Saratoga Riders Jockey For Position

Saratoga Riders Jockey For Position
Photo: Barbara D. Livingston
Jockey Cornelio Velasquez enters final week of Saratoga meet with most wins.

With eight racing days remaining until the end of the 2007 meet at Saratoga Race Course, the track’s jockey colony is tightly bunched as usual – but the shifting fortunes of several riders make for an interesting match-up as we head into closing week. Here’s a look at Saratoga’s top 10 jockeys and their nearly finished summer seasons heading into Sunday’s card.

Cornelio Velasquez (37 wins)
At the head of the leader board rides Panamanian Cornelio Velasquez, who has turned in the strongest meet of his 11-year career in the U.S. while riding at the toughest track in the nation. Winning at a 17.58% rate, the jockey looks to score his first leading rider title in New York, where he has been a consistent competitor since 1996.

“I have nice horses now and the trainers have given me good chances,” Velasquez said. “I ride every horse strong, I don’t notice the odds for all the races. I want to ride for everybody and win everything.”

Kent Desormeaux (32 wins)
Putting up a strong fight for leading rider honors is Cajun Kent Desormeaux, who moved his tack to New York this year after riding on the California circuit for several years. Desormeaux has been on an extended winning streak, and teaming up with leading trainer Bill Mott has definitely increased his chances as he rides first-call for Mott’s stable.

“We built up a lot of good business before we came up here, and riding for Mott has been a major force in our everyday win percentage,” said the jockey’s agent, Mike Sellito. “Kent was inducted to the Hall of Fame when he was 34 for a reason. He has natural talent; he instinctively does things you can’t teach a rider to do.”

Javier Castellano (21 wins)
If there’s anything to say about Javier Castellano, it’s that the young rider displays remarkable success after riding just 10 years in this country. His affable nature and dedication to his profession have gotten him far in the game, and he’s ridden those 21 winners for 15 different trainers so far this meet.

“Javier has been riding very well, needless to say,” said his agent, Mike Kelly. “Everyone knows he works very hard in the morning; everyone appreciates his work ethic. Our wins have been for different trainers, one here or one there, and if you ask me, he’s doing a heck of a job.”

“I’m just grateful I get to ride good horses in such a short time,” Castellano said. “I’ve been very blessed and I appreciate everything I have.”   

Garrett Gomez (21 wins)
Gomez led the standings early in the meet but now trails slightly thanks to Agent Ron Anderson, who has sent the California-based jock jetting across the nation in pursuit of various stakes races. This explains Gomez’s slip in the standings, but winning the Haskell (gr. I) aboard Any Given Saturday and taking the Del Mar Mile (gr. II) on Crossing the Line more than makes up for the slight loss. Gomez also leads the nation by earnings, so if he finishes in the top five at Saratoga, he will be more than satisfied. 

“I think this year’s colony is actually better than last year’s,” said Gomez, who rode at Saratoga for his first full meet in 2006. “The purses have attracted more talent, but we’re holding our own; we work hard and we’ve been lucky enough to win several stakes races, so the meet is treating us well.”

Edgar Prado (20 wins)
Prado has turned in a decent showing this summer but experienced nothing like the usually robust Saratoga seasons he’s ridden in past years. Does he stand a chance of catching up to the leaders? Yes. Will it happen if Velasquez and Desormeaux continue their winning ways? Not likely.

Ramon Dominguez (20 wins)
Domginuez booted home his 3,000th winner in May, and his popularity on the Maryland racing circuit is undeniable. He rode at Saratoga for the first time in 2005, then spent the summer of 2006 in Delaware, returning this year for his second full season.

“I’m very happy with how things have gone,” said Dominguez’s agent, Steve Rushing. “We had a lot of clients who had horses running here, and we knew it was going to be a tough meet before we started – but we’ve held our own.”

John Velazquez (28 wins)
Velazquez’s success this meet has been off due to the slow season experienced by trainer Todd Pletcher, who has saddled only 10 winners thus far. Riding first call for a specific trainer obviously has its downfalls, and this one has left Velazquez sixth in the standings at the end of Friday’s card.

“Things go in circles,” Velazquez said. “Here at Saratoga, unfortunately, the meet has reflected poorly on both of us, but we’ll turn it around. The beginning of the meet was bad, but that’s behind me now.”

Rafael Bejarano (16 wins)
Finally, Bejarano gets through a Saratoga season without injury after going home early for the past two years in a row due to racing accidents. The 24-year-old Kentucky jockey has turned in respectable numbers for this meet, and agent Joe Ferrer should have no complaints with Bejarano riding as he has for the likes of Bobby Frankel and Bob Baffert. Look for this one to come back stronger next year, now that he nearly has the “can’t-make-it-through-the-season” stigma off his back.

Eibar Coa (15 wins)
New York’s leading rider by races won last year, and currently in that position this year as well, Coa has seen a slower meet as far as wins are concerned this season, but his in-the-money percentage still ranks at 41.01%. He’ll kick it up a notch at Belmont, especially when the New York colony thins out for Keeneland’s fall meet. 

Alan Garcia (13 wins)
The 21-year-old Peruvian spent a full meet at the Spa for the first time this year, and has made a decent showing for himself with a 13-17-18 standing from 119 starts thus far. With Fernando Jara shifting his tack to the West coast, Garcia has found a niche with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, and has ridden in Shadwell silks several times – including his Aug. 25 victory aboard Shakis in the $200,000 Bernard Baruch (gr. II). Look for him aboard McLaughlin’s stakes contenders in the future.   

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