11/11/2004 12:00AM

Jockey mess sets up overlay winners


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - You've no doubt heard the clich? that there are no sure things in racing, which is wrong. When jockeys and track management feud - as Churchill Downs and 14 riders have done this week during a boycott-lockout caused by a disagreement over insurance coverage for jockeys - most everyone is a sure-bet loser.

Management loses a public relations battle. Jockeys lose income. And fans lose their minds.

But what is bad for passionate fans of the sport might not necessarily be bad for bettors. A gutted jockey colony at Churchill Downs has left the betting public somewhat out of sorts, setting up some overlaid winners.

Based on the early trends of Wednesday and Thursday, it seems the public is jumping all over horses ridden by the established riders still participating at Churchill Downs. That stands to reason. If given the option of betting a horse ridden by Pat Day, Rodney Trader, or Shelly Orm, the public is going to pound the Day-ridden horse.

While I expect such established Churchill riders as Day, Brice Blanc, and Larry Melancon to win more than their customary share of races, my guess is that their mounts will be no more profitable now than they were before the boycott by other riders took place. They will be expected to win more often by the public.

By contrast, overlaid prices can be found on horses being ridden by less recognized riders. In the first race Thursday, for example, Enjoythe Afternoon won at odds of 13-1 under Tammy Fox for trainer Dale Romans, who has won multiple training titles at Churchill.

The obvious downside to backing these little-used riders is that they have less experience, which may cause them to encounter trouble that a more experienced rider could avoid. In the race won by Enjoythe Afternoon, I bet fifth-place Ask Molly and jockey Kevin Krigger, who were ultimately trapped on the inside behind a dead-tired front-runner on the turn. Another horse, ninth-place Loves Badge, hit the rail in the stretch under Juan Molina Jr.

Such misfortune is troubling for gamblers, but playing these riders is a risk worth taking for those who are value shopping.

When the 14 barred jockeys eventually return to riding at other tracks, it wouldn't surprise me to see their business take a hit. Many trainers are angered by the jockeys' boycott, and the position it put them in with owners. One trainer told me he was afraid an owner would string him up by his toes upon learning that a no-name jockey was riding his horse.

Bejarano to miss Elzey in New York

One barred jockey leaving town is Rafael Bejarano, who beginning Saturday, will ride in New York. The national leader in wins, he will be expected to make a splash in New York.

As much as I respect Bejarano's ability, if he were a stock I'd sell my shares. He recently parted with agent Steve Elzey in the aftermath of the riding boycott, picking up a successful agent in Joe Ferrer for his move to New York.

As talented as Bejarano is, his dominance in Kentucky must be at least partially attributed to the association he had with Elzey. Such jockeys as Kris Prather, Willie Martinez, and Jason Lumpkins all had their best years in Kentucky when he was their agent. When they split, they made far less of an impact.

I doubt the Big Apple will be as kind to Bejarano as the Bluegrass state was. Time will tell, but his mounts there will likely be overbet off his reputation.

Fallon will hurt River Belle's price

Although neither Day or any of the other leading riders at Churchill will be riding River Belle in Saturday's featured Mrs. Revere Stakes, she figures to be overplayed. British jockey Kieren Fallon has been given the mount, and his presence will drive down the price.

As much as I wanted to come up with a filly ridden by some obscure jockey, I couldn't find a suitable runner with a little-used jockey in the Mrs. Revere. Black Rock Road, ridden by proven rider Brice Blanc, is my choice on the basis of her 3-for-3 record in Canada. She may be ready for the leap into graded company.

River Belle will take some beating, however. She held on to finish a close third in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes last month at Keeneland.