Ten Jockeys to Watch at the 2017 Breeders’ Cup

Pop Culture
Mike Smith and Javier Castellano are two of the top jockeys to watch at this year's Breeders' Cup. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The jockeys at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships are the best in the world, but they are a diverse group. They come from all age brackets and different continents with varied levels of experience. Here one fan lists them by her assessment of their talent and swagger.

Eclipse Sportswire

10. Ricardo Santana Jr.

Since this is an arbitrary list, this Oaklawn homegirl is touting the jockey who won his fifth consecutive Oaklawn leading rider title this year and just clinched his first Keeneland title at the track’s fall meet. He accomplished all of this before his 25th birthday, which comes later in November. 

Baller characteristic: Came to America with the dream of being able to help his family.

Breeders’ Cup horses to watch:

Juvenile Turf: Snapper Sinclair

Las Vegas Dirt Mile: Iron Fist


Eclipse Sportswire

9. Flavien Prat

A native of France, Prat was France’s leading apprentice in 2009. He moved his tack to Southern California toward the end of 2014 and has been a rising star ever since. Last year, the 25-year-old competed in his first Kentucky Derby and won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint with Obviously. With as many as 11 Breeders’ Cup mounts this weekend, Prat could easily increase his win total.

Baller characteristic: A spill in September 2015 left him with five vertebrae fractures and a punctured lung. He spent two months in a body cast, but was back in the saddle before 2016 began.

Breeders’ Cup horses to watch:

Longines Turf: Hunt

Sentient Jet Juvenile: Solomini

TwinSpires Sprint: Ransom the Moon

Filly and Mare Turf: Avenge

Filly and Mare Sprint: Constellation

Turf Sprint: Richard’s Boy

14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies: Moonshine Memories

Longines Distaff: Paradise Woods

Juvenile Turf: Sands of Mali

Las Vegas Dirt Mile: Battle of Midway


Irad Ortiz Jr. (Eclipse Sportswire)

8. The Ortiz brothers (Irad Jr. and Jose)

Almost 14 months apart, Irad is 25 and Jose is 24. The two have been switching off honors: Irad won the Belmont in 2016, and Jose won it this year. Irad was the leading rider at Saratoga in 2015; Jose claimed the title in 2016 and 2017 (Irad finished second this year after the brothers battled for the lead all summer). Irad currently tops the list of North American jockeys in wins, and Jose leads in earnings. Irad won the first Breeders’ Cup race in 2014 and gained another victory in 2015; Jose won last year’s Juvenile Turf with Oscar Performance and hopes to repeat with him again this year and win with his other mounts, which are more than any other rider.

Baller characteristics: Fierce competitors on the track but celebrate each other’s victories in the winner’s circle.

Irad’s Breeders’ Cup horses to watch:

Longines Turf: Fanciful Angel

Sentient Jet Juvenile: Firenze Fire

Filly and Mare Turf: Lady Eli

Filly and Mare Sprint: Bar of Gold

Turf Sprint: Disco Partner

Juvenile Fillies Turf: Significant Form

Jose’s Breeders’ Cup horses to watch:

Classic: War Story

Longines Turf: Oscar Performance

Sentient Jet Juvenile: Good Magic

TwinSpires Sprint: Takaful

Filly and Mare Turf: War Flag

Filly and Mare Sprint: Paulassilverlining

Turf Sprint: Hogy

14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies: Separationofpowers

Longines Distaff: Elate

Juvenile Turf: Untamed Domain

Las Vegas Dirt Mile: Gato Del Oro

Juvenile Fillies Turf: Best Performance


Eclipse Sportswire

7. Florent Geroux

Geroux started jockey school when he was 13 and was France’s leading apprentice in 2005. His first Grade 1 win came in the 2014 Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint and he has two other Breeders’ Cup wins. This year, he rides Classic morning-line favorite Gun Runner. He has won leading rider titles at Fair Grounds and Kentucky Downs.           

Baller characteristic: Was the first rider in history to win with his first two Breeders’ Cup mounts.

Breeders’ Cup horses to watch: 

Classic: Gun Runner

Turf Sprint: Mongolian Saturday


Eclipse Sportswire

6. Corey Nakatani

During World War II, Nakatani’s grandparents were detained at a holding station set up at Santa Anita Park before being sent to an internment camp. Nakatani’s father was born in that camp. Years later, Nakatani—who is one of 10 children in the family—earned the leading rider title at Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Hollywood Park. He has 10 Breeders’ Cup wins and won the Kentucky Oaks twice.

Baller characteristic: C-Nak (one of racing’s outstanding nicknames) has overcome anger issues to coolly compete at the top of the game.

