Quite often this is not the same person, the jockey you want as opposed to the jockey you need. In fact it’s rarely the same person. Most trainers and owners do not understand this equation. Those that do, profit from it in every way.
Trainers fail this test because they don’t really understand the difference. Plus, you have to go out on a limb to use the jockey you need. This is something many trainers can’t or aren’t willing to do. But you must be able to express it. Convey it. Explain why it’s in everyone’s best interest to ride the jockey you need and NOT the jockey you want. Once you accomplish this task, trainers and owners can improve your position in the world of horse racing.
Here’s a reality check, leading riders do not care about you. Leading riders care about winning races. They aren’t nearly as concerned about the further development or advancement of your horse as you are. Leave the leading riders to the leading trainers. Their best interests are mutually inclusive. Unless you are Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen or Bob Baffert, the last thing you need is a big name jockey. Top riders at any race track are going to gravitate to their counter part in the trainers standings. If you are a top conditioner, use the leading jockeys. You’re likely on the same page.
The rider most trainers need is the rider who will work with them. Find the jockey who cares about you. The jockey who will come by and get on a couple horses in the morning. The jockey you can share your training philosophy with. The jockey who understands you and realizes today’s 4th or 5th place finish is tomorrows 2nd or 3rd place finish and this leads to a win. This is critical to you as a trainer in developing your horses. If you can produce advancement in your horses, you also advance your relationship with your owners.
Owners often don’t understand why you are not using the leading riders on their horse. Every owner thinks his horse should be ridden by the top jock. Most owners are insecure and ego driven. Peer pressure kills them. Most do not know what’s actually in their best interests. If their fellow owner, sitting next to them is using the leading rider, they think their horse should have the services of the top jock too. “Why oh why does my trainer not understand this? If only my trainer understood!” Many trainers succumb to this pressure. The result of this surrender is to most likely not train for this owner very long. Once an owner starts training horses from the grandstand, you are on borrowed time. Spend the time it takes to articulate the complexity and need for this trainer/jockey relationship. It’ll pay off.
Trainers must explain how it’s the horses’ best interest and by extension the owners best interest, for a horse to be handled properly, placed properly and taught what you the trainer is trying to teach the horse and how you accomplish this with the jockey you need. If you have an exceptional horse, all bets are off. Almost any trainer or rider can win with an exceptional horse. Problem is, there are few exceptional horses and more horses who need special care, psycho-analysis, understanding and deciphering. A trainer working with a jockey that’s interested in the big picture is going to have much better success figuring these things out.
Leading riders are not interested in riding a horse that will run 5th today and might win a race a couple starts down the line. Their thinking is: “come get me when he’s ready to win”. For most trainers it doesn’t work that way. Find a jockey who has talent, who can ride and is actually a horseman, who is flying under the radar. I guarantee you there are 4 or 5 of these riders at every track. Seek them out. Use YOUR horsemanship skills to identify these riders. Develop a relationship.
If you find yourself competing in Graded Stakes, then go ahead, use the top riders. These riders are used to the pressure that goes with this territory and it takes pressure off you. But even in this case, if you have a quirky horse, a horse who is dependent on special handling and insight, use the jockey you need.
During my training career I tried to find the riders I’m describing. I had a ton of success with Ronnie Allen Jr., Kerwin Clark, Jim McKnight, Juvanel Diaz, Brian Peck and John Oldham. These were under the radar riders who were often over looked. They understood me as a trainer and my methods. They rode with confidence for me because I gave them insight to the horses I ask them to ride, not a lot of arcane instructions. I did not take them off. I was able to advance my horses, get the information I needed to know because they worked with me. This creates mutual confidence.
There were of course times I used leading riders, even some of the best riders in the country. I had high success ratios with Pat Day, Laffit Pincay, Jorge Velasquez, Julie Krone, Jacinto Vasquez, Jose Santos and Craig Perret. I just made sure when I gave them a leg up, it was on a quality, well prepared and properly entered horse that was ready to give them the performance their reputations deserved. I tried not to waste their time seeking their services on a horse that was not up to the respect of their credentials. The result was, when I needed them, these riders were usually available to me and we got results.
I used other top riders with little or no success like Jerry Bailey, Shane Sellers, Garrett Gomez, Sandy Hawley and Earlie Fires. Why no success with these obviously talented and successful jocks? We didn’t click. They didn’t understand my place in the world and I wasn’t in a position to adopt theirs. I didn’t put them on horses that played to their strengths. At the time they were the jockeys I wanted, but not the jockeys I needed. My fault.
Choose wisely, the jockey you truly need. If you do this you can remove doubt, get the insight you need to help make your horses the best they can be. Even if you get beat today, you win tomorrow.
Black and white and last photo by Caren Goodrich