11/04/2010 12:41AM

Saddle Scores

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Try as he might, Gary Stevens will never forget his experience in the 1986 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, when he had the lights-out best day of his fledgling California career and went to bed that night an unhappy young man.

Stevens was 23, a phenom from the Northwest and already rising in the ranks of a colony that included Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Eddie Delahoussaye and Chris McCarron. The world was his [insert shellfish here], and he  was primed and ready to take the third Breeders' Cup by storm. He had mounts in six of the seven events, most of them very live, and five of them fired big time. Qualify finished second in the Juvenile, Palace Music was second in the Mile, Outstandingly ran second in the Distaff, Theatrical finished second in the Turf, and Precisionist was third in the Classic.

And that was it. Blanked. O-fer. Collared, and Stevens felt like crap. Then somebody pointed out that his mounts, for all their faults, raked in $1,332,000 for the day -- in 1986 dollars, by the way -- and Stevens, competitive to the core, still felt like crap. He got over it, though, and went on to win eight Breeders' Cup races.

Such is the nature of the Breeders' Cup, now a two-day ordeal offering insane amounts of money for many horses who may not deserve or see such riches ever again. The jockeys along for the ride are in for their cut of the treasure, and the most successful among them can lay claim to having a good season in one afternoon. Also, it's a pretty good referendum on whose got the top agents.

Julien Leparoux won his 2009 Eclipse Award at the  Breeders' Cup last year by taking three races. Garrett Gomez didn't need to ride another yard in 2008 after winning four races over the two days (he did anyway), while Cornelio Velasquez, not exactly a household name, won two of the Saturday races at Monmouth Park in 2007 to emerge as the unlikely star (along with two-time winner Gomez) of that mud-splattered afternoon.

Who will it be this weekend at Churchill Downs? For those who only care if there is a wager involved, there is. A proposition bet -- with very modest odds -- provides players with a choice of the jockey who will have the best Breeders' Cup. From the standpoint of sheer inventory, it should be of these magnificent seven.

Leparoux is the workhorse of the bunch. He rides 13 of the 14 races, among them Al Khali (Turf), Warrior's Reward (Sprint) and defending champ Informed Decision in the Filly & Mare Sprint.

John Velazquez in in with 10 mounts, Pletcher-heavy, including Quality Road (Classic) and Life at Ten (Ladies Classic). Among Javier Castellano's 10 mounts are Jessica's Back (F&M Sprint) and Prince Will I Am in the Marathon. Poised with 10 of his own is Joel Rosario, led by Blind Luck (Ladies Classic), Harmonious (Filly & Mare Turf) and Sidney's Candy (Mile).

Rafael Bejarano's nine mounts will need to step up. His best chance may rest with Crown of Thorns in the Dirt Mile. Garrett Gomez, a BC win machine in recent years, rides seven, but it's hard to see beyond his hopes for Blame in the Classic. And finally, Ramon Dominguez, the national leader in wins and purses, also rides seven -- half the program -- with Gio Ponti (Mile), Haynesfield (Classic) and Boys at Tosconova leading the team.

If I was a betting man, and who isn't this week, I would roll the dice with Rosario having a very good two days. In addition to Harmonious and Blind Luck on Friday, he has the very live Switch in the F&M Sprint, then comes back on Saturday with Banned at a price in the Juvenile Turf, Dakota Phone among the contenders in the Dirt Mile, and Champ Pegasus in with a chance for a piece of the Turf. Don't be shocked, however, to see Calvin Borel come flying out of the box on Friday with A.U. Miner in the Marathon and Tell a Kelly in the Juvenile Fillies.  Word is he likes the layout.

marcus hersh More than 1 year ago
I will go with [whelk].
south florida tom More than 1 year ago
Jay, Has a 6 year old ever won the BCClassic?....Tom
jhovdey More than 1 year ago
South Florida Tom -- No, a 6-year-old has never won the Classic. two have finished second -- Ibn Bey and Budroyale. Why, is there a 6-year-old you like this year?
Lisa J More than 1 year ago
"on whose got the top agents" just pointing out a typo.....should be "who's" got the top agents.... I can't ever fault you anywhere else Jay! C'mon!! ;-)
jhovdey More than 1 year ago
Lisa J -- Face red. Good catch. "Who's got" is sloppy syntax anyway. Let change it to "... who employs at the inflated rate of 25-30 percent ..."
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Hi Jay (I like this draft better): Just hours from Championship Horse Racing on the dirt and turf of Churchill Downs and I must admit I'll probably dabble a bit in the warm-ups while awaiting “the big one”. But CD is always a tricky site for the BC with a dirt surface that not everyone appreciates. Hence a lack of Euro entries. And with the turf course inside the one mile dirt track, this is a “tight” turf course indeed. Seems the Euros will roll the dice on their favorite surface. Still, it is all about “The Big One” and if the post post positions reveal any clue it may be that the speed is most definitely drawn inside with three speed horses in the first four spots. Zenyatta, Blame, and Looking at Lucky should be bidding their time and working out good trips from the back of the pack. It just might come down to who has the best spot at the Top O the Stretch and/or who gets the best trip. I can't get out of my mind two races from the most recent BC at CD. Street Sense rode the rail and romped in the BC Juv in 2006 to stamp himself a Derby threat for 07 which he delivered on. And Bernardini shunned that same rail and went 4 path on the first turn and 3 path on the second on his way to coughing up the lead late to Invasor who was best. So will the rail be golden this year? Will the Euros dominate the turf? Which jock will have the hot hand? The beer pong table is all set up and we will watch and wait from faraway. Because few places are as tumultuous as CD after “THE BIG ONE” has been run (think Saigon after the fall and trying to get on that last helicopter). And also remember that some people rejoiced over the headline “Maxie Kayos Louis”. That is why they run the race.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Just hours from Championship Horse Racing on the dirt and turf of Churchill Downs and I must admit I'll probably dabble a bit in the warm-ups while awaiting “the big one”. But CD is always a tricky site for the BC with a dirt surface that not everyone appreciates. Hence, a lack of Euro entries. And with the turf course inside the one mile dirt track, this is a “tight” turf course indeed. Seems the Euros will roll the dice on their favorite surface. Still, it is all about “The Big One” and if the post post positions reveal any clue it may be that the speed is most definitely drawn inside with three speed horses in the first four spots. Zenyatta, Blame, and Looking at Lucky should be bidding their time and working out good trips from the back of the pack. It just might come down to who has the best spot at the Top O the Stretch and/or who gets the best trip. I can't get out of my mind two races from the most recent BC at CD. Street Sense rode the rail and romped in the BC Juv in 2006 to stamp himself a Derby threat for 07 which he delivered on. And Bernardini shunned that same rail and went 4 path on the first turn and 3 path on the second on his way to coughing up the lead late to Invasor who was best. So will the rail be golden this year? Will the Euros dominate the turf? Which jock will have the hot hand? The beer pong table is all set up and we will watch and wait from faraway. Because few places are as tumultuous as CD after “THE BIG ONE” has been run (think Hanoi after the fall and trying to get on that last helicopter). And also remember that some people rejoiced over the headline “Maxie Kayos Louis”. That is why they run the race.