Search Results for: jockey profile

Industry Profile: QnA with Hall of Fame Jockey Mike Smith

After over 40 years in the saddle, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith remains at the top of his game. To date, the 54-year-old (as of today — happy birthday, Mike!) jockey has 26 Breeders’ Cup wins, the winner of two Eclipse Awards, and an Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award. Mike has won horse racing’s largest races including two Kentucky Derbies, two Preakness Stakes, and three Belmont Stakes and has piloted some of the best-known Thoroughbreds like Unbridled’s Song, Arrogate, Bodemeister, Zenyatta, Songbird, and 2018 Triple Crown winner, Justify…

4. Who is your favorite horse at the moment?
McKinzie (four-year-old colt, with seven wins out of 12 starts and $2,238,560 in earnings).

5. Which racetrack do you enjoy riding at the most?
In California: Santa Anita and Del Mar. In New York: Belmont and Saratoga. I love Lexington, Kentucky, and Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. All special for different reasons.

Industry Profile: Jockey Alex Birzer, rider of the heartland

While researching Alex’s accomplishments, I came across a race that really grabbed my attention. On July 28 at Prairie Meadows, I watched Alex Birzer aboard She’s Our Fastest engaged in a spirited stretch duel with Our Majesty who was piloted by David Cabrera.

As they battled it out, Cabrera and Our Majesty came over a path or two and leaned heavily on She’s Our Fastest and the two bumped and nudged each other down the lane. But I was then utterly amazed when Cabrera started throwing elbows at Alex and hounded him through the entire stretch all the way down to the wire. Alex never stopped riding and didn’t try to retaliate. He just put his head down and persevered on his mount.

Our Majesty finished a head in front of Alex and She’s Our Fastest but the horse was taken down and Alex was rightfully awarded the win. This was no big deal to Alex but it was impressive to me, that he didn’t take the bait for a fight and he also showed what kind of work ethic he has from that one race. Alex wasn’t going to waste time swatting at a pesky jockey nor was he going to jeopardize his safety or the betting public’s money. He just did his job and rode …

Industry Profile: Jockey Gary Stevens

He says he’s lucky not to be in a wheelchair. Towards the end of the month, he’ll go under the surgeon’s blade. “If I don’t have surgery, [the vertebrae’s] going to continue to degenerate, and eventually I would be where I don’t want to be from the neck down,” he added.

Sure, he was well into his final act in the saddle, and so, the incident in the post parade ring at Del Mar last month–the one that gave him whiplash, and a new injury to go with all the rest–can hardly be said to have cheated him his dues. Yet, there was, at least, one more scene to play out. The problem was the shepherd’s crook that appeared stage left.

“I was thinking through the first Saturday in May, if everything went right from December. Five months. And if the horse that I had my eye on worked out to what I think he can be, then that would’ve finished up the year,” Stevens said, playing coy with the horse’s name. “Everything was making me happy two weeks ago. I was enjoying what I was doing.” The mounts were on the wane, yes. “But the horses I had were good horses.”

By the time we spoke, on a rare wintery California morning …

Industry Profile: Jockey David Cohen

David Cohen — enjoying a banner season after resuming his promising riding career following an injury-induced hiatus spanning almost four years — is the recipient of JockeyTalk360.com’s fourth annual Comeback Jockey of the Year Award, presented by Red Brand Fence.

Cohen will receive the award during the Jockeys’ Guild Assembly luncheon Tuesday at Top Golf located adjacent to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Irad Ortiz will be honored as JockeyTalk360 Turf Jockey of the Year, with Drayden Van Dyke recognized as JockeyTalk360 Breakthrough Jockey of the Year. The JockeyTalk360 awards are in addition to the honors handed out at the luncheon by the Jockeys’ Guild at their annual assembly.

The 34-year-old Cohen has won 109 races and almost $6.5 million in 2018 purse earnings through Friday, according to Equibase statistics. That’s the jockey’s most wins since 2012 and most purse earnings since 2010. In taking the Grade 2 Hill Prince on Have At It and the Grade 3 Matron on Lonely Road, Cohen won his first graded stakes since Golden Ticket’s historic dead-heat for victory in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Travers Stakes six years earlier.

Cohen was among the sport’s rising stars when he was kicked in his lower right leg by his mount in the paddock at Aqueduct on Feb. 1, 2014. His badly fractured fibula and tibia required surgery involving a plate and six screws to repair.

“It was never a matter of ‘if’ but a matter of ‘when’ I was going to return,” Cohen said. “If you’re not right mentally, it’s going to show. I wouldn’t do that to people trusting me with the horses and giving me an opportunity if I wasn’t 100 percent ready, not just physically but the mental state as well. It was just wanting to do it the right way.”

