05/28/2009 11:00PM

Jockey ROIs prove valuable when paring picks

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - I like to evaluate the jockey statistics at every race meet I'm interested in about two weeks after the meet starts. I nearly always pick up some useful information, so I look forward to the task.

Most of the time, the numbers are easy to apply to my daily handicapping, but there are occasional exceptions. Sunday's race card at Louisiana Downs is a good example.

Jockey Pat Valenzuela shows a solid 13 percent win rate at the meet through Thursday, with 4 wins from 29 mounts. That places him in a four-way tie for seventh in the jockey standings. I guessed that he might have produced a moderate but unspectacular return on investment.

I was quite surprised to see that Valenzuela's ROI was much different than I had anticipated. It turned out that his winners were very chalky, with an average payoff of $4.40. Those low payoffs didn't help much with 25 losses from 29 rides. The result is that Valenzuela's ROI is $0.61 for each $2 bet. I looked through the five most recent days of result charts ending on Thursday and saw that he showed 1 win from 14 races, paying $5.20. Nine of those mounts were well supported at 3-1 odds or lower. That's information I was eager to make use of when I handicapped Sunday's card at Louisiana Downs.

I also saw that Francisco Torres, tied for first place in the standings with Donald Simington with nine wins, was usually overbet. His average winners paid a modest $5.76, resulting in a subpar $1.33 ROI.

Four jockeys among the top 10 in the standings were profitable. That doesn't make them automatic bets, but if I'm torn between two horses as my top selection or while deciding which horses to include in my exotic bets and which others to toss out, that information can be very useful.

Valenzuela and Torres were both riding contenders in the second race, but that wasn't a problem for me as I had a clear preference for another mare. Blue Angel had run better races against classier company and also had more tactical speed. I picked Torres second and Valenzuela third.

I had a tricky decision to make in the third race. Valenzuela's horse, Run Oliver Biscuit, had shown tactical speed against open $15,000 maiden claimers, was improving steadily, and was plunging in class to Louisiana-bred $5,000 maiden claiming. The alternatives weren't very appealing, so I went ahead and made him my top selection. But regardless of his merits on paper, this is not a horse I'll be betting on to win. Why take low odds on a horse ridden by a jockey with a $0.61 ROI? My preference is to bet against favorites like this, but if I can't find an alternative I like, I'll pass the race entirely. If you are constructing a multi-race wager, it makes sense to include this horse on your ticket to give yourself a chance of staying alive to take advantage of a legitimate overlay in another connected race in the series, but it would be wrong to construct a ticket solely for the purpose of betting on this particular horse in the top slot.

The jockey stats next came into play in the fifth race. A good argument could be made for at least three members of that eight-horse field. While I appreciated that Valenzuela's mount, Brooklynn's Cookin, fit well on class and figured to get a good trip, she had just finished a non-threatening third as the 7-10 favorite last time and seemed likely to be overbet as she tried to rebound. I gave the call to Classy Colinda, a contender who was well drawn on the rail, has occasionally showed tactical speed, and seemed well-placed at the class level.

Valenzuela was aboard another solid contender in the sixth race. Snooky's Image had edged softer company in his return from an 11-month layoff and has the potential to improve second time back. But that improvement is by no means guaranteed, and if he is overbet I would have no problem with trying to beat him. I chose Leestown Cajun, who was competitive against stronger fields at Lone Star, likes this turf course, and figures to get a good trip with early and tactical speed from the rail going five furlongs on the turf. The presence of jockey Richard Eramia, who has a $2.05 ROI, is a plus.

I liked Kat's Court in race 7 solely on his individual merits, but I didn't mind that jockey Elvis Perrodin shows 26 percent wins and a $3.32 ROI.

Time Well Spent is my selection in the eighth race, and the presence of Eramira is a small but welcome plus once again.

There was one last tough call in the ninth race. Valenzuela will be aboard Giant Shamrock, who had been consistent with two seconds, and a third-place finish against maiden specials in his first three races. He took a few weeks off and then finished far back in his last start. Based on his older form, he figures to have an easy time on the plunge to Louisiana-bred $5,000 maiden claiming. But if you take his last race at face value, an off-the-board finish is possible. It was difficult to build a convincing argument for his opponents, so I picked him on top, but I won't be betting on him or against him.