Jockey Mike Smith aboard Kentucky Derby winner Justify - Coady Photography

Jockey Mike Smith aboard Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Justify – Coady Photography

Summer may have officially started June 21, but in the world of Thoroughbred racing, it doesn’t truly begin until Saratoga opens.

The much-anticipated, high-class meet will open July 11, a week earlier than usual, which will delight racing fans and bettors who can’t get enough of the action at the Spa.

Some of the top jockeys in North America will ride at the Saratoga meet, so as a handicapping aid, I’ve used StatsMaster to pour through five years of Saratoga jockey statistics in search of riders who are good bets under a variety of circumstances. Who is best on the main track? How about the turf course? Who is best at riding longshots, or a high percentage of winners?

Here are a few jockeys to watch (and wager on) during the 2019 Saratoga meet:

  • Among jockeys riding 50 or more races at the 2018 Saratoga meet, Joel Rosario was the only rider to produce a positive ROI. Equal win bets on each of his 165 mounts would have generated a 22% profit, and he was particularly effective on dirt, where his 19 wins from 92 rides generated a 59% profit. Junior Alvarado also performed well with a break-even ROI from 150 mounts, and he performed even better on dirt, where his ROI was +44%.
  • In terms of winning percentage, Javier Castellano was the top jockey of 2018 among riders with 50 or more mounts, prevailing at a 21% rate. John Velazquez had a quiet meet with just 15% winners, but Velazquez had a 22% win rate from 2015 through 2017.
  • He doesn’t ride extensively at Saratoga, but in terms of winning percentage and ROI, it’s hard to top the stats compiled by Mike Smith. The Hall of Fame rider has posted a stellar 10-for-20 record since 2016, a 50% strike rate that has generated profits of +91%.
  • If you’re playing trifectas, you’ll generally want to include Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz Jr. on your tickets. They typically finish in the money at a ~50% rate.
  • Manny Franco might not be a household name, but this underrated jockey has been highly successful riding longshots on turf. In 2017 he guided 16 grass winners from 115 mounts (14%) to generate a +54% ROI, and he produced a positive return again in 2018, when he won with 17 of his 117 mounts (15%) for a +3% ROI. Over the last two years, he has guided 16 horses to victory at odds of 8-1 or more (five more than any other jockey), including 13 longshot winners on grass.
  • In dirt routes no one rides better than Velazquez and Castellano. Betting them blindly since 2014 would have produced positive ROIs of 4% and 27%, respectively, with impressive win percentages to boot. Velazquez put on a riding clinic in 2017 with 10 wins from 19 mounts (53%) in dirt routes, and he followed up with a solid 6-for-25 (24%) record in 2018.

Good luck!