Cohen spent much of his childhood in Las Vegas and says the return for the Jockeys’ Guild Assembly provides a memorable homecoming. “The year has developed over time to becoming a very good year,” he said. “You’re always honored if you’re recognized for something. I’m just very fortunate for the support I have from the owners and trainers I rode for and am blessed to be back in the sport I love so much.”

The cancer-related death of his father, California horse owner Morry Cohen, several months after the paddock mishap had the jockey struggling to heal not only physically but emotionally. He rode six races in late 2014 but was determined to have a torn meniscus in his right knee. Cohen suffered another personal loss a year later with the death of his sister, Dana.

He did not ride again Nov. 30, 2017, at the Fair Grounds. That proved the first step toward a big winter meet at Oaklawn Park, where he finished third in the standings with 37 wins, before rejoining the New York circuit last spring.

“David had to deal not only with his initial injuries and subsequent complications, but then the devastating double toll of losing his dad, who was his best friend and got him into horse racing, and his sister,” said C.J. Johnsen, publisher of JockeyTalk360.com. “Being a race-rider requires far more than physical ability. The mind strength of jockeys is really under-appreciated. Riding races is extremely challenging, not just physically but mentally. David knew he had more to mend than just his leg. But his perseverance to come back, and to come back the right way, just shows his strength, passion and respect for the game.”

Career Started in 2004

Cohen has won 1,347 races and almost $50 million in purses in a career that started in 2004.

“My leg now, I can’t even tell,” the jockey said his injuries. “It came back better than I ever could have hoped for. My agent, Bill Castle, is very tactical and we really wanted to come back and do well and win right away, not just pop up and say, ‘Here I am’ at Saratoga. I was very fortunate with the support I had in my return at Oaklawn Park. That return was very well thought-out. I could have returned maybe six months earlier. But I just took a long time in the gym getting my body strong and getting my weight down over the time, the healthy and right way.

“My father was an owner and breeder, so I respect that people are giving me their business, their money on the line, their opportunity that they could give to someone else. I’m coming back with the best riders in the world and saying, ‘Give me an opportunity.’ It’s not a sport that people can just put up money and say, ‘Let’s hope it works.’ The trainers, the exercise riders, grooms, everyone working their tail off day in and day out, I wouldn’t do that to them. I wanted to make sure I was in the right place, and I believe it showed. I had a lot of good feedback from horsemen. If it was the opposite way, I don’t think I’d have had the year I’ve had.

“I’m riding for a lot of high-end trainers and getting opportunities I didn’t get prior. Probably for the first six, seven months of my return, I didn’t take one day off from going to the track working horses in the morning. I just went out there, rode hard, rode to the wire on every horse and just showed that I was here for my love of the horses and what I was doing. It was more of a blessing to get back to doing what I love than worrying about how well I was going to do.”

press release

Industry Profile: Jockey Harry Hernandez

It’s been a competitive jockey colony at Arlington International Racecourse so far this meet due to the addition of a few new faces in the jocks room. One of those is Harry Hernandez, who has enjoyed a solid beginning of the 2018 meet with six victories in 29 mounts.

Hernandez, 21, is currently tied for fourth in the standings with Sophie Doyle, who also is riding her first full season at the Chicagoland oval. He has finished in the money at a rate of 48%.

“I’m really excited and I’m really focused on my job,” Hernandez said. “Just trying to stay focused on winning races. I thank God and thank my agent [Ben Allen] and the owners for the opportunities that they have been giving me. I’m just trying to show off my experience.

Hernandez began his riding career in his native Puerto Rico and attended the Escuela Vocacional Hipica, graduating in the same class as leading riders Jose Ortiz, Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Eric Cancel.

Arlington Park racetrack“That school is such a nice school,” Hernandez said. “Before you graduate they make sure that you’re a hard worker and that you’re professional and respectful. Most importantly, they make sure you’re watching your weight because that’s the most important. They teach you how to gallop, teach you how to position. It’s awesome.”

Upon moving to the United States, Hernandez began riding at Finger Lakes in New York where he was consistently finishing in the top of the jockey standings.

“When I graduated I wanted to start riding in Puerto Rico since that’s where I’m from and that’s where my family is from,” Hernandez said. “But I always have wanted to come to the United States. This is where the good money is, it’s where the good owners and trainers are and you’ll learn more riding with good jockeys. This is where you learn more. I always wanted to ride in the United States and make a name for myself here.”

