Meet the Jockeys of the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic

Leading jockeys Flavien Prat, Joel Rosario, and Mike Smith (left to right) are scheduled for mounts in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 5 at Keeneland. (Eclipse Sportswire)

There are few accomplishments for a jockey that could rival the magnitude of riding in the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. Think of the jockeys in the race, which will be run on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Keeneland Race Course, like the quarterbacks of teams in the Super Bowl. A win here means a place in racing lore, a claim to one of the sport’s greatest prizes and a single-race paycheck that would bump most of us into a different tax bracket.

So who are the eight jockeys who have a shot at racing glory in the 2022 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic? Let’s take a closer look at each of them, how they got to the big dance and learn a little more about the horses they’ll be riding in the Classic.

Eclipse Sportswire

Joel Rosario

Age: 37

Originally from: Dominican Republic

Breeders’ Cup victories: 15

Best finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: Won in 2018 (Accelerate) and 2021 (Knicks Go)

His 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic horse: Epicenter

Joel Rosario comes into the 2022 Breeders’ Cup ranked second (behind Irad Ortiz Jr.) on the national jockey leaderboard in earnings. Rosario has won just about every important race in North America, including the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (twice). Originally from the Dominican Republic, the now 37-year-old future Hall of Famer padded his Breeders’ Cup résumé at last year’s World Championships. He captured his 14th and 15th wins at the Breeders’ Cup by winning the Juvenile Fillies for the second year in a row (and third time in four years) and his second career Breeders’ Cup Classic. Rosario, the reigning Eclipse Award winner as North America’s champion jockey, has a shot at capturing his third Classic score when he rides leading 3-year-old contender Epicenter on Nov. 5. That colt has won of four major graded stakes races this year, and Epicenter’s main rival will be the imposing – and older – Flightline.

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Flavien Prat

Age: 30

Originally from: France

Breeders’ Cup victories: 3

Best finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: Third in 2019 (Higher Power)

His 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic horse: Flightline

Though widely considered one of the best riding talents in America, Flavien Prat is looking to end a two-year winless drought at the Breeders’ Cup. His last win was at the 2019 World Championships aboard 45.90-to-1 longshot Storm the Court in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Prat grew up around horses in France as the son of a trainer, but no one could’ve imagined just how much success Prat would ultimately have as a jockey, and how quickly he’d do it. In addition to his three Breeders’ Cup wins before the age of 30, he also won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve in 2019 on Country House and the Preakness Stakes in 2021 aboard Rombauer. Now, Prat gets a horse who appears to be one of the greats of this generation in Flightline. A perfect 5-for-5 lifetime, Flightline comes into the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the prohibitive favorite after demolishing his competition in the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes by a rarely-seen 19 ¼ lengths (the approximate size of half a football field).

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John Velazquez

Age: 50

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Breeders’ Cup victories: 18

Best finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: Won in 2020 (Authentic)

His 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic horse: Happy Saver

A two-time Eclipse Award winner as the top jockey in North America, John Velazquez is one of the few active riders in the country to have already been inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame – and that happened a decade ago when he was 40! Velazquez is still riding at the highest level of the sport and is inching closer to capturing his 6,500th career win. Velazquez has won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve three times and he’s scored victories in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets twice. At the Breeders’ Cup, Velazquez boasts 18 total wins. His most significant triumph at the World Championships was his most recent, a victory aboard eventual Horse of the Year Authentic in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Classic. The odds will be stacked against the wily veteran in this year’s Breeders’ Cup feature as he’s booked to ride outsider Happy Saver. The horse is winless in seven starts dating back to last year. He is a hard-trying competitor though, and Happy Saver almost always seems to finish in the top three in his races. In fact, he placed second behind returning rival and heavy Classic favorite Flightline in the Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap in June.

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Tyler Gaffalione

Age: 28

Originally from: Florida

Breeders’ Cup victories: 0

Best finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: Ninth in 2019 (War of Will)

His 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic horse: Hot Rod Charlie

One of the youngest riders in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, Tyler Gaffalione is on the fast track to superstardom in the sport. At 28 years old, he already has nearly 2,000 career victories, he’s won the Preakness Stakes (2019), and he’s received an Eclipse Award as Outstanding Apprentice Jockey (2015). This year, he ranks fourth in the nation in earnings amongst all jockeys, and is tied for third in wins as of Oct. 30. However, Gafflione has yet to break through at the World Championships. He doesn’t have a win in any Breeders’ Cup race and his best finish in the Classic was a disappointing ninth in 2019 aboard War of Will (the same horse on whom he’d won the Preakness earlier that year). At a minimum this year, Gaffalione is in lime to improve on his best overall finish in the Classic and could potentially earn a top-three finish aboard the battle-tested Hot Rod Charlie. The horse finished fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and hasn’t finished outside the top three in any of his five races this year.

