Meet the Jockeys for the 2022 Kentucky Derby

The Life
From left to right: Jockeys Joel Rosario, Flavien Prat, and Mike Smith are among the elite riders slated to compete in the 2022 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve May 7 at Churchill Downs. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Whenever a horse crosses the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, the first person you’ll see and hear a reaction from is the person on their back.

The jockey usually gets much of the credit — and sometimes the blame — for a horse’s finish on the racetrack. They are also the ones who decide where to position their horses in a race, when to make their move for the lead, and what path to take in doing it.

So, who are the jockeys in this year’s Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs? Let’s meet them (in alphabetical order):

Eclipse Sportswire

Mikael Barzalona

Age: 30

Originally from: France

Previous rides in the Derby: 0

Best finish: n/a

His 2022 Derby horse: Summer Is Tomorrow

One of the most accomplished riders on the international racing scene, Mickael Barzalona has won races like the Dubai World Cup and Epsom Derby. He’s consistently been one of the top riders in France and last year was champion jockey there. He also has one notable victory in America. He was the rider aboard Talismanic when the horse won the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 2017. Barzalona will be on Summer Is Tomorrow in what will be his first Kentucky Derby mount. Most recently, Summer Is Tomorrow finished second to Crown Pride in the UAE Derby Sponsored by Mubadala for Dubai-based trainer Bhupat Seemar.

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Rafael Bejarano

Age: 39

Originally from: Peru

Previous rides in the Derby: 11

Best finish: 4th in 2009 (Papa Clem)

His 2022 Derby horse: Happy Jack

A winner of more than 4,250 races in his career, Rafael Bejarano is building a Hall of Fame resume that would be bolstered if he were able to capture his first Kentucky Derby victory. Originally from Peru, Bejarano moved to the U.S. in 2002 and credits legendary Peruvian jockey and Kentucky Derby winner Edgar Prado with being his mentor. Bejarano will ride Happy Jack in this year’s Derby.  The odds appear stacked against Bejarano and the horse. Happy Jack’s best recent race was a third-place finish in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby where he was well beaten by returning Kentucky Derby competitors Taiba and Messier.

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Joe Bravo 

Age: 50

Originally from: New Jersey 

Previous rides in the Derby: 3

Best finish: Third in 2014 (Danza)

His 2022 Derby horse: Pioneer of Medina

“Jersey Joe” Bravo is one of racing’s most distinctive characters. He made a name for himself riding near his native home at Monmouth Park where he won the riding title every year from 1991-1996. He also enjoyed a stretch of eight straight years with at least 200 wins. For his career, Bravo has landed in the winner’s circle more than 5,500 times. The most memorable score for Bravo was at the 2019 Breeders’ Cup when he guided Blue Prize to victory in the Longines Distaff. That result was a mild upset. If he were to win the Derby aboard Pioneer of Medina, it would qualify as an upset of epic proportions. Pioneer of Medina comes off a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby and will likely go off at odds that are higher than his morning line of 50-to-1 in the Kentucky Derby. 

Eclipse Sportswire

Manny Franco

Age: 27

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Derby: 3

Best finish: 2nd in 2020 (Tiz the Law)

His 2022 Derby horse: Zozos

Manny Franco has a been a consistent winner since breaking onto the racing scene in New York nearly a decade ago. In that time, he has won multiple riding titles, 46 graded stakes races and he enjoyed his biggest win in New York when he captured the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in 2020 aboard Tiz the Law. The same horse also won the Runhappy Travers Stakes that year and was also responsible for Franco’s best finish in a Kentucky Derby when they claimed the runner-up spot to Authentic in the fall of 2020. This year, Franco will ride a lightly-raced horse named Zozos in the Derby. Most recently, Zozos finished second to the highly-regarded Epicenter in the Louisiana Derby.

Eclipse Sportswire

Tyler Gaffalione

Age: 27

Originally from: Florida

Previous rides in the Derby: 4

Best finish: 7th in 2019 (War of Will)

His 2022 Derby horse: White Abarrio

One of the youngest jockeys in this year’s Kentucky Derby field, Tyler Gaffalione is experienced beyond his years when it comes to riding in big races. Gaffalione already has a victory in the Preakness Stakes on his resume (War of Will, 2019) and will be riding in his fourth consecutive Derby and fifth overall. In 2015, he won the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice jockey as the best new rider in the country. He’s currently in the top five by both wins and purse earnings for North American jockeys in 2022. A lot of Gaffalione’s success throughout his career has come when teaming up with trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., for whom he’ll ride for in this year’s Derby. Joseph’s White Abarrio is a Derby win contender following consecutive victories in two of Florida’s biggest Kentucky Derby prep races, the Holy Bull Stakes and the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa.