Check out other AGOS Jockey Profiles

It was good friend and accomplished rider Jose Ortiz, however, that gave him some encouragement to give Arlington a try this summer.

“I want to thank God for giving me these opportunities with the trainers and the owners,” Hernandez said. “My family always have supported me. I want to thank my really good friends, especially Jose Ortiz. He was the one who called me up and said ‘Hey, [Ben Allen] is a good agent’. He told me to go try it out.”

Source: Press Release

Industry Profile: Jockey Santo Sanjur

While all eyes were recently on Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., as Justify trained up for his bid for the Triple Crown, one man was been busy making headlines for himself 100 miles North of the Twin Spires. Santo Sanjur, a native of Panama City, Panama, has taken the Indiana Grand jockey colony by storm in his first year riding in the Hoosier state.

Although the track’s meet started only 37 days ago, Sanjur has picked up 108 mounts so far, and has already 22 wins under his belt. This ties him for Indiana Grand leading rider standings by wins ahead of local veterans such as Rodney Prescott and Marcelino Pedroza.

What’s more? This is only the 22-year-old’s fifth year riding competitively. With an in-the-money percentage of 53% this meet, many have taken notice of the new kid with those numbers. Others have taken notice of Sanjur for another reason: his name.

While officially taking the last name “Sanjur,” Santo is no stranger to having family in the racing business. Indiana racing natives will recognize the name of Sanjur’s cousin, Juan Saez, a rider who was killed tragically in an accident at Indiana Grand in October of 2014.

Though he was on a path nearly identical to that of Santo, Juan is not the young rider’s best known relative. His most famous cousin is Luis Saez, pilot of horses such as Will Take Charge, Gunnevera and, more recently, Arkansas Derby winner Magnum Moon.

Just like his two well-recognized cousins, Sanjur also attended Panama City’s famed Laffit Pincay Jockey School.

It was a perfect fit. According to the school motto, it is directly in the heart of “the cradle of the best jockeys in the world.” During his two years at a school he considers to be “one of the best,” Sanjur said he learned the basics of being a successful jockey, though it was his desire for more that brought him to the United States.

“I had always wanted to come and ride here and make my family proud,” Sanjur said.

With his record so far, he is doing just that.

Despite being new to Indiana, Sanjur is by no means new to racing in the Midwest. He spent the first four years of his American riding career at Arlington Park in the suburbs of Chicago, where he had much of the same impact as he has had at Indiana Grand. From May of 2017 to September of the same year, Sanjur rode 452 horses and picked up 57 wins that totaled almost $1.5 million in purse money. He finished second that year in the Arlington jockey standings.

The impression those four years in Illinois gave him carried over across the border to Indiana, where horsemen of all types cannot get enough of him. Michelle Elliott, trainer and daughter of the well-known Indiana breeder Jim Elliott, is one of them.

“I think he’s the new up-and-coming rider. He’s going to be amazing,” Elliot said of Sanjur, who she met through his agent, Jeremy Acridge. A short time before the Indiana Grand meet began, Acridge called Elliott, asking her to “give his guy a chance.” Sanjur brought Crossed, a filly in Elliott’s barn, home first in the sixth race on Indiana Grand’s opening day card, and has been riding for her ever since. “I really like this kid,” Elliott said. “I’d put him on just about anything.”

Where he continues to experience days where he rides three or even four winners on the same card, it is easy to see why Sanjur continues to make news in the Midwest. Though he doesn’t see himself moving out of the Hoosier state anytime soon, Sanjur does have a few races in mind that he would really love to win more than anything: the Kentucky Derby and a Breeders’ Cup race. And if his current success is any indicator, it won’t be long before we see Sanjur on a bigger stage.

Source: Press Release

Industry Profile: Jockey Antonio Gallardo

Two seasons ago, Antonio Gallardo rode a 3-year-old first-time starter named Imperial Hint to an eye-opening victory in a 7-furlong Tampa Bay Downs allowance in a sizzling time of 1:22.39. The Luis Carvajal, Jr.-trained Florida-bred colt lowered that time to 1:22.15 in his next start with Gallardo in the irons, the Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore Stakes.

“That is the dream of every jockey every year, to have a nice horse like that,” said Gallardo, who watched Imperial Hint race to a second-place finish in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint last month under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano. “In this game, you stay positive because you can find a good horse anywhere.”

The 30-year-old Spaniard, whose meteoric rise upon moving to the United States resulted in three consecutive riding titles at both Tampa Bay Downs and Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pa., has shown a knack for winning all kinds of races, including five graded stakes the last two years.

