Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Few factors can be as meaningful in handicapping a horse race as a jockey switch.
While even the best of jockeys lose two out of three races, when one of a circuit’s top riders hops aboard a horse it’s a reason to take a careful look at that runner.
When you can deduce a valid reason for the change, it’s time to head to the betting windows.
On Feb. 22, Chart Topper ran in an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park on the turf. He was ridden by Abdiel Jaen, who is currently winning at about a 9 percent clip at the Florida track.
In his previous start, Chart Topper was a front-running winner of a 5-furlong maiden race, winning by eight lengths. Then, in the Feb. 22 race, in his first start against winners and first race with Jaen in the saddle, he was stretched out to a two-turn 7 ½-furlong distance.
After such a big win in a sprint, Chart Topper figured to be the pacesetter in a longer race with much more moderate fractions. Instead he was second in the early stages and then forged to a 3-length lead in mid-stretch before tiring and finishing fourth.
A little more than a month later, Chart Topper returned to the races in the ninth race on March 30 following a sharp, confidence-building 1:00 4/5 blowout.
Once again it was a 7 ½-furlong optional claimer, but this time Joel Rosario was named to ride him for the first time.
Did Jaen do something wrong? Maybe yes, maybe no. But clearly the move to one of the game’s top riders in Rosario – who is fourth in wins at the meet (a 15 percent win mark) and won last year’s Kentucky Derby - had to be interpreted as a sign that his connections were pulling out all the stops to get a victory.
True to that notion, Chart Topper went right to the front and never looked back in winning by nearly two lengths. The return was relatively meager - $3.60 for $2 – but the lesson contained in that victory was quite rich indeed.
THE LESSON: A positive jockey switch is one of the more powerful angles for handicappers, especially when it involves the sudden appearance in the saddle of the sport’s top riders.