08/23/2005 11:00PM

Weighing in on Woodbine jockeys

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - I rarely take into account the jockey factor when handicapping a race, simply because it is the horse that does all the running. A good horse can overcome a bad ride, but bad horses rarely win, regardless of who pilots them.

I believe the best riders are probably the ones who act as good passengers - those who are able to get a horse to relax early, without interfering with their rhythm, and then are able to keep them out of trouble when they make their run. I don't like seeing front-runners restrained too much in the early stages of a race, since that wasted energy might prevent them from kicking on in the stretch.

There are certain riders who get more run from horses than others, and when they ride a horse for the first time, some improvement can be expected. Prime examples of this have come with several of Daniel David's recent mounts.

David climbed aboard a struggling Archer Fleet for the first time Aug. 20, and had him rallying strongly along the inside to win at 7-2 when dropping into a $20,000 claimer. The next day at Fort Erie, David guided 10-1 shot Fox's Legacy to a decisive come-from-behind victory against $5,000 maidens in the gelding's third start off the shelf. Fox's Legacy was beaten a combined total of 28 lengths in his first two races of the year.

David, a stocky journeyman with a ton of patience, habitually lets his mounts do whatever they want early on, and they are often seen lagging behind the rest of the field on the backstretch. He usually asks them to pick it up somewhere on the far turn, and they often close with a rush. In the past, David has struggled with his weight, but he has been riding at around 120 pounds this summer, and doing it with style.

Others jockeys who seem to get optimum run from the majority of their mounts include apprentices Emma Wilson and Corey Fraser, who rank one-two in the Woodbine rider standings.

Woodbine television host/handicapper Jeff Bratt believes there are some jockeys who are a better fit for certain horses than others.

"There are riders who suit certain horses very well," Bratt said. "On lazy horses, an angle I like is first-time Todd Kabel. Sometimes, Kabel can wake up horses. With some other horses, you might want to look for riders who are quiet, and who don't really do a lot of moving, especially on those one-run horses."

Bratt said he prefers jockeys who are familiar with the local landscape when handicapping races over Woodbine's expansive grass course, which encircles the main track.

"I think the more experience you have on this turf course, the better," Bratt said. "When American riders come up here, sometimes they make the wrong decisions, because it's a tricky course to ride. It has a lot of idiosyncrasies that a lot of other courses don't have, and you really have to judge exactly where you are in a race and what the pace is like. For some reason, it's hard to judge pace on this course, and I think there's a home field advantage for a lot of Woodbine riders."

Bratt also said he prefers experienced jockeys on young horses.

"I think it's a major plus to have somebody who can really help them out, especially for horses who can be bad at the gate," Bratt said.

There are many successful trainer-rider combinations at Woodbine. Those with the most wins this year are Reade Baker and Jim McAleney (25 for 100); Mark Casse and Patrick Husbands (18 for 103); and Bob Tiller and Fraser (13 for 58).

Among the combinations with at least 10 starters, the one with the highest win percentage is Malcolm Pierce and Kabel (45 percent). Sid Attard-Emile Ramsammy rank second at 40 percent. Six are tied at 36 percent: Scott Fairlie-Na Somsanith; Bobby Frankel-Kabel; Nick Gonzalez-David Clark; Lorna Perkins-Jerry Baird; Sid Attard-Steven Bahen; and Fairlie-Fraser.

For pure value, the best duo at the meeting has been Jody Hammett and Julia Brimo, who have combined for four wins from seven starts and a return on investment of $11.01. Others with a high ROI are Layne Giliforte-Fraser; Barbara Minshall-Dino Luciani; Perkins-Baird; Mort Hardy-Jill Scharfstein; and Mike DePaulo-Wilson.