But while Gallardo’s quest to secure another “big horse” continues at full speed, he’s a devoted family man who strives for the right balance between his professional and personal lives.

Gallardo’s early-meeting Oldsmar performance, with 17 victories, has earned him the SenÞor Tequila Mexican Grill Jockey of the Month Award.

When the 2017 season at Presque Isle Downs in western Pennsylvania ended in early October, Gallardo, his wife Polliana and their two children, Carlos, 9, and Christa, almost 4, traveled to his hometown of Jerez in Cadiz, Spain for about a month to visit his relatives.

Gallardo’s ambition to be known as one of the world’s best jockeys hasn’t changed. But the pull of home, both in Spain and Tampa, helps charge his batteries to succeed on the track.

“That (traveling to Spain) helped me a lot. My family is real close, and I was able to have fun with them and forget about the horses for a while,” said Gallardo, who got to visit his parents, his sister, his grandmother and other relatives. “If one of us is crying, everybody is crying, and if one of us is happy, everybody is happy.

“It was good for me mentally and good for my muscles and my bones. If I have a chance to go next year, I’m going again,” he added.

After riding in New York last season, where he finished seventh in the 2017 winter meeting standings at Aqueduct with 19 victories, Gallardo has returned to his home away from Spain on Florida’s west coast.

Gallardo, who finished second in North America in victories in both 2015 and 2016, riding 652 winners during that two-year period, recently bought a home on a farm a few miles from Tampa Bay Downs. The property includes a seven-stall barn, several paddocks and a riding arena.

Gallardo said the reasons he has returned to Tampa Bay Downs are “simple. It’s my home, my family is here and the weather is good. I was making more money in New York, but I wasn’t as happy.

“As a jockey, you risk your life every day. Yes, you have to make money, but you have to have fun and enjoy your family. Money comes and goes, but when time leaves, it never comes back to you.”

Gallardo finished third in the Monmouth Park standings this year with 50 victories. On Dec. 16, he won the inaugural $125,000 Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Marion County Florida Sire Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on 3-year-old gelding Mo Cash with a bold move between rivals on the turn.

Among his five graded-stakes victories is the 2016 Grade II Nashua at Aqueduct on Hemsworth. He also won the $400,000 (ungraded) Poseidon Handicap last winter at Gulfstream on Imperative on the Pegasus World Cup Invitational card and finished fifth on War Story in the $12-million Pegasus.

It appears Gallardo’s next major assignment is a matter of “when,” not “if.” Whoever it happens to be with, the connections can rest assured their jockey will know the way home.

 

Source: Press Release

Industry Profile: Morning Line Maker Jon White

ARCADIA, Calif. (Sept. 24, 2019)–An unmistakable treasure on the American Racing landscape, the indefatigable Jon White is back for his 11th year as Santa Anita’s highly respected Morning Line Maker as the track opened on Friday, Sept. 27.

A proud native of Spokane, WA, White’s affinity for horse racing traces back to trips with his late father to tracks such as Playfair in Spokane and Yakima Meadows, where his dad worked in their pari-mutuel departments.

Upon graduating from Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane (“ESPN’s Neil Everett went there too”), White soon set about a career in racing that has seen him cast in a myriad of roles in a number of different states. (White is also quick to point out that he attended Eastern Washington University, where he noted, the LA Rams’ Cooper Kupp also attended, as did Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd).

Santa Anita San Gabriel

copyright Cheryl Ann Quigley

“I’ve been in racing 45 years now and I’ve been involved in many different aspects,” said White, who is also married to popular racing writer Tracy Gantz, whose stories appear in BloodHorse Magazine and The California Thoroughbred, which is published by the CTBA. “I started out in 1974 as a chart-caller and columnist with Daily Racing Form at Northwest tracks and I got promoted in 1981 to the position of reporter-columnist here at Santa Anita and all the other Southern California tracks.

“The racing during that period of time was incredible, as were the jockeys and trainers that I dealt with on a daily basis. In 1986, they assigned me to be the DRF chart-caller and I worked on this circuit in that positon until 1993.”

In addition to his print career at Daily Racing Form and as a free-lancer for several industry publications, White has also toiled as a racing steward in various locales–Yakima Meadows (1979), Les Bois Park in Boise, ID (1990s) and has been a licensed CHRB steward since 2010. His most recent CHRB assignment put him in the stewards’ stand at this year’s Los Alamitos Summer Thoroughbred Meet in July.

Following the 1993 Del Mar meeting, White hired on with the newly created HRTV, working as an on-air racing personality for some 20 years until taking his current position as Santa Anita’s Morning Line Maker.