Eclipse Sportswire

Florent Geroux

Age: 35

Originally from: France

Previous rides in the Derby: 5

Best finish: Won in 2021 (Mandaloun)

His 2022 Derby horse: Cyberknife

It’s not often that a jockey wins his first Kentucky Derby nine months after the race is run but that’s exactly what happened to Florent Geroux. Last May, he crossed the finish line second to Medina Spirit in the Derby. It wasn’t until February that Medina Spirit was officially disqualified and Geroux’s horse, Mandaloun, was declared the winner. Prior to that, Geroux’s most memorable Kentucky Derby was the first one in which he rode in 2016 when he finished third aboard Gun Runner. This year, he’ll be riding improving Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife for trainer Brad Cox, the trainer of 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Mandaloun.

Eclipse Sportswire

Reylu Gutierrez

Age: 26

Originally from: New York

Previous rides in the Derby: 0

Best finish: NA

His 2022 Derby horse: Barber Road

Reylu Gutierrez is the youngest jockey in this year’s Kentucky Derby field and he’ll be making his first ever start in the run for the roses. It would be misguided to assume that his lack of experience might translate into a lack of confidence. The Rochester-native has found success over the past two years riding on some of the most competitive racing circuits in the country, and he’s experienced what it’s like to be on the big stage in races like the Belmont Stakes and at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. In the Derby, he’ll ride Barber Road, who he guided to a second-place finish behind Cyberknife in the Arkansas Derby. While Barber Road hasn’t won in his last five starts, he’s finished no worse than third in any of those races.

Eclipse Sportswire

Brian Hernandez Jr.

Age: 36

Originally from: Louisiana

Previous rides in the Derby: 2

Best finish: 8th in 2017 (McCraken)

His 2022 Derby horse: Tiz the Bomb

He hasn’t had as many opportunities on the big stage as some of the other riders in the Kentucky Derby, but Brian Hernandez Jr. has made the most of his chances. The Louisiana native is perhaps best-known for his 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic win aboard Fort Larned. Prior to that, Hernandez won the 2004 Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice jockey. In the years since, he’s racked up more than 2,300 career wins, including more than 60 graded stakes victories. His most recent graded stakes win was in the Jeff Ruby Steaks aboard Tiz the Bomb, who he will ride in this year’s Kentucky Derby. The colt by Hit It a Bomb has won five of eight career races but skeptics suggest he might be better-suited for the turf and won’t be able to hang with top-tier horses on the dirt.

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Corey Lanerie

Age: 47

Originally from: Louisiana

Previous rides in the Derby: 5

Best finish: Second in 2017 (Lookin At Lee)

His 2022 Derby horse: Smile Happy

A winner of more than 4,800 races, Corey Lanerie is one of the living legends who has become known as a master of riding at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Although he’s won 10 riding titles at Churchill, Lanerie has only had five chances to capture the garland of roses. His best finish was a fast-closing finish on longshot Lookin At Lee in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. This year, he has picked up the mount on Smile Happy, an intriguing longshot who has never finished worse than second in his four career starts. In his last two races, he finished behind probable Derby favorite Epicenter in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, and was second to Zandon in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.

Eclipse Sportswire

Christophe Lemaire

Age: 42

Originally from: France

Previous rides in the Derby: 0

Best finish: n/a

His 2022 Derby horse: Crown Pride

Christophe Lemaire has traveled the world as one of the top international riders but there’s one race he’s never ridden in: the Kentucky Derby. The jockey, originally from France, has built out his resume via domination in Japan where he’s been the leading rider for the past five years. It’s no surprise then that his first mount in the Derby will be aboard a horse bred in Japan named Crown Pride. Owned by Teruya Yoshida and trained by Koichi Shintani, Crown Pride has generated a lot of buzz since winning the UAE Derby Sponsored by Mubadala in Dubai in March. Lemaire does have some experience riding in America on a major race day. He’s participated in the Breeders’ Cup before and he won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf aboard Flotilla.

