Archive for November 2013

Paco Lopez Continues to Stay Under the Radar

At most racetracks, the jockey colony will form into a hierarchy. In some places, a few different riders will vie for the top of the pecking order.

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Generally, the top-class jockeys have earned the trust of the trainers with the best racing stables and are cemented as the go-to rider for many top barns.

Inevitably, as the wins start piling up, even the most casual of bettors will start taking notice. Few handicapping factors are more overrated than the jockey factor. In reality, there is very little difference in ability from the best jockey in the country down to the 50th best.

Tune Me In wins the Oceanport Stakes

Putting a top class jockey on an overmatched horse is like putting skin moisturizer on a snake, lipstick on a pig, or a diploma into the hands of an ignoramus. It just won’t make much of a difference.

Some firmly established top-class riders are grossly overbet at tracks big and small. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez has ridden 1,908 races since 2012, and those mounts have yielded a 30% loss on the betting dollar. Mountaineer Park kingpin Deshawn Parker is one of just three jockeys in North America to have ridden 500 or more winners since 2012, and his mounts have yielded a 32% loss on the betting dollar over that span.

From a handicapping standpoint, the most valuable jockeys are the ones who have riding skills that far exceed their reputation. Not only is 28-year-old jockey Paco Lopez the most underrated rider in the country, but I believe he’s destined to become a superstar.

So far this year, Lopez has won 201 races, and his mounts have yielded an unbelievable 11.6% profit on every dollar bet. How rare is it for a North American jockey to win 200-plus races and produce a profitable betting ROI in a calendar year? It hasn’t been done by anyone since 2010. Who did it then? Paco Lopez. The last time a jockey not named Paco Lopez pulled off this feat? Kent Desormeaux in 2007.

Stats involving betting return on investment (ROI) are available only back to the year 1993. Since that time, there have been only two instances where a jockey has won 300-plus races in a year and produced a profitable ROI. They are Garrett Gomez’s 1997 season and Ramon Dominguez’s 2000 season.

Gomez won 307 races with a $2.11 ROI in 1997 while competing almost entirely in Illinois, at Sportsman’s Park, Arlington Park, and Hawthorne.

Dominguez won 360 races with a $2.06 ROI in 2000 while competing almost entirely at Mid-Atlantic tracks such as Delaware Park, Laurel, Pimlico, and Colonial Downs.

Not only were Garrett Gomez and Ramon Dominguez both able to make the transition into the riding colonies in California and New York, but between the two men, they own five of the last six Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Jockey. Gomez won Eclipses in 2007 and 2008. Dominguez won three straight from 2010 through last year.

The 2013 season by Paco Lopez has been statistically mind-boggling. In stakes races, he’s won with 23 of 95 mounts and produced a phenomenal $3.50 ROI. He dominated the standings at Monmouth Park and won 40% of his races at the Meadowlands. However, a jockey can’t truly break out until he wins a Grade 1 stakes race. Lopez had only four mounts in Grade 1 stakes races this year. His best finish came with Narvaez, who was 4th at 103/1 odds in the Florida Derby.

In plain English, Paco Lopez hasn’t been given a fair chance to prove himself at the highest level. Looking through his past, one sees evidence to help us understand why.

Lopez grew up in Veracruz, Mexico, in a home without electricity or running water . He started working with horses at age 12, and by the time he was a teenager, he was riding at bush tracks in Mexico that had no steward supervision or regulations. His agent claims that Paco won about 5,000 races at the bush level in Mexico and that he once swept all 13 races at a single weekend meet.

Lopez finally arrived in the US in 2007, and he eventually won the Eclipse Award as North America’s Outstanding Apprentice Jockey even though he had accumulated more than 60 days of riding suspensions and had been barred from Calder and all other Churchill Downs Incorporated racetracks right before the period in which the voting started.

The perception that he is an aggressive and possibly reckless jockey has been around since his emergence at Calder in 2008, but I just haven’t seen anything at all reckless from him over the last few years.

Paco Lopez has simply been the most consistent and outstanding jockey that I’ve seen ride this year in North America. However, he’s not going to get the recognition he deserves until he moves to New York or California and builds his business while shedding the absurd “reckless” label that still hangs over his head.

Jockey Paco Lopez wins 3 stakes @ Gulfstream Park on Florida Million Preview Day

Trainer Bill White went on a wild ride at Gulfstream Park Saturday and came away with an eventful victory in the $125,000 Juvenile Sprint, one of eight races for Florida-breds in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Preview.