With a soft spoken, low key demeanor that belies an intense passion for racing, White’s historical perspective and broad-based knowledge are legendary in racing circles.  Following is a question and answer session with White, who will also be making the official morning line for this year’s two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Nov. 1 & 2.

     Q                Who’s your all-time favorite horse?

     A                No question, it’s (Washington-bred) Turbulator.  He didn’t race as a 2-year-old because he became so ill that he very nearly died. He didn’t race as a 3-year-old because he severely injured a knee on a farm. His breeder, owner and trainer, Tom Crawford, then tried to trade the horse for two cows. But due to the injured knee, the swap didn’t take place. Turbulator finally did make it to the races as a 4-year-old in 1969.  He lost his first three starts, but then won seven straight in just nine weeks from six furlongs to two miles at Playfair. In 1970, Turbulator broke three track records, one of those also being a world record. In another of his 1970 victories, he carried 134 pounds. A huge fan favorite, there were Turbulator T-shirts, coffee mugs, campaign buttons and refrigerator magnets, all items I possess to this day, along with two of the shoes he wore when he broke the world record for 6 ½ furlongs.

     Q                Favorite all-time jockey?

     A                Laffit Pincay, Jr., although Bill Shoemaker, Gary Stevens, Eddie Delahoussaye and Joe Baze, Russell’s father, certainly all rank right up there. I’ve said many times that if I ever needed a horse to win a race or I would die, I would pick Laffit to ride the horse. On the last day I was ever at Longacres, in a prime example of Laffit’s sheer strength on horseback, he won the 1986 Longacres Mile by a neck on Skywalker.  I flew back to LA on the plane with Skywalker and his trainer, Michael Whittingham.  Skywalker would go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic later that year with Pincay aboard.

     Q                Favorite all-time trainer?

     A                It’s a dead heat between Charlie Whittingham and Laz Barrera. I was very lucky to get to know them both quite well. They were incredible horsemen and wonderful people. I miss them a lot.

     Q                Favorite all-time race?

     A                It’s another dead heat, this time Secretariat’s spectacular 31-length Belmont Stakes victory to sweep the Triple Crown in 1973 and Zenyatta’s sensational win in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, which I saw in person…As I stood in the mass of humanity during Zenyatta’s furious late charge to become the first female Thoroughbred to ever win the Classic, I was so overcome with emotion that I had tears in my eyes.

     Q                You’ve had so many great moments in racing, I know Justify’s Kentucky Derby win last year ranks way up there?

     A                As we all know, Justify didn’t make it to the races until Feb. 18 here at Santa Anita. I managed to get a one hundred dollar future book wager on him at 100 to one to win the Kentucky Derby, so that was pretty incredible. But my biggest score was hitting a Pick Six at Santa Anita that paid $45,981.  It was on Dec. 28, 2003, and I did it on a $120 ticket.

     Q                If you retired tomorrow, what would you do for kicks?

     A                I honestly don’t know. My feeling is I will cross that bridge when I get to it.

Industry Profile: Bryan and Judy Wagner

This past weekend Bryan Wagner was inducted into the NTRA’s Horseplayers Hall of Fame, post mortem.  His wife and racing partner, Judy Wagner, a dear friend of mine, gave an emotional acceptance speech at the 20th annual dinner banquet for the NHC.  [This article originally in the Horse Player magazine, which is no longer in print.]

BRYAN AND JUDY WAGNER

2009 NHC TOUR CHAMP & 2000 NTRA HANDICAPPER OF THE YEAR

By Rich Nilsen

I sat down with Judy and Bryan Wagner for this Horse Player Magazine interview not long after their appearance in the 11th annual National Handicapping Championship (NHC). I met the charming and gregarious couple from New Orleans on the tournament trail several years ago and am blessed to have become friends with them during that time.

Their beloved Saints (which Bryan used to own a piece of) upset the Colts to win the Super Bowl and temporarily turn their world upside down – but in a good way. The Wagners still found time in their busy schedule to share their thoughts about the NHC, the challenge of finishing one-two in the NHC Tour last year, and handicapping in general.

 

HP: How did you each get started with handicapping and following our great sport of horse racing?

Bryan I started by going to the track as a teenager and immediately feel in love with the track and racing.

Judy – I met Bryan in late June, 1994.  He took me to the track with him the next month.  After my second visit to the track with him, he handed me a Racing Form and said I want a partner not a companion.  He said you can learn this since you are a person that likes stats.  I took the racing program the first couple of times and saw who the leading trainers and jockeys were and looked for runners that they rode or trained.