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Sonny Leon

Originally from: Venezuela

Previous rides in the Derby: 0

Best finish: N/A

His 2020 Derby horse: Rich Strike

A late defection from the Kentucky Derby field opened up an unlikely opportunity for Sonny Leon to ride on the biggest stage in the world of racing. When Ethereal Road scratched out of the Derby on Friday, Rich Strike drew into the race along with Leon as his rider. Leon launched his career in 2015 and has had success on smaller racing circuits, racking up nearly 800 wins. Leon has been the leading rider at Mahoning Valley for the past three years. He performed so well last year that he ended 2021ranked 11th in the nation for total victories. Rich Strike figures to be one of the longest shots in this year’s Derby field. He’s coming off of a third-place finish behind Tiz the Bomb and Tawny Port in the Jeff Ruby Steaks.

Eclipse Sportswire

Julien Leparoux

Age: 38

Originally from: France

Previous rides in the Derby: 13

Best finish: 4th in 2017 (Classic Empire)

His 2022 Derby horse: Classic Causeway

A native of France, Leparoux has long been a threat in longer-distance turf races. His versatility on all surfaces is what earned him the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice rider of 2006 when he led the nation with 403 victories. He scored a second Eclipse in 2009 as the top jockey in America. Leparoux has amassed more than 2,800 career victories according to Equibase statistics but he hasn’t been able to finish better than fourth in 13 tries in the Kentucky Derby. Until recent days, it appeared that Leparoux’s mount in this year’s Derby, Classic Causeway, wasn’t going to run in the race. But the horse’s trainer, Brian Lynch, has been impressed with Classic Causeway’s training and is hoping he can return to the form that saw him win the Sam F. Davis Stakes and Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.

Eclipse Sportswire

Irad Ortiz Jr.

Age: 29

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Derby: 5

Best finish: 4th in 2019 (Improbable)

His 2022 Derby horse: Mo Donegal

Irad Ortiz Jr. is considered by many to be the best all-around jockey in America. He won three consecutive Eclipse Awards as outstanding jockey from 2018 to 2020. He currently leads all jockeys in North America by purse earnings for 2022. His three wins at the 2021 Breeders’ Cup gave Ortiz a total of 14 victories for his career at the World Championships — that’s just 12 fewer than all-time leader Mike Smith, who is 56 years old. Ortiz is just 29 years old. Despite his success on the big stage, Ortiz has yet to hit the board (finish in the top three) in his five prior Kentucky Derby rides. This year, he’ll reunite with Mo Donegal who won the Wood Memorial Presented by Resorts World Casino in New York under jockey Joel Rosario. With Rosario opting to ride probably Derby favorite Epicenter, Ortiz will return to the saddle after being aboard Mo Donegal in his three prior races.

Eclipse Sportswire

Jose Ortiz

Age: 28

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Derby: 6

Best finish: Second in 2018 (Good Magic)

His 2022 Derby horse: Simplification

The younger of the Ortiz Brothers, Jose has a slight edge over Irad in Kentucky Derby starts and overall success in the race. In his six previous starts in the Derby, Jose Ortiz has three times finished among the top five finishers. In 2019, he finished third in the race aboard Tacitus; a year earlier he finished second with Good Magic. He won the 2017 Belmont Stakes aboard Tapwrit. Ortiz is a five-time Breeders’ Cup winner and has captured multiple riding titles in New York. In this year’s Derby, Ortiz will ride Simplification for Florida-based trainer Antonio Sano. Ortiz and Simplification teamed up to win the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in early March and then finished third behind White Abbario and Charge It in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa.

Flavien Prat

Age: 29

Originally from: France

Previous rides in the Derby: 4

Best finish: Won in 2019 (Country House)

His 2022 Derby horse: Zandon

Speaking of the drama surrounding the 2019 Kentucky Derby, the biggest beneficiary (among jockeys) of the Maximum Security disqualification was jockey Flavien Prat. As a result of the DQ, Prat and his horse Country House were declared the Derby winners at odds of 65.20-1. Remarkably, Prat has ridden in the Derby four times and he’s finished in the top three on every occasion but one. Last year, he finished second aboard Hot Rod Charlie. Prat has a great chance to build on his impressive Derby resume when he rides Zandon, who is expected to be one of the favorites. Prat and Zandon were runaway winners in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, a key prep race at Keeneland in early April.

