Gomez decided too soon you have to also consider what would’ve happen if he tried to wait until after the Blue Grass Stakes. If he didn’t move quickly, the opportunity to secure the mount could have vanished.
So, there’s been a lot of movement since the conclusion of the major preps and a lot to talk about. The rider changes are highlighted by these and of them, I think that the most likely chance of regret lies with Javier Castellano. But, that’s just my opinion so let me ask you Horse Racing Nation: do any of these jockey changes make you like their horses more or less?  Or, which jockey is most likely to regret his decision?  


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Older Comments about Riders Up: Kentucky Derby Jockey Choices and Changes...

Borel will add a length to this horse, and he will be very competitive. You have to use Borel in any exotic bets, the man is just too good.
Borel will add a length to this horse, and he will be very competitive. You have to use Borel in any exotic bets, the man is just too good.
I do not get these analogies base on past experience. If Verrazano won by 10, everyone would be all over him and he probably wouldn't do crap in the derby because he did so much in the prep. Now a horse does all he has to and still dominated by my eye, and Castellano made the right choice for the horse that finished 2nd? I'm honestly enthusisatic for a Verrazano TC because of this. Here's to making history!
I think Castellano made the right call......This horse closed a ton into slow fractions, the added distance and a faster pace up front can be the ticket to the Red Roses in
I could see a jockey having regrets if the horse he passed on romped to a 10 length win but we all know that this years field is too balanced for that to happen. We could see another Mine That Bird type victory this year and if we do, then all the jockey movement becomes insignificant.
I don't think Castellano won't regret the decision on Derby Day, but he may going forward within the Pletcher barn.
Who many of the jockeys think will win has little to do with their choices much of the time. No way JV was going to alienate Pletcher who has so much good stock. As for Revolutionary my friend has $50 win at 135/1 on him through some kind of proposition bet. If the rail opens up he has a good shot.
It was Castellano choice, so I'm going with him.....he knows the horses, we just see them on flim............one of my 3 choices
I'm with you, Bryan ... I think Castellano and agent are going to regret this decision.
Merit Man is a pure sprinter, but trainer Hess sent him in Florida Derby, look what he did led all the way and placed third? he indeed did 2 turns??
in my opinion Javier Castellano made the right decision, i also thik that REvolutionary can not win the derby from off space, that's why i think he has a chance to beat this time Verrazani

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