 

Bryan and Judy Wagner at 2018 Eclipse Awards, Gulfstream Park, FL 1.25.2018 copyright AGOS

HP: Winning the NHC Tour was quite an accomplishment, but finishing one-two was pretty amazing. When did you decide to go after the grand prize of the tour?

Bryan – I became very involved with Congressman Joseph Cao, our first Vietnamese Congressman, in 2008.  He will run for re-election in 2010.  Since 2009 was an off year, I felt if either one of us could get some early Tour points this was the year to give it a shot.  With the TwinSpires.com Leaderboard, other online contests, our local contests and the other contests we like to travel to, I would have the time for probably approximately 15 contests.  After Judy was in first place in early May, we really started giving this more serious thought.   I then won a contest in June and that pretty much sealed the deal to give it a big effort.

Judy – I was very fortunate to win the first online NHC Qualify tournament of the year in April.  A couple of weeks later I received points in the free NHC Tour contest on Kentucky Oaks/Derby weekend.  Since there were not that many contests in the early part of the year, the total points I received in these two events put me in first place.

As with all of us we like seeing our name at the top of a leader board.  Although I had said in the past, once I qualified I would not go for the Tour top prize, when the rules changed where the top five finishers get the auto qualification to NHC the following year, this made me revisit my quest.  Prior to the auto qualify the following year, I felt I did not have the time to play enough tournaments and the chances were so slim with the odds against me, I really did not consider going for first.  With the top five getting the pass for 2011 coupled with the start I had, I decided to continue to play, especially in online tournaments.

I was very fortunate to pick up more points in July online.  By this point with both of us having won tournaments and having other points, we were in the top 15 and the Tour grabbed us.  The year for me did not start with the goal of chasing the Tour but it grabbed me about July – really tight.  It was never a situation that one of us was trying to beat the other.  We were and always have been each other’s biggest cheerleaders.  We were working hard at that point to try to get one of us to the top and hopefully the other in the top five.

 

HP: I think you both knew it would be a major challenge to finish in the top five on the Tour. Just how difficult was it?

Bryan – It was extremely difficult and we did not know until the last tournament of December that we both made it.

Judy – In September I moved into fourth or fifth place and Bryan was in top 10.  He had a good finish at Fairplex, moved into the top five, and knocked me down a few spots.  Within two weeks I had two good point finishes at Fairplex and moved into first.  Shortly there after, someone else moved into first.  The scores were so tight it was obvious the 2009 Tour was going to be tight to the end as the scores were so close and numerous players were within striking distance.

After Bryan had a first place finish, and I had a second in the TwinSpires.com Leaderboard that ended in November, Bryan was back in first and I was in the top five again.  We really felt we had to be aggressive at this point to try to get the results we wanted.   We made plans to play in two tournaments in December we had never participated in – Keeneland and Turfway.  We both did not do well.

We faced a very difficult decision about going to Surfside, leaving family on Christmas night.  Steve Hartshorn was breathing down Bryan’s neck as he had won the NHC Qualify online in the middle of December.  California is his home turf and he is such a strong handicapper, that we felt we had to go to fight for both of us to try to stay in the top five. I was barely hanging on to 5th position.  The racing Gods smiled on us and our family forgave us for leaving children and grandchildren at 8 pm Christmas night. Bryan finished second at Surfside sealing his first place position.  I was lucky and finished third.  This gave me the points to move from 5th into a tie with Steve for second.  We were fortunate as there were several very good handicappers that could have won or moved up.  We just hung on for our handicapping lives.  Yes, I would say it was difficult, but the pressure was worse.

 

HP: Let’s talk handicapping. You each have different approaches to handicapping. Can you go into detail how you dissect a race.

Bryan – Since I do not have to play every race, I will look at a race for about five minutes for an angle- lone speed, lone deep closer, hidden jockey change, and “better-than-it-looks” races.  I will also search for one of only a few horses that can go a particularly long distance.  If race is a mandatory race, I just handicap race and look for best value and how the price of the horse affects my standings in the contest.

Judy – First thing I look for is to see if a runner has been the distance and condition.  If not, I look at pedigree for distance and surface. My favorite races are those that are first time starters and first time on turf.  I also look at trouble first trips.  I feel young runners can change very quickly with even one start.  Some are quick studies with one time in paddock and starting gate.

Also trainer/jockey stats for conditions are very important.  Some trainers are anxious to get horses to the starting gate and their stats show that runners may not be ready.  Others will not send a runner to a race until they are sure they can handle race.  These stats are very important in my analysis of race.  Also for distance races, especially long races of 1 1/8 miles or more, I really look at experience and pedigree for runners.  My favorite races to handicap are those with first turf starts and first time starters.  I especially like to follow young sires.  The lower profile sires with high percentage success is an angle I search for.  Also, the trainer stats for this type runner is very important.  Although some of the top trainers do not push their first time runners and I shy away from their runners.  I really like to find an “under-the-radar” trainer that has a very high percentage for this race condition.