Eclipse Sportswire

Joel Rosario

Age: 37

Originally from: Dominican Republic

Previous rides in the Derby: 10

Best finish: Won in 2013 (Orb)

His 2022 Derby horse: Epicenter

Joel Rosario is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. At the age of 28, he won the Kentucky Derby aboard Orb in 2013. That same year, he finished second in North America in overall purse earnings and he’s been in the top six in that category every year since. Last year, he led all North American riders with $32,956,215 in purse earnings and won his first Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey. Rosario’s 3,300-plus career wins also include two victories in the Belmont Stakes and 15 successes in the Breeders’ Cup. Remarkably, six of Rosario’s 10 career Derby horses have finished in fifth-place or better, and he figures to have a shot at doing that again this year. Rosario will ride the prohibitive Kentucky Derby favorite Epicenter. The colt by Not This Time will enter the Derby a winner of four of his last five races, including back-to-back scores at the Fair Grounds in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford and Louisiana Derby.

Eclipse Sportswire

Luis Saez

Age: 29

Originally from: Panama

Previous rides in the Derby: 8

Best finish: 3rd in 2021 (Essential Quality)

His 2022 Derby horse: Charge It

Not yet 30 years old, Luis Saez is already approaching the 3,000-career win plateau. While his Kentucky Derby record doesn’t show any victories, Saez has crossed the finish line first in America’s most famous race. He was the rider aboard Maximum Security in 2019 when the horse was disqualified from first and placed 17th for interference. Last year, Saez benefitted from a Derby DQ that moved up his mount, Essential Quality, one spot from fourth to third. It was his best official finish in the Derby and Saez would go on to win the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets with Essential Quality as well. In this year’s Kentucky Derby, Saez lands on an interesting outsider in the race named Charge It. The Tapit colt has only raced three times. He won for the first time in February by a very large margin and then returned to finish second in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm at Xalapa.

Eclipse Sportswire

Ricardo Santana Jr. 

Age: 29

Originally from: Panama

Previous rides in the Kentucky Derby: 7

Best finish: Fifth in 2020 (Max Player)

His 2022 Kentucky Derby horse: Tawny Port

Having arrived from Panama to ride in the U.S. at the age of 16, Ricardo Santana Jr. has racked up more than 1,700 wins in his young career. His highlights include more than 80 graded stakes victories highlighted by Breeders’ Cup wins in the 2019 Sprint aboard Mitole and the 2020 Juvenile Turf on Fire At Will. Despite consistently ranking as one of the top jockeys in the U.S. dating back to 2013, Santana is still in search of his first victory in a Triple Crown race. His hopes of landing in the winner’s circle in this year’s Kentucky Derby are riding on Tawny Port. He comes off a win in the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, which was the final qualifying race for the Derby. Santana has never ridden Tawny Port before and they figure to be longshots on Derby day. 

Eclipse Sportswire

Mike Smith

Age: 56

Originally from: New Mexico

Previous rides in the Derby: 27

Best finish: Won in 2005 (Giacomo) and 2018 (Justify)

His 2021 Derby horse: Taiba

“Big Money” Mike Smith enjoyed an epic ride with Justify in 2018 culminating with a Triple Crown sweep. It was the cherry on top of a career that has seen him win more than 5,600 races, seven total Triple Crown races (including the 2005 Kentucky Derby at odds of 50.30-1) and a record 27 Breeder’s Cup victories. This will be Smith’s 28th Kentucky Derby and he is scheduled to ride late-arriving Taiba. The lightly-raced horse is expected to be one of the Derby favorites coming off of a breakthrough win in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby in early April. If Smith, 56, were to cross the line first with Taiba, he’d become the oldest rider to win the Kentucky Derby.

Eclipse Sportswire

John Velazquez

Age: 50

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Derby: 23

Best finish: Won in 2011 (Animal Kingdom), 2017 (Always Dreaming), and 2020 (Authentic)

His 2022 Derby horse: Messier

John Velazquez will arrive at Churchill Downs with the most impressive credentials of any rider in the Kentucky Derby. Velazquez notched his third Derby win in 2020 aboard eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year Authentic. It was a second Kentucky Derby triumph in the span of four years for Velazquez. Last year, he crossed the finish line first aboard Medina Spirit for what was then a fourth-career Derby victory for Velazquez — but the horse was subsequently disqualified. On May 7, the Hall of Fame rider who has more than 6,400 career wins could easily add another Derby score to his resume when he rides Messier. The California-based Empire Maker colt was dominant in winning the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in February. In his most recent start, Messier finished a very competitive second to Taiba in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby.

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