We’re over 6 months into 2017. Which is why I don’t believe it’s too early to start discussing the jockeys that are on their way to a possible Eclipse Award. It’s difficult for me to see this list changing. Unless 1 of the 4 jockeys I’ve listed here gets injured, I expect all 4 to have a major impact at Saratoga.
The Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey could come down to this year’s Breeders’ Cup. That’s the way it should be, right?
Mike E. Smith
Smith has already won 23 stakes races this year. He’s the regular rider for Abel Tasman, the Kentucky Oaks winner, Arrogate, the Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup winner, four-year-old filly Songbird, who’s the best filly or mare in the United States, and three-year-old filly Unique Bella.
Smith also rides Mor Spirit, who won the Metropolitan Handicap, and American Anthem. Both of those horses trained by Bob Baffert could be strong during the summer. Smith regularly rides on the West Coast. But, I suspect he’ll be in Saratoga on the big days. He’s the guy that all the other jockeys on this list are chasing.
Jose L. Ortiz
Ortiz’s mounts have already earned over $12.09 million this year. That doesn’t come close to Mike Smith territory, but the Saratoga Meet hasn’t even started. Ortiz’s big chance could be with Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit. If Tapwrit improves over the summer by taking the Travers Stakes, who knows? Maybe, Tapwrit goes on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That could throw a roadblock in the way of Smith’s march to an Eclipse.
Castellano has won the Eclipse 4 years running. He’s in the hunt again this year because he’s won 23 graded stakes races, just like Mike Smith. Castellano could own the Saratoga Meet. If he does, it might be difficult to keep a fifth straight Eclipse out of his grasp. Castellano’s top mount so far this year has been Preakness winner Cloud Computing. Shaman Ghost has proven to be the second best handicap horse in training after Arrogate. We shall see if Javier’s summer goes as well as it usually does. There’s a big chance it might.
John R. Velazquez
He’s under the radar. In fact, I might be the only one that thinks he can win the 2017 Eclipse for Outstanding Jockey. Johnny V.’s mounts have only won 9 stakes races in 2017. As far as talent on the track this year, though, Johnny V’s impressed me the most.
First, there was the ride aboard Always Dreaming. For some reason, only Johnny V. seemed to know that the best part of the racetrack was on the rail. Then, earlier this week, he filled in for Frankie Dettori aboard Lady Aurelia in the King Stand’s Stakes. If Always Dreaming turns into a beast, Velazquez could end up as a finalist for the Eclipse.