Breeders’ Cup horses to watch:

Sentient Jet Juvenile: Bolt d’Oro

TwinSpires Sprint: American Pastime

Filly & Mare Turf: Goodyearforroses

Filly & Mare Sprint: Finest City


Eclipse Sportswire

5. Joel Rosario

Joel Rosario was the leading rider in the Dominican Republic four times before he came to southern California. Since then, he has won titles at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita. In 2013, Rosario won the Kentucky Derby and the Dubai World Cup. He has six Breeders’ Cup wins and eight mounts in this year’s competition.

Baller characteristic: Started riding horses at 5 years old.

Breeders’ Cup horses to watch:

Longines Turf: Beach Patrol

Sentient Jet Juvenile: Hollywood Star

TwinSpires Sprint: Mind Your Biscuits

Filly & Mare Turf: Dacita

Turf Sprint: Stormy Liberal

Juvenile Turf: Beckford

Las Vegas Dirt Mile: Practical Joke

Juvenile Fillies Turf: Capla Temptress


Eclipse Sportswire

4. Ryan Moore

Ryan Moore is the European invader jockey you should know. He rides first call for trainer Aidan O’Brien, and he has eight mounts in this year’s Breeders’ Cup. England’s apprentice jockey in 2003, he is a three-time British champion. He has won some of the biggest races in Europe and eight Breeders’ Cup races, and some experts consider him to be the world’s best rider.

Baller characteristic: Sometimes rides for the Queen of England.

Breeders’ Cup horses to watch:

Classic: Churchill

Longines Turf: Highland Reel

Sentient Jet Juvenile: U S Navy Flag

Mile: Roly Poly

Filly & Mare Turf: Rhododendron

Turf Sprint: Washington DC

Juvenile Turf: Mendelssohn

Juvenile Fillies Turf: Happily


Eclipse Sportswire

3. Javier Castellano

Castellano, a Venezuela native, won the Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey each of the past four years. In these years, he also earned more money than any other North American jockey. This year, Castellano was inducted into the Hall of Fame and won the Preakness. He has seven Breeders’ Cup wins, including the 2004 Classic with Hall of Famer Ghostzapper.

Baller characteristic: Bloodhorse called him “a virtual chess master on horseback.” Also take note of one of the most genuine smiles in racing.

Breeders’ Cup horses to watch:

Classic: West Coast

Longines Turf: Bullard’s Alley

Sentient Jet Juvenile: Givemeaminit

TwinSpires Sprint: Imperial Hint

Filly and Mare Turf: Grand Jete

Filly and Mare Sprint: Carina Mia

14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies: Maya Malibu

Juvenile Turf: Voting Control

Juvenile Fillies Turf: Rushing Fall


Eclipse Sportswire

2. John Velazquez

Of the jockeys currently competing, Velazquez ranks second in Breeders’ Cup wins with 13. He has four wins in four Triple Crown races, including this year’s Kentucky Derby. Inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2012, Velazquez also won the Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey in 2004 and 2005.

Baller characteristic: He is the leading money-earning jockey in the history of horse racing.

Breeders’ Cup horses to watch:

Longines Turf: Bigger Picture

Sentient Jet Juvenile: Hazit

Mile: World Approval

TwinSpires Sprint: Calculator

Turf Sprint: Lady Aurelia

14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies: Stainless

Longines Distaff: Forever Unbridled

Juvenile Turf: Hemp Hemp Hurray

Las Vegas Dirt Mile: Awesome Slew

Juvenile Fillies Turf: Orbolution


Eclipse Sportswire

1. Mike Smith

With 25 wins, Hall of Fame jockey and two-time Eclipse Award winner Mike Smith is the winningest jockey in Breeders’ Cup history. He has 10 more wins than Jerry Bailey, who trails him. His Breeders’ Cup highlights include four victories in the Classic: with Skip Away in 1997, Zenyatta in 2009, Drosselmeyer in 2011 and Arrogate last year. Arrogate and Smith next won the inaugural Pegasus World Cup and the Dubai World Cup before coming in fourth in the TVG San Diego Handicap and second in the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes. Arrogate will retire after the Classic, so this year’s edition of the race will determine his legacy, but “Big Money Mike,” who is 52, will undoubtedly go down in racing history as one of the greats.

Baller characteristic:  Do a Google search for “Mike Smith ESPN body issue.”

Breeders’ Cup horses to watch:

Classic: Arrogate

Mile: Home of The Brave

TwinSpires Sprint: Defong

Filly & Mare Turf: Birdie Gold

Filly & Mare Sprint: Unique Bella

14 Hands Winery Juvenile Fillies: Caledonia Road

Longines Distaff: Abel Tasman

Las Vegas Dirt Mile: Mor Spirit

Juvenile Fillies Turf: Moon Dash

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