Riding for the Roses: First-Time Starters and Old Vets in the Saddle Saturday

The racing industry’s equine stars have one shot at winning the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr.I). Their riders, on the other hand, keep coming back for more. Here are the Derby records of several jockeys with prospective mounts in this year’s Run for the Roses.

Riders with Less than 5 Previous Starts:

Zero previous starts: Juan Leyva (Storm in May) makes his first Derby start from the southern Florida circuits of Gulfstream and Calder. The 23-year-old native of Mexico City has ridden 194 winners in his brief 5-year career. His father, Ignacio, rode races in Mexico and was Juan’s inspiration to become a jockey. 

Julien Leparoux (Sedgefield) already has an Eclipse award to his credit, but the 24-year-old Frenchman will ride in the Derby for the first time this year. Based in Kentucky and riding first call for Patrick Biancone, Leparoux has won riding titles at Keeneland Race Course, Turfway Park, and Churchill Downs in the past year. He led the nation by races won with 403 in 2006. 

Mario Pino (Hard Spun) also takes his first shot at the Derby this year. At 45, he’s ridden more than 5,875 winners during a 28-year tenure on the mid-Atlantic circuit. Pino is about to pass Jerry Bailey to rank 15th on the all-time career wins list.

1: Fernando Jara (Cowtown Cat) goes for a second try at the Derby coming off a fourth-place finish aboard Jazil last year. At 19, Jara has already won the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), Breeders’ Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) and Dubai World Cup (UAE-I).

Stewart Elliott (Teuflesberg) also makes his second Derby start. Now 42, he won the Derby in his first attempt when he rode Smarty Jones  in 2004. With more than 3,000 victories to his name, Elliott is Philadelphia Park’s winningest rider.

2: Rafael Bejarano (Dominican) makes his third run for the roses. He hasn’t hit the board in his past two attempts; he was eighth on Andromeda’s Hero in ’05 and ninth aboard Point Determined in ’06, but otherwise does well at Churchill Downs, where he’s been leading rider several times. The twenty-four-year-old Bejarano has more than 1,400 wins to his credit. 

3: Ramon Dominguez (Sam P.) takes a fourth shot at the Derby after riding Bluegrass Cat to a second-place finish behind Barbaro last year. In other starts, Dominguez finished ninth aboard Tapit  in 2004 and 20th on High Limit in 2005. The 30-year-old jockey has won more than 2,975 races.

Cornelio Velasquez (Nobiz Like Shobiz), also making his fourth attempt at a Derby victory, finished second in the 2005 Derby with Closing Argument. Now 38, he finished 11th with Scrimshaw in 2003 and sixth on Showing Up last year, and won his 2,000th race in June of 2006.

Garrett Gomez (Any Given Saturday) rides his fourth Derby starter with hopes of improving last year’s 17th-place finish aboard Bob and John. The 38-year-old Gomez’s two other Derby starts were in 1994 when he finished seventh on Southern Rhythm, and 1995 when he was 13th on Dazzling Falls. He has more than 2,670 wins to his credit, and last year his mounts brought in purse earnings of $20.1 million.

4: Victor Espinoza (Cobalt Blue) rides his fifth Derby starter and hopes for a second victory (he won the 2002 running aboard War Emblem). In three other starts, Espinosa was third on Congaree  in 2001, 10th on Borrego in 2004, and 16th on Sinister Minister in 2006. Now 34, he won his 2,000th race in March of last year.

Calvin Borel (Street Sense) lines up for his fifth Derby start this year. His best finish came in 2003 when he finished eighth aboard Ten Cents a Shine. Forty-year-old Borel also rode Rockamundo to finish 17th in 1993 and Exchange Rate and Arctic Boy to finish 12th in 2000 and 2001, respectively. He has more than 4,300 wins to his name.

Riders with Less than 10 Previous Starts:

7: Edgar Prado (Scat Daddy) makes his eighth start in the Derby as this year’s defending champion after winning the 2006 renewal aboard Barbaro. In the past 5 months, 39-year-old Prado’s mounts have amassed $4.7 million in earnings to put him fourth on the national list of leaders by purses won. He won his 5,000th career race in March of 2004. 

John Velazquez (Circular Quay) also makes his eighth Derby start, but has no victories to his name going into this year’s race; his best finish was second aboard Invisible Ink in 2001. Chairman of the Jockeys’ Guild, 35-year-old Velazquez has gained much of his notoriety riding for leading trainer Todd Pletcher. He rode his 3,000th career winner in July of 2004.

8: Robby Albarado (Curlin) takes a ninth try at Derby victory with no wins to date. Last year he rode to his best finish aboard third-place finisher Steppenwolfer. 2007 has been a banner year for Albarado thus far; he ranks second in the nation by purses earned with $5.1 million in earnings and a 23% win rate. The 33-year-old rider scored his 3,000th win in December of 2004.

David Flores (Liquidity) is also seeking a Derby win for the ninth time and is hoping to top a career-best sixth-place finish with Action This Day in 2004. 39-year-old Flores has won nine $1 million dollar races to date, including the 2003 Arlington Million (gr. I) and the 2001 United Arab Emirates Derby (UAE-II) and Godolphin Mile (UAE-II). He has more than 2,980 career victories to his credit.

Riders with Less than 20 Previous Starts:

12: Corey Nakatani (Great Hunter) takes a 13th attempt at the Derby and looks to find a victory that has eluded him thus far. Although his best finish came aboard his first Derby mount, Green Alligator, in 1991, 36-year-old Nakatani has two Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) victories to his credit; 1991 aboard Lite Light and 1996 on Pike Place Dancer. Last May, he recorded his 3,000th career win.

13: Kent Desormeaux (Stormello) goes for Derby start fourteen and his third victory; he won the 1998 renewal of the race aboard Real Quiet, and then won the 2000 Derby on Fusaichi Pegasus . A member of the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame, 37-year-old Desormeaux rode favorite Sweetnorthernsaint to finish seventh last year. He has won more than 4,725 races.

Finally, Mike Smith (Tiago) takes his fourteenth shot at the Derby and looks for his second win after winning the 2005 Derby aboard Giacomo. He finished 14th last year aboard Flashy Bull. Also a member of the Hall of Fame, 41-year-old Smith has won more than 4,600 races. 

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