Catching My Eye: Hot Keeneland jockeys

November 2nd, 2022

Wondering which jockeys were hot at the Keeneland fall meet? You should be. The turf and dirt courses were idiosyncratic, and the riders who figured it out in October will have an advantage this weekend in the Breeders’ Cup

The Keeneland jockey title went to Luis Saez with 21 wins. Tyler Gaffalione was close behind with 20. They both won with 18% of their mounts. Joel Rosario finished in third with 13, but at a clip of 23%.

These three riders have 10 or more Breeders’ Cup mounts each.

JOHNSON: Exploring jockey stats and win percentages

But here is a separating stat: Saez won only one stakes out of 19 tries (5%). Rosario won four out of 16 (25%). Gaffalione shone brightest when the competition was stiffest, winning six stakes out of 20 tries. That’s 30%.

On to the horses.

Friday, Oct. 28

The last race on Friday was a puzzle. A $140,000 conditional allowance turf sprint filled with many early speedsters, a few with huge late kicks, and a handful who had tough trips previously and could be sitting on a big effort. Oh, and five of the 12 were exiting stakes.

Outadore was not, but he ran like a graded stakes turf sprinter in a barn with more graded stakes turf sprinters than spots to race them. Of course, the Wesley Ward trainee has won three stakes in the past and ran third in the 2020 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), so Outadore boasts the credentials of a stakes star. And he was bet down to 5-2 favoritism accordingly. They always know.

Rosario on the lead is lethal, and he took advantage of the sharp break to take control early. Outadore was pressured throughout but that didn't phase him at all, and he was able to extend his lead and win under wraps, earning a career-best 93 Brisnet Speed rating.

Saturday, Oct. 29

Le Da Vida has had two tough trips in North American, but still she's found ways to win. On Saturday she got banged from both sides out of the gate, fell back to last, and went wide throughout, but she was able to demoralize two fillies who brought their A-game in Mariah’s Princess and Will’s Secret.

The Ignacio Correas-trained mare earned a nice 94 Brisnet Speed rating, a touch higher than her previous 93, but both these runs were compromised and she should be projected forward as such.

Back to dirt and back to form for My Kentucky Girl. Trainer Jonathan Wong had her running on turf the last two, but the results were abysmal.

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After blowing the break on Saturday, My Kentucky Girl was in last and had to close into a track profile that hasn’t benefited late runners. She also lost ground running three-wide until skimming the rail in a beautiful move by jockey Chris Landeros to keep her in full run. My Kentucky Girl passed odds-on favorite Olga Isabel on the inside and earned a 96 Brisnet Speed rating, her new top number.

In the same race, Mercy Warren impressed me even though she finished fifth. Cherie DeVaux’s three-year-old pressured the odds-on favorite the entire way and was herded out in the turn. Mercy Warren ran greenly in the stretch, but maybe she just needed one to get her head back in the game.

How about the turn of foot from Balnikhov in the Bryan Station (G3) over the turf course? Stuck on the rail with seemingly no way out coming for home, Balnikhov angled out under Gaffalione, and the three-year-old kept in stride all the way out to the four-path. Then Balnikhov revved up into another gear to surge past the 2-1 favorite Wit who seemed to have the race won. 

Just the first graded stakes win for this five-time winner trained by Phil D’Amato, but with a clean trip, Balnikhov is dangerous and should be taken seriously against classier company. 

West Will Power had it easy out front with no pressure winning the Fayette (G2), but a speed figure is a speed figure and this Bernardini horse earned a big one with a 104 Brisnet Speed rating. One of two from the Brad Cox barn, it was the Gary and Mary West homebred versus the Juddmonte homebred runner-up, Fulsome. 

This win is just West Will Power’s first graded stakes, but he has the gate speed and stamina to add to that tally. Ridden by Rosario, the Fayette winner has won two in a row and has hit the exacta in 10 out of 12 races.