Top Jockeys to Watch at Gulfstream Park this Winter

Tips
Fans at Gulfstream Park watch the action on Florida Derby day in 2018. (Eclipse Sportswire)

A week after discussing the top trainers at Gulfstream Park’s Championship Meet, let’s take a look at the world-class jockeys who will be competing at the meet.

A stellar group of riders dotted with current and future Hall of Famers will be competing against each other for much of the four-month meet, but the last two years indicate that two of them, in particular, deserve special attention.

The last two years in Florida have belonged to Luis Saez and Irad Ortiz Jr., and, barring suspensions or injuries, that seems likely to happen again this season.

Saez has been a star at Gulfstream the last two meets, winning 137 races in 2017-’18 and 134 in 2018-19 for a dazzling average of 135.5 wins per meet.

Those 137 wins gave him the riding title two meets ago by a wide margin over Ortiz, who had 101 wins.

Ortiz prevailed last season in a wild slugfest that went down to the final race as Ortiz squeaked out the title by a 135-134 margin.

Put those numbers together and it illustrates their dominance as Saez had 271 wins and Ortiz 236.

Well behind them in third the last two years was Tyler Gaffalione with 157 wins (70 last meet and 87 in 2017-’18).

Looking back on the last meet, Ortiz won at a 24% clip and Saez at 23% meaning that during the course of a standard 10-race card at Gulfstream, you could expect at least one win from each of them.

Reflective of their edge, of the six jockeys behind them in the rider standings, the highest win percentage belonged to John Velazquez at 19%. Javier Castellano was next at 18%

Saez winning 2019 Florida Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Even more powerful were the in-the-money finishes for the top two riders.

Ortiz finished in the money 60% of the time with his 552 mounts at the meet, a total trifecta and superfecta players should keep in mind when constructing their tickets.

Saez was above average in that category as well, finishing first, second, or third 53% of the time.

Looking at last season’s meet, Saez had an edge on dirt while Ortiz owned the turf, a hardly surprising revelation considering how he regularly rides for North America’s premier turf trainer, Chad Brown.  

On dirt, Saez had 76 winners at a 27% win percentage and a mark of 60% in the money. Ortiz checked in with 65 wins at 25% for wins and 63% in the money.

Another jockey to watch on dirt is Emisael Jaramillo, who had 58 wins last meet, with overall percentages for win at 17% and in the money 43%. On dirt, the numbers were 44 wins at a 24% win clip and 49% in the money.

Velazquez also stood out on dirt with 26 of his 38 wins on the main track with a 32% win percentage and 67% in the money, indicating he was part of the trifecta in two out of three races on dirt.

On turf, Ortiz had 70 winners with a 24% win mark and 58% in the money. Saez checked in with 58 turf wins and 20% wins and 45% in the money. Behind them was Irad’s brother, Jose Ortiz, who had 42 of his 73 wins on turf.

In stakes race, Irad led the way. He had 11 stakes wins on dirt for a 33% win percentage and was in the money 67%. Saez was next with seven but his percentages were just 22% win and 44% money.

Castellano, Velazquez and Jaramillo were next with five, though Velazquez had the best numbers of that group. His win percentage was 25% and his in the money mark was a sensational 70%, showing how he may be getting older but he’s also becoming much more selective.

On turf, Irad Ortiz dominated with 15 wins (34% win, 59% in the money) and Saez was not in the top three as Castellano (six) and Julien Leparoux (four) followed.

So, as you play at the races at Gulfstream this winter, keep all of that in mind and when you like a horse and it fits the optimal pattern of the jockey or the trainer, don’t be afraid to take more of a stand with that horse. Even if the payoff isn’t huge, winning always beats losing – and some people are surely more adept at winning than others.

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