Horse racing is a four part collaboration. Obviously, you have to have the horse...but the owner, trainer and jockey of the horse are as equally important. Breeders Cup brings in to Churchill the best of all four in the world for the two day event.
Who are some of the owners, trainers and jockeys to keep an eye on? Let's take a look:
In Friday's card alone, look at this list of well-noted and successful owners. John C.Oxley, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Winstar Farm and China Hourse Club LLC, Phoenix Thoroughbreds, Qatar Racing Limited, Ashbrook Farms and BBN Racing, Michael Tabor, Godolphin, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Kaleem Shah, Three Chimneys Farm, Team Valor and Gary Barber, Michael Stidham, Winchell Thoroughbreds, Gary and Mary West, W.S. Farish, West Point Thoroughbreds, The Churchill Downs Racing Club, Michael Dubb... And that just scratches the surface.
Godolphin and Team Valor/Gary Barber look to have several very good runners going on Friday. The owner game is complex and multi-layered. Picking a good sire and dam. Knowing where to invest, where to run and under what conditions. Making sure that the horses you own are in great surrounding during their formative years and selecting the right trainer. The owners are the ones who get the ball rolling, of course, since they produce the two-year old that needs to be trained and eventually ridden. An investment of money, time and strategy. All in the hopes of having a successful horse that produces a nice return on investment. That can eventually go to the breeding shed and command top dollar for services.
Being an owner of anything is difficult, filled with responsibility, but...hopefully profitable and rewarding. What established names will hit the winner's circle with their horses? How many "new kids on the block" will be there as well?
A very important role and process in horse racing involves the trainer. You know these names: Bob Baffert, Mark Casse, Norm Casse, Tom Amoss, Dale Romans, Bill Mott, Brad Cox, Wesley Ward, Todd Pletcher, Aidan O'Brien, Graham Motion, Roger Attifield, Tom Proctor, Ken McPeek, Keith Desormeaux, Doug O'Neil, Gary Contessa, John Servis, Jason Servis, Simon Callaghan, Mike Maker, Steve Asmussen, D. Wayne Lukas, Chad Brown, Ben Colebrook and Shug McGaughey. A few of the many who have descended upon Churchill.
I look for Baffert, Maker, O'Brien, Amoss, Brown and Ward to have big Fridays.
A trainer is the middleman between owner and jockey/horse...plus so much more. He's the spokesman, the hero or goat. He takes this trust the owner has in him, takes the horses and does his best to get the horse ready to compete successfully. He finds that "right guy" to ride and he puts in long hours every day ensuring his "barn" of runners are healthy, fed, rested and maintained.
How many of the "known and established" will be standing there with their horse in the winners circle. How many "who is that guy?" counterparts will be doing the same.
It is not an easy job by far. But, it is a task of love and devotion to the racing game. As a trainer told me recently..."I wake in the morning and I see the moon on my drive in to the track, while most of you are sleeping. That moon greets me on the way home, also...after most of you have gone to bed."
A good jockey can be the difference between first or second. And Churchill has the best of the best in town to try and get to that winners' circle. The Ortiz brothers Jose and Irad, Mike Smith, Corey Lanerie, Brian Hernandez, Jr, John Velasquez, Julian Leparoux, Javier Castellano, Tyler Gaffalione, Joel Rosario, Flavien Prat, Manny Franco, Florent Geroux and a wide range of English and European jockeys that we're not quite as familiar with.
I think Rosario, the Ortiz brothers, Velasquez, and Leparoux are set up for potential "Good Fridays"
but don't count out the jocks coming in from across the ocean,
Jockeys receive instructions based on how a horse likes to run but sometimes those instructions get altered or changed on the track during the race because of conditions and happenings. Speed horses don't always get to the lead. Closers can run into traffic problems. Many other factors that can present themselves in that minute to two minutes of actual running and very little or no time to dally or hesitate on making the decision. .
A semi-famous jockey told me years ago: " I get the trainer's orders, I break from the gate and try to fulfill them. It's a partnership between me and the horse. I've never personally physically carried one across the wire, but I've sure driven and encouraged quite a few to try and get there first. "
We'll be back tomorrow morning with our five-race Friday picks.