Eclipse Sportswire

Irad Ortiz Jr.

Age: 30

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Breeders’ Cup victories: 14

Best finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: Won in 2019 (Vino Rosso)

His 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic horse: Life Is Good

He’s two decades younger than his childhood idol – Hall of Famer John Velazquez – yet Irad Ortiz Jr. is on pace to soon soar past Velazquez’ Breeders’ Cup victory mark. At just 30 years old, Ortiz already has 14 wins at the Breeders’ Cup, which is just four fewer than Velazquez. In 2019, Ortiz won the Breeders’ Cup Classic aboard Vino Rosso. He followed that up by finishing second to Velazquez and his mount Authentic in the 2020 Classic aboard Improbable. Last year, he won three more races on Breeders’ Cup weekend. Ortiz captured the Eclipse Award as the top jockey in North America for three straight years from 2018-2020 and he could very well win the award again this year. He currently leads the country in wins (281) and earnings ($30.9 million as of Oct. 30). The outlook is even brighter for Ortiz heading into this year’s Classic as he’ll be riding one of the top contenders Life is Good. The horse has already tasted Breeders’ Cup success as a winner of the 2021 Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile. In 2022, he’s won four of his five races and would appear to present one of the more legitimate threats to heavy Classic favorite Flightline.

Eclipse Sportswire

Mike Smith

Age: 57

Originally from: New Mexico

Breeders’ Cup victories: 27

Best finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: Won in 1997 (Skip Away), 2009 (Zenyatta), 2011 (Drosselmeyer) and 2016 (Arrogate).

His 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic horse: Taiba

At 57 years old, Mike Smith is the most senior rider in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. He’s also the winningest jockey in the history of the World Championships, owning an astounding 27 victories. He’s won the Breeders’ Cup Classic four times, most recently with Arrogate in 2016. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, Smith has racked up nearly 5,700 career wins overall. He’ll forever be remembered for winning racing’s Triple Crown aboard Justify in 2018, and for his rides aboard the legendary Zenyatta, the Hall of Fame racemare he teamed up with to win the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic. This year, Smith’s mount in the Classic is Taiba. Winner of the Pennsylvania Derby in September, Taiba is one of the more lightly-raced horses in this year’s Classic field and will encounter the added challenge of having to face older horses for the first time in his career.

Eclipse Sportswire

Sonny Leon

Age: 32

Originally from: Venezuela

Breeders’ Cup victories: 0

Best finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: N/A

His 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic horse: Rich Strike

Originally from Venezuela, Sonny Leon launched his U.S. riding career in 2015 and has since won more than 800 races. Most of those wins have come on lower circuit tracks that don’t ordinarily feature horses bound for Triple Crown glory. But then Leon won the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve earlier this year on 80.80-1 shot Rich Strike. Leon went from near complete obscurity to the spotlight at the very center of the racing universe. Prior to pulling off one of the greatest upsets in Derby history, Leon had never even ridden in the Kentucky Derby or any major race of its caliber. Leon has since been aboard Rich Strike for three races in which he’s finished sixth, fourth and most recently a close second in the Lukas Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs. That said, Leon and Rich Strike will once again find themselves in the position of being overlooked in the Breeders’ Cup Classic by competitors who’ve had more recent success. This will also be Leon’s first ride ever in any Breeders’ Cup race.

Eclipse Sportswire

Junior Alvarado

Age: 36

Originally from: Venezuela

Breeders’ Cup victories: 0

Best finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic: 11th in 2012 (Brilliant Speed)

His 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic horse: Olympiad

The son of a jockey, Junior Alvarado decided to follow the same path as his dad and began riding in the U.S. in 2007. He has ridden in South Florida and Chicago earlier in his career, and Alvarado has become a mainstay in New York in recent years. He’s closing in on career win 2,000, which to date includes more than 85 graded stakes victories. Alvarado has had minimal opportunities to ride in the Breeders’ Cup but came close to winning his first race at the World Championships when he finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2020 aboard Dayoutoftheoffice. Alvarado has the mount on one of the main contenders in this year’s Classic. He’ll be aboard Olympiad, a horse who has won six of his last seven races.

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