A great example was Saturday, day two, of the NHC. In Gulfstream Park race 3, the #6 horse had a trainer with over 40% success with first turfers.  The runner won at over 80-1.  This was a very much under-the-radar trainer.

 

HP: What tools do you rely on in your handicapping?

Bryan – This depends on how many tracks are in a contest.  If only one or two tracks are involved, I use DRF or BRIS Ultimate PPs, as well as the Sire Stats book for first time on a new surface.  I will use HTR for workouts and quick stat summaries.  In contests with several tracks, I also use Thorograph Sheets for a more comprehensive view of race.  This also allows for a quick look at many aspects of race in a shorter period of time.  Frankly, I am dissatisfied with my ability to consistently get the results I need and I am going to dedicate this year in deciding on a lone handicapping methodology.

Judy – I start my handicapping with the Brisnet Insider Picks and Power Plays.  I use this as my racing program. I feel naked if I go to the track without my Insider Picks & Power Plays report. On it, I note runners, trainers or jockeys that have outstanding stats.  It gives me the red flags that tell me whether or not to pay attention to a particular runner.

From this I go to HTR and review their stats and especially workout ratings for first time starters and first turfers.  I also keep notes during the year on young sires and what their runners have done.  The past workouts have really played an important part in my handicapping.  I watch for layoffs and how a trainer brings runners back after layoffs.  I immediately note jockey changes in the materials I use.  I still have a racing form to refer to as this was my initial tool when I started my handicapping journey.  I really like to compare the various information that is available.  This is especially important for new sires. I never handicap without my Sire Stats book from BRIS that has several years of notes that are transferred every year.

 

HP: Do you feel there are some handicapping factors that are over-weighted, as well as factors that not emphasized enough by the wagering public?

Bryan: I think that workouts are often overlooked by the public. However, at major tracks the workouts can be overbet due to the presence of more clockers and dissemination of information.

In some states, the state-bred runners are equivalent to anywhere in the country; whereas in other states, they can be vastly inferior.

Judy: I think for the average player that does not really dissect the race, certain trainers and jockeys are overbet. Certainly there are excellent well known trainers and jockeys with good percentages, but I love to see these types “bet down” when I have a longer priced runner that I really like. Oftentimes, these are horses with lesser known connections.

I think that the general wagering public does not get into pedigree handicapping, nor do they spend the time necessary to figure out a trainer’s strengths or weaknesses.

As I like to bet first time starters, there are several well known, very successful trainers that do not push their horse first time out, and I think this is something that is overlooked numerous times by the public.

Sometimes, articles and information often put out by women are not given the same type of respect as information put out by men. For example, I love the work that Lauren Stich has done in regards to pedigree information.

 

HP: What are your favorite wagers to make?

Bryan: I like to make exacta wagers, as well as the Pick-4. My favorite wager of all is when there is a carryover pool on the last day of a meet where there is a mandatory payout.

 

Judy: As far as contests go, I like win and place wagers. In terms of betting, I prefer the dime superfecta wager, especially in a full field of maidens or two year olds.

I love keying a horse that I like at 5-1 or higher in multiple trifecta partwheel tickets.

 

HP: Bryan, you were the lone player eligible for an incredible $2 million bonus if you captured the NHC in January. How much added pressure did that put on you, and is there anything you feel that you would have done differently?

Bryan: First of all, I have been to the NHC enough to realize how incredibly tough it is to win it. I would say that the favorite in a tournament like that should probably between 80 and 100-1. Secondly, I don’t get along with Vegas and the higher altitudes, so that makes it tougher on me. Thirdly, I prefer tournaments that only have a few tracks versus a lot of tracks like the NHC. With those factors in mind, I did not feel a lot of pressure. But I sure did enjoy the experience and being the Tour Champ. People were very gracious.

As far as doing anything differently, I should have played some higher priced horses at the NHC.

 

HP: Judy, I believe, this was the third time you have cashed in the National Handicapping Championship [and fourth time finishing in the top 30]. Do you approach that tournament any differently than a contest during the year, and what do you feel has been the secret of your success at the NHC?

Judy: Just the common sense things. I try to go out a couple days early and be well rested. I spend a lot more time dissecting the types of races I like there, than I do at other contests during the year.

