05/02/2013 12:33PM

Kentucky Derby jockeys: Six rookies will race in 2013

Barbara D. Livingston
Victor Lebron called the chance to ride in the Kentucky Derby “an amazing experience.”

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Victor Lebron has four young daughters, all of whom will be attending the Kentucky Derby in a very traditional way Saturday.

“I got them all their Derby hats,” said a beaming Lebron.

[2013 KENTUCKY DERBY: Get PPs, contender profiles, live updates]

The chances of seeing those little hats in the Churchill Downs infield winner’s circle following the 139th Derby are not very good, given that Lebron will be aboard Frac Daddy, one of the longer shots in the field. Still, the 28-year-old from the Virgin Islands is excited to have the opportunity to participate in his first Derby.

“It’s going to be an amazing experience,” said Lebron, who has ridden mostly in Kentucky and Indiana after starting his career in 2005. Frac Daddy, he added, “is going to surprise some people, I think. He is getting stronger and stronger. He has turned around big-time.”

Of the 21 jockeys named to ride this Derby, Lebron is one of six first-timers, along with Kevin Krigger (Goldencents), Ryan Moore (Lines of Battle), Luis Saez (Falling Sky), Elvis Trujillo (Itsmyluckyday), and Jose Espinoza (Giant Finish).

Of those, Krigger has drawn by far the most media attention on the Churchill backstretch this week, for at least several reasons. One reason is he came from seemingly nowhere to reach this exalted point in his career. Another is that no black jockey has ridden a Derby winner since Jimmy Winkfield won aboard Alan-a-Dale in 1902 (Krigger is from the U.S. Virgin Islands). Another is that he is riding for the same trainer, Doug O’Neill, who won the 2012 Derby with I’ll Have Another with rookie jockey Mario Gutierrez. And yet another is that Goldencents is owned in part by Rick Pitino, the iconic coach who led the University of Louisville to the NCAA men’s basketball title last month.

Krigger, 29, has bounced around the country since he first rode in America in 2001, often times working as a regular at secondary tracks in West Virginia, northern California, and other outposts. He said this week that he experienced some extremely low personal moments in 2008-09, when his mount earnings totaled less than $200,000, not even survivable wages.

“I never said the word, ‘quit,’” he said. “But I did use the word, ‘unless.’ As in, ‘unless’ I get to the Kentucky Derby soon, I’m not coming back.”

Moore, 29, is well known in his native England and the United Kingdom, but not so much in America, where his most notable success from several previous forays were his back-to-back wins (2008-09) in the Breeders’ Cup Turf with Conduit. Moore rides regularly for the powerhouse collaboration of Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien and has won major races in Europe, Asia, and Dubai, with perhaps his most notable triumph coming on Workforce in the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France in 2010.

Saez and Trujillo, both natives of Panama, have been the dominant players in recent years at tracks considered just a notch below those in New York and southern California.

Saez, 20, has been easily the winningest rider at Calder over the last few years, amassing career-high mount earnings of more than $6 million in 2012. He recently announced he is moving up to try the New York circuit this year.

Trujillo, 29, has become popular with horsemen in Florida and New Jersey, where he has been a steady journeyman and a leading jockey in recent seasons at Calder and Monmouth Park.

Espinoza, 43, competes primarily on the New York circuit, where he has ridden somewhat sparingly for years. A Mexico City native, he has won 839 races since starting his career in the United States in 1995 and is the older brother of California-based Victor Espinoza, who won the 2002 Derby on War Emblem.

Whether or not the Derby rookies make an impact Saturday, they will have a long way to go to match some of the numbers racked up by their elder colleagues, the foremost of those being Gary Stevens and Calvin Borel, both three-time winners of America’s greatest race.

Stevens, 50, emerged in January from a retirement of more than seven years after remaining in the industry in several roles, including as a broadcaster and trainer. He will have his 19th Derby ride when he climbs aboard Oxbow for D. Wayne Lukas, the trainer for whom he already won the Derby twice, with Winning Colors (1988) and Thunder Gulch (1995). Steven won his third Derby in 1997 aboard Silver Charm.

Borel (Revolutionary) was more than two decades into his riding career when he suddenly burst onto the national scene with a terrific ride aboard Street Sense to win the 2007 Derby. He since has become something of a folk hero for subsequent victories aboard Mine That Bird in 2009 and Super Saver in 2010. This will be his 11th Derby mount.

Borel, 46, was recently elected to the Hall of Fame, joining Stevens and three other jockeys named to ride this Derby – Mike Smith (Palace Malice), Edgar Prado (Charming Kitten), and John Velazquez (Verrazano). All three of those others have won the Derby once apiece, with Smith, now in his 20th Derby, having had the most chances of any still-active jockey.

Smith, 47, won the 2005 running aboard Giacomo while Prado, 45, won the following year with Barbaro. Velazquez, 41, won in 2011 when he picked up the mount on Animal Kingdom.

Surely the most accomplished jockey in the lineup this year never to have won the Derby is Garrett Gomez (Vyjack), whose résumé includes two Eclipse Awards as top jockey and four Bill Shoemaker Awards for top performance in the Breeders’ Cup. Gomez, 41, had his best finish in the Derby in 2009 when Pioneerof the Nile was a distant second behind Mine That Bird. This is his 10th Derby mount.

The jockey who surely would draw greatest acclaim from the public-at-large with a victory Saturday is Rosie Napravnik (Mylute), who last year became the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks when guiding Believe You Can to a 13-1 upset. Napravnik, 25, is a New Jersey native who two years ago became just the sixth woman to ride in the Derby when she was ninth aboard Pants On Fire. Diane Crump, 15th in 1970 aboard Fathom, was the first female jockey in the Derby and was followed by Patti Cooksey, Andrea Seefeldt, Julie Krone, and Rosemary Homeister.