07/27/2009 11:00PM

Why is the jockey there?


Just a few words spoken by another handicapper on Claiming Crown Day last Saturday reminded me of a relatively important handicapping idea that may help horseplayers deal with special racing days involving good horses, jockeys, and trainers shipping in from different circuits.

Nevada-based handicapper Steve Fierro was at Canterbury for a week in advance and apparently picking local winners as if they were cherries hanging from a backyard tree. So, when Fierro spoke up during his portion of our joint Claiming Crown seminar, some people in the crowd - including me - listened carefully.

Consider first this important background fact: The jockey colony at Canterbury on Saturday indisputably was the strongest in the 25-year history of this jewel of a track.

Russell Baze, the winningest jockey in American racing history, was there along with Julien Leparoux, the nation's second leading money-winning rider in 2009. So was Robby Albarado, the regular rider for two-time Horse of the Year Curlin; Jamie Theriot, a top five jockey at virtually every meet in which he competes; E.T. Baird, leading rider at Arlington Park; Rosemary Homeister Jr., the leading rider at Colonial Downs in 2008 and 2009; Cliff Berry, a 27 percent winner and second-leading rider at Lone Star Park; Jeremy Rose, winner of the 2009 Pimlico jockey title who rode Afleet Alex to sensational victories in the 2005 Preakness and Belmont stakes. This in addition to several locally based jockeys with previous Claiming Crown victories.

To complement the strong jockey colony there were more than two dozen out-of-town trainers with solid 20 percent to 33 percent win rates - trainers from Illinois, Kentucky, California, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Texas, Louisiana, and Ohio, plus several more based at Canterbury who have been clicking at similar strike rates.

Accepting the level of quality - especially the depth of the jockey colony - and linking that to the long list of sharp horses being brought in by so many high-percentage trainers, Fierro cut right through virtually every handicapping issue with an insight that could pay dividends many times over in comparable circumstances.

"We do have a great jockey colony here today," he said, "and I decided that my best shot to separate so many closely matched contenders might be to figure out which horse or horses on the card were the ones that brought the top-notch riders here for which top trainer. If I could do that, maybe I would have an angle to help plan a good betting day."

Fierro then looked at Bright Hall in the Claiming Crown Iron Horse and pointed out that Theriot had previously won all four of his attempts on this horse for trainer Cody Autrey. He also pointed out that Autrey's other horse in that CC race - Mr. Meso, the morning-line favorite - was being ridden by Albarado for the first time, so perhaps Albarado was here to ride another horse for another trainer later on the card.

In the next race, Albarado turned in an exceptional ride to narrowly win the $100,000 Tiara at 1 1/16 miles on the turf aboard Mizzcan'tbewrong at $6.60 for Chicago-based trainer Richard Scherer. Published stats stated that Albarado has maintained a winning relationship with Scherer in recent years. After the race, Albarado admitted that he eagerly agreed to ride Mizzcan'tbewrong because Scherer had put him on many live mounts during a summer at Canterbury a few years ago. Score one clear-cut win for Fierro's insight.

Russell Baze was aboard seven horses in the eight stakes on this day and four were for Lloyd Mason, a 20 percent winning trainer at Golden Gate Fields, Baze's home track. Only the horses he rode for Mason mattered: His first Mason mount, 6-1 shot Bartok's Bling, finished a troubled third in the Tiara, but Baze's second and third mounts for Mason clearly demonstrated why the Hall of Famer was in Minnesota.

Baze scored with stretch-running 7-1 shot You're My Boy Blue in the $75,000 Claiming Crown Rapid Express at six furlongs and followed that with a similar stalk-and-go score aboard Mason's 11-1 shot Frisco Fox in the six-furlong, $75,000 CC Glass Slipper. In the 13-horse $100,000 CC Emerald on the turf, Baze almost overcame a rough trip to be a fast-finishing third at 6-1 aboard Mason's fourth horse, Stormy Surge. It should surprise no one that Baze had observed or worked all of Mason's CC starters at Golden Gate Fields.

Julien Leparoux scored aboard Chasing the Prize as the $6.40 betting favorite in the $50,000 CC Express at six furlongs for Kentucky-based trainer Michael Maker, for whom Leparoux has been winning at a 29 percent clip with a positive return on investment of $2.32. Leparoux also had ridden Chasing the Prize to victory at Gulfstream Park in February in the horse's first start following Maker's $20,000 claim.

Rose had no wins, but there was no doubt he was booked to ride live horses in Minnesota. Rose finished second by three-quarters of a length aboard Norjac in the Express; second by a neck aboard Fancy Runner in the $150,000 CC Jewel; second aboard Calm and Collected in the Iron Horse; and second by 1 1/4 lengths aboard Hard Top in the Emerald.

Baird was aboard three Claiming Crown horses, the longshots Dana's Bell in the CC Glass Slipper and Furthest Land in the Jewel. Both were badly outrun. But as it turned out, Baird had been hand picked by Arlington-based trainer Michael Stidham to ride Gran Estreno in the Emerald. Baird delivered a flawless performance en route to a $9.20 winning mutuel for Baird's fourth straight score aboard this improving turf horse.

Homeister had only one CC mount and did not get much for her efforts aboard R Vicarious Girl in the Tiara. But as in the case of Baird, Homeister primarily was in Minnesota to ride one live horse - Happiness Is, 4-1 winner by a nose over odds-on favorite Euphony (ridden by Berry) in the $100,000 Lady Canterbury Stakes. Prior to this victory, Homeister had ridden only five times for trainer Tom Proctor in recent years and won three races. Homeister's batting average for Proctor now is 66 percent.

There also was little question that Theriot was at Canterbury for more than the $50,000 Iron Horse. Under Theriot's expert handling, Antrim County prevailed in a hard-fought renewal of the Jewel, adding a much richer score to the horse's win in the 2008 Iron Horse. As with his previous riding success aboard Bright Hall for Autrey earlier this year, Theriot also rode Antrim County to victory in May for Kentucky-based trainer Bret Calhoun.

As stated earlier, the implications of this relatively straightforward handicapping nugget should point out live horses on California Cup Day and statebred stakes days in Florida, Illinois, New York, and elsewhere, as well as Breeders' Cup races with several foreign horses or even next year's Claiming Crown. It certainly would be wise to figure out which specific horses actually are the key reasons why the out-of-town riding stars skipped important mounts to take engagements so far away from home.

Taking the idea to another level with a few twists, it should prove equally useful to look closely at any well-managed horse shipping in for a top trainer accompanied by a solid out-of-town rider for a race that may offer only a modest purse. Likewise, when a top locally based rider abandons a seemingly good mount to ride for a trainer shipping in, that too may be the best hint you will get to signal a top flight effort.

* Steve Davidowitz will be at Arlington Park on Friday, July 31, and Saturday,

Aug. 1, to conduct handicapping seminars and to sign copies of his newly released book "Betting Thoroughbreds for the 21st Century."