I download the reports from Brisnet early in the week, and then later in the week, use some of my other tools. I keep all my notes on my form at the NHC.

 

HP: What preparation do you typically do leading up to the NHC each year?

Bryan: First of all, tracks that are running 30 to 35 days prior to the tournament – I like to look at those races so that I can judge for myself where the really tough fields are, how the track plays, and hopefully some of the “better than looks” horses will show up in the tournament. I will put them in my stable email.

Secondly, BRIS reports come out with some of the information earlier than other sources. I try to get a jump on the races that way.

Judy: The tracks that you assume will be used in the tournament are the ones I will watch. For the tracks I normally don’t follow, I will go through the result charts for the past several weeks to try to uncover any types of patterns, hot trainers and jockeys, etc.

I am not very good with pace handicapping, but the BRIS Ultimate Past Performances will give me details on the track biases that I can note, as well as the pace ratings for each runner.

 

HP: Since you are already qualified for the 2012 NHC thanks to your top five finishes, to what extent will you go after the tour this year? What advice would give to players participating in the tour?

Bryan: I definitely plan on participating in a few tournaments this year, just because they are fun to play in. It will be great to play in a contest where there is very little pressure. If one of us happens to win a couple of tournaments in a row, then obviously it would change our plans concerning the Tour.

I would love to expand on that second question in a future issue of The Horse Player magazine!

Judy: I have not made a firm decision on the Tour this year. There was a lot of stress going after the Tour last year! I still have my household responsibilities, so going after the Tour the same way is a tough decision. Now, if early in the year, I win a tournament again and find myself on top of the Leaderboard, it is possible I will chase the Tour the same way. Regardless, I will certainly participate in the Tour to some extent. We are entered for the $500 level.

My only advice would be that if enjoy tournament play or just handicapping in general, then you should definitely give the Tour a try. You do need to have a real competitive spirit if you are serious about doing well on the Tour.

 

HP: Having owned horses myself for 10 years, I feel that has given me insight into the game that most handicappers don’t have. You have owned a stable for many years and have a piece of Kelly Leak, who defeated Mine That Bird in the 2009 Sunland Derby. How has owning racehorses influenced your handicapping?

Bryan: This gives me great insight into why a horse might be placed in a race. In some cases they may not have been able to find a proper race so they are giving the horse a start. Sometimes you will see a horse, particularly a filly or mare, run in a stakes race in a short field just to get black type (a top three finish for their pedigree page) which enhances the breeding value.

For the modest cost of getting into a partnership, I recommend every horseplayer, who can, to become an owner at least one time.

Judy: Right now I don’t personally have any horse ownership. When owning horses, however, you know the importance of proper training. You tend to investigate trainers to know more about their ethics, their philosophy, etc. You tend to understand trainer patterns, such as why they may have a certain jockey on a horse. You understand more why a trainer may place a horse in a certain spot.

Almost by osmosis, when working with your trainer, you pick up details on other trainers and how they handle their stock.

 

HP: Judy, you are without a doubt one of the most accomplished female handicappers in the game. How do you feel the sport can market to women better and bring more Judy Wagners into racing?

Judy: I have gotten to know a fellow female handicapper from Arkansas. I got to sit with her at Louisiana Downs. By conversing with her, she reminded me that females are less intimidated to ask other females about how they got into a certain field, hobby, whatever.

I wish I had the magic answer for this, but I really don’t.  I have done some seminars entitled “woman in handicapping.” One of the first things I tell woman in those seminars is to get to know the leading trainers and jockeys.  Also, you can’t learn everything in a day, a week, or even a year. Choose one segment of the game and begin by learning about that.

I would love to get to know more women who are committed to handicapping and learning.

Industry Profile: A sibling rivalry. How Ortiz brothers took horse racing by storm

Angel Cordero Jr. was playing dominoes inside the jockey’s room at Gulfstream Park one afternoon recently, killing time during the races, when he was asked for his opinion on racing’s two new riding hotshots, brothers Irad Ortiz Jr. and Jose Ortiz. Cordero once ruled the sport, a fierce rider …

And it’s why Cordero is often asked to compare the two.

“People always ask me the same question: Who is better?” Cordero said, turning a domino over and over in his fingers. “The only answer I can give is this: Flip a coin. I can’t separate them.”

Cordero isn’t alone.

While neither Ortiz has yet to win a Kentucky Derby, most figure it’s only a matter of time. They’ve won just about everything else at an age when most riders haven’t yet reached they prime.

Breeders’ Cup victories? Check and check for Irad and Jose.

The Belmont Stakes, final leg of the Triple Crown? Check and check again.