You know how they say that its the horse who matters a lot and the jockey is just a passenger?
Well, that's not entirely true.
Let me explain to you horse racing fans what's really going on.
At the very top levels of the game, jockeys don't really mean all that much. The top 5 or 10 jocks at any major racetrack are really fucking good. They are physically (and sometimes even mentally) gifted. They make horses run very fast. Top jocks like Edgar Prado, Johnny V, Desormeaux, Bejarano, Gomez, etc. these guys are all top notch, and very little seperates them.
But, when you get down to the bottom rung riders......the difference between them is as wide as the grand canyon. An average rider at an average track can be WAY better than another average rider at an average track. When a horse goes from one no name jock that you've never heard of to another no name jock that you've never heard of, well, that can be HUGE.
One of the angles that i love to play is to look for an apprentice rider, getting 5 or 7 lbs, who seems to have a little talent who is replacing a veteran journeyman jock who is barely making ends meet at an average track. Those bad riders are really 'heavy' on a horse...so, if you see a horse getting a jock change from some lower rung jock to an apprentice, it can be a live longshot.
Fans can also be really 'trained' to bet or overbet 'name' riders. So, if you can latch onto an up and coming jock who's red hot BEFORE he becomes a household name, you can get some value. There is a little bit of a learning curve before the fans start betting a jock with both fists. Of course, you have to really watch the races carefully in order to sniff out a jock who really makes em run.
As good as the Garrett Gomezes and Rafael Bejarano's are, you can't really bet on these guys and make any kind of money. They are almost always overbet.
I heard an interview with top So Cal trainer Mike Mitchell on the radio recently and he said something interesting about how he selects his riders. He said that he goes all out to get the guy who is highest in the jockey standings. He said he owes it to his owner to get the 'best guy'.
So, what if a track has 10 really competent riders? Mitchell is going to pick the top guy....its just a numbers game really, the 10th best jock can be just as good as the first best jock....the difference between the top 10 jocks at any major track is usually being in the right place at the right time and having a great and well connected agent. Its not actual talent, its just a numbers game. That means you want to really sink into horse you love who is being ridden by the 10th leading rider, you get value on the toteboard and at the same time you'll be getting a very good, professional jock who knows what he's doing.
Top horse handicappers who have a horse they've been waiting to bet, would rather have a top ten jock, but not the top guys. They hate it because they know that their horse is good enough to win with anyone competent and would rather have the much higher price with an underrated jock than the overbet leading rider.
For anyone that follows horse racing in California, they know that the jockey colony up North at Golden Gate (near SF) is really bad. The leading rider is Russell Baze, who is decent, but everyone else is pretty ordinary. The top 5 jocks up there are barely competent and if you get below that, you get some really awful riders. These guys can't ride at all. The 5th leading rider at Santa Anita/Hollywood/Del Mar is head and shoulders better than the 5th leading rider at Golden Gate.
Then, you get down to the fair tracks like Fresno, Stockton and places like this, the colony is even worse. Jockeys who are 30th in the standings in So Cal can go up to this place and win 25% of their races if they wanted to.
So, you ask, "what makes one jock better than the other?" "Don't they just sit on the horse and let the horse do all the work?""
The answer is this.
A top jock is like anything in sports and they have amazing technique. Think of Golfers, bowlers or tennis players. Top riders have amazing technique. They sit on the horse aerodynamically and get the most out of that runner. Also, the best riders have the strongest knees. Watch a rider sit on a horse and here's a tip on how you can tell if that jock is really a top notch rider or a guy struggling to make ends meet. Look at the jocks back as he's cruising down the backstretch. Make sure his back is parrallel to the ground. Bad riders have bad form and the bad jock will have his back at an angle, while the top rider will be able to support his entire body weight on his knees.
Here's a picture of Calvin Borel riding Street Sense. This is how a great jockey looks on a horse. His back is parrallel to the ground, knees slightly bent. On this picture, Calvin is starting to ease up his mount because the race is over, but you still want your jockey to LOOK like this as he's cruising down the backstretch.
Here's another picture of how a jock is supposed to look on a horse. He's 'tucked in', his weight is perfectly distributed over the horse's center of gravity.
You want to see the jock's rear end off the horse's back. Jocks with bad knees might 'cheat' a bit and lower their butts so as to look like they are almost sitting in the saddle.
At any rate, i believe that jockeys matter when you get down to the lower skilled riders, the difference in talent can be massive.