03/06/2009 12:00AM

Gauge TV riders by ROI, not their story line


LEXINGTON, Ky. - If you're a fan of horse racing there's a good chance that you have seen the cable television show "Jockeys" on the Discovery Channel's Animal Planet network, airing 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on Fridays. Midway through the first season, it has already been renewed for a second. The show focuses on the work lives and the personal lives of some members of the riding colony at Santa Anita in a way that makes them, and their families, easy to root for as they struggle to succeed. If you are a regular viewer, you might even have developed a sympathetic rooting interest in one or more of the jockeys that will carry over into your handicapping.

I have nothing against sentiment, but I like to balance it with objectivity while making my betting decisions. With that in mind, here are a few facts and figures that will come in handy when you are trying to evaluate the chances of your favorite riders from that show at the current Santa Anita meet.

Jockeys are usually ranked by the number of winners they ride, but bettors have other factors to consider. A jockey's win percentage is more important than the number of winners he rides. And since some jockeys ride more low-odds contenders than others, the jockey's average win payoff is also a crucial factor to consider.

Joe Talamo receives a lot of attention as a rising young star with a cocky attitude. From the way he is portrayed on the show it would be easy to assume that Talamo's win percentage is high, in the neighborhood of 18 or 20 percent. But a check of his numbers shows that isn't the case.

Talamo finished fourth in the jockey standings at Oak Tree, and he is in that same position now at Santa Anita. That places him ahead of all of the other jockeys who are featured frequently on the show. But his win percentage was only average at Oak Tree at 12 percent, and it is a shade lower at 11 percent at this Santa Anita meet. Some of the other riders on the show aren't receiving as many mounts as Talamo is, but they are winning with a higher percentage of them.

A couple of the veteran jockeys on the show are winning at much higher rates. Alex Solis is one position lower in the standings than Talamo, but handicappers should note that he is winning nearly twice as often at 21 percent. Talamo's average winner pays about 7-1, so his return on investment on $2 win bets is an above-average $1.79. But Solis has been delivering impressive profits to his supporters with an average win payoff of about 5-1, and a $2.61 ROI.

Mike Smith is another veteran on the show who is ranked beneath Talamo in wins. Smith is in seventh place, but has a higher batting average, with 17 percent winners. But one of the reasons why Smith wins more often than most of the others is that he is given the opportunity to ride more low-odds contenders than any of the other jockeys on the show. His average winner pays off at only 7-2 and change, with an ordinary $1.66 return on investment.

Chantal Sutherland is Smith's girlfriend, and a talented jockey. They are seen to be very competitive with each other on the show as they try to outdo each other on the track and in their personal lives. In one recent episode they were seen making surprisingly large cash bets with each other on trivial games they played out of boredom while waiting to be served dinner at a restaurant. Sutherland is behind Smith in 10th place in the standings at Santa Anita, but her 13 percent win rate is within striking distance of Smith's 17. For bettors, Sutherland's 7-1 average win payoff gives her a decisive victory over Smith in the crucial return on investment statistic with a $2.19 return.

Aaron Gryder is three positions behind Sutherland in the standings, partly because he has ridden fewer horses, and partly because his win percentage is a bit lower at 11 percent. But he still does well under the circumstances, since his average winner pays close to 8-1. The result is that Gryder is nearly break-even for bettors at $1.96.

It would be hard not to root for Kayla Stra. The young Australian is in 23rd place in the standings, and her three wins give her a win percentage just a shade less than 7 percent. But that is more a function of the large number of longshots she rides than anything else. Her average winner pays off at 16-1, high enough to turn a profit at $2.30. If she were given the chance to ride more contending horses, her number of wins, and win percentage, would probably soar. Will she get the chance to ride more contenders? If so, they will probably still pay off at higher odds than they deserve to, so her return on investment could climb higher. Stay tuned.