Top jockeys bring success in big races

The stakes are getting higher as the major points races start for qualification for the Kentucky Derby.

On The Road to the Kentucky Derby, the serious points races are just beginning. Mandaloun is the only horse that is so far guaranteed a spot in the first jewel of the Triple Crown. His win at the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans on February 13 earned him 50 qualifying series points.

Since the current system began in 2013, every horse with at least 41 points has gained entry into the Kentucky Derby. Mandaloun's 52-point total, which leads all horses, will most assuredly be enough regardless of how he finishes at the Louisiana Derby, his next and final start in a prep race.

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Watch the jockeys

Anyone that follows horse racing at local racetracks on a day-to-day basis is aware of how big a difference a jockey can make in the performance of a horse. The mere presence of a top jockey on a horse can drive down the odds on a win or top three finish.

It can also be a bit self-fulfilling, in that the best trainers attract the best jockeys and so on. The fact that horse racing can also be considered a four-legged form of a slot machine confuses matters a bit.

However, when it comes to big stakes races and qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, owners, trainers and jockeys are clearly racing to win.

With the next Championship Series race still more than a week away, we'll take a look at the jockeys for the top-rated horses. The rating doesn't necessarily reflect the current Road to the Kentucky Derby point standings, as those won't begin to shake out until more 50-20-10-5 point value races are completed.

Top horses, top riders

Essential Quality has yet to lose in three races, the last two in the Prep Series have him second in points with 30. Luis Saez was aboard the undefeated colt in those two races and will be there in the next expected outing at the rescheduled Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on February 27.

Saez is the second-ranked jockey at Gulfstream Park, with 70 wins in 465 starts in the current session. He brings home almost 45% of his horses in the top three and has accounted for $2.66 million in earnings since December 2. The 13-year veteran has 2,617 wins and earnings of over $131 million in his career.

Florent Geroux racing against Luis Saez last November
Florent Geroux racing against Luis Saez last November

Florent Geroux has been riding since 2007 and was the jockey for Mandaloun for his win in the Risen Star. Geroux splits his time at multiple tracks, most notably the Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park. He is a skilled jockey, and his horses finish in the money over 60% of the time.

Life is Good has won both his races in dominating fashion with Hall of Fame jockey Mike E. Smith at the helm. Smith, at 55 years of age, has the great benefit of being selective on his rides, and he's chosen well.

He's made almost 34,000 starts in his storied career, with 5,609 wins to his credit. To top things off, he rode Justify to the Triple Crown in 2018, one of only 13 horses to accomplish the feat.