11/04/2010 12:41AM

Saddle Scores


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.