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John Velazquez (silks) is often seen on Todd Pletcher's big horses. Seeing a first call jockey on a trainer's horse when the trainer is running multiple entries may be a good indication of the horse's chances (Photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire).

I write for a monthly sketch comedy show in NYC and there’s an adage that writers at our theater share - good actors can save bad writing, but good writing can’t save bad actors. A similar relationship exists between a jockey and a horse. A terrible jockey can hurt a good horse’s chances, but a good jockey can’t do a whole lot to help a nag hit the board.

Race fans often overestimate how important jockeys are in handicapping a race. It isn’t that they aren’t important. They are very important. But a “hot jock” who has been winning a lot of races at a meet isn’t likely to make the difference in a race where the jockey’s horse is overmatched. Bettors see a jockey who has been winning at a high clip, and figure that jockey is a sorcerer, a horse whisperer, someone who has unlocked the secret to turning every mount they get into a winner.

The truth is that a jockey gets “hot” for a number of factors. It does require talent, an ability to ride competitively and expertly and take advantage of every opportunity to win a race. But a jockey with a good agent can turn a little success into a lot by lobbying for the best mounts. That requires a jockey to pair an ability to ride well with a good attitude, a healthy work ethic, and a willingness to follow a trainer’s instructions. Trainers ultimately look for jockeys who will stick to the plan and be easy and pleasant to work with. Plus, a jockey’s agent needs to be someone the trainer feels is reasonable and easy to work with, too.


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Once a jockey gets in with a barn that’s stocked with talent, or gets a reputation around the track as a winner, then they move up the pecking order and get to choose their mounts first. If they choose wisely, they win more races, which keeps the heat on them, which begets more success.

It isn’t smart to assume that a hot jock is always on the winner, but it does make sense to follow the choices a hot jock has made. One angle that horseplayers often look for is when a hot jockey that has been the rider on two of the entries in a race has to choose which one to ride. The assumption is that the jockey made that choice and picked the one that he or she thought was the best. That assumption is often a safe one, but it isn’t always the case. Trainers ultimately make the decision about what jockey to use. There can be any number of circumstances that lead a trainer to choose to go with a new jockey, even when the usual and successful jockey is available.


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This, too, presents the bettor with an interesting angle. When a horse has been ridden by the same jockey for most, or all, of its starts and the trainer has chosen a different jockey for the race in question (assuming the usual rider was available), it’s possible the trainer is trying a different strategy and wants a rider who he or she feels can carry it out. Or maybe the trainer feels the jockey was to blame for a poor finish.

The most important thing for a bettor to pay attention to isn’t who is the hot jock, it’s who are the bad ones. Because a jockey who is performing poorly stands a much better chance of screwing up a good horse’s winning chances than a good jockey has of taking a bad horse to the winner’s circle.

It’s fine to play jockeys you like. We all do it. Heaven knows these jockeys are competitive and want to win every race they are in, no matter the horse they are on. And they are certainly a factor in every race. But my advice to the neophyte horseplayer: avoid the cold jockeys and look for the races where the top jocks got to pick their own horse. 

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David Hill

David Hill is a writer, an agitator, a comedian and a gambler. He grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas near the Oaklawn Park. Today he lives in New York City. Further reading at

Image Description

David Hill

David Hill is a writer, an agitator, a comedian and a gambler. He grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas near the Oaklawn Park. Today he lives in New York City. Further reading at

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