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The White-trained Bolita Boyz finished second behind favored Wildcat Red in the 6 ½-length sprint for 2-year-olds, only to be declared the winner when the first-place finisher was disqualified for interference in the stretch run.

Yet, White’s day had become a little hectic even before Saturday’s third race when jockey Jeffrey Sanchez had become ill after riding Awesome Belle for a second-place finish in the $150,000 Distaff Preview.

“What a carousel ride that was. When they said, ‘Riders Up,’ that was the first time I knew I needed a rider. The field was already mounted. I had to unsaddle my horse and figure out who I wanted to ride my horse,” White said. “And then to win the race on a disqualification – I’ve won a lot of races, but I haven’t been on a roller coaster like this one.”

White named Paco Lopez to ride Bolita Boyz, the 6-1 fourth betting choice who closed from far back after encountering traffic on the turn, as well as having to alter course in mid-stretch when Wildcat Red drifted outside. Following an inquiry, the stewards determined that the actions of Wildcat Red were sufficient to require a disqualification of the 3-5 favorite, who had prevailed by 1 ¼ lengths.

“He was checked and steadied somewhere around the three-eighths pole – he gave up two, three lengths there – and still angled out of that to make a run,” White said. “I think with that and if he wasn’t bothered inside the eighth-pole, he would have won on his own.”

Wildcat Red was placed second ahead of third-place finisher Pachanga Party.

“He’s just green. When I hit him with my right hand, he went right. When I hit him with the left hand, he went left. He’ll learn from this,” said Edgard Zayas, who rode the previously undefeated Wildcat Red, who ran the 6 ½ furlongs in 1:17.92.
Lopez, who went on to ride three winners Saturday, was the fortunate recipient of a winning mount in the Juvenile Sprint.
“I feel sorry for Jeffrey Sanchez. I picked up the mount in the jock’s room,” Lopez said. “Mr. White told me there was a lot of speed in the race and to take him back and make one run. Down the stretch (Wildcat Red) went out and I tried to go inside.”

White took a lot of encouragement for the future from his colt’s performance.

“We don’t think he has been allowed yet to do what he wants to do. He’s bred to go longer. He has a turf pedigree on the bottom side,” White said. “So what makes us excited is that if he’s doing this well at these distances, there’s a chance at a greater distance – or possibly on turf – he may be even better than what you see so far.”

The victory was the third straight for Bolita Boyz, a son of Act of Duty owned by GZS Stables.

The Juvenile Sprint was one of four stakes on Saturday’s card for Florida-bred 2-year-olds.

In the $125,000 Juvenile Filly Sprint, Puddifoot surged in the stretch to draw away to victory by a commanding six lengths, giving Lopez his second win of the Sunshine Millions Preview program.

Trained by Eddie Plesa, the 3-2 favorite in a field of 14 2-year-old fillies had previously captured her debut by nearly five lengths at Monmouth Park on Sept. 28.

Owned by Trilogy Stable, EICO Stable and Laurie Plesa, the daughter of Red Giant ran 6 ½ furlongs in 1:17.45. Sunset Silhouette, a 54-1 long shot ridden by Manoel Cruz, finished second, 2 ½ lengths ahead of pacesetter Secret Kitten, the 8-5 second choice.

“The race shaped up the way I thought it would,” Plesa said. “If she comes out of the race OK, we’ll definitely continue with the series.”

In the $100,000 Juvenile Filly Turf, Courtesan rallied late under Joe Bravo to catch front-running Lemon Point in the shadow of the finish line to win by three-quarters of a length.

The Christophe Clement-trained filly, who broke her maiden at Saratoga and finished third in the Jessamine Stakes (G3) at Keeneland last time out, ran a mile on turf in 1:39.97.

“She’s a lovely filly. She ran very well today. After racing at Keeneland, we thought this would be a good spot for her, since she’s a Florida-bred,” said Clement’s assistant trainer Thomas Brandebourger, who stated that the daughter of Street Sense would remain in training in Florida at Payson Park.

Lemon Drop Kid, a maiden winner at Belmont Park in her turf debut, finished second under Jose Lezcano, 3 ¼ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Cambiata.

In the $100,000 Juvenile Turf, Notyouraveragejoe capped the $1 million program for Florida-breds with a 33-1 upset victory under Lopez.

The 2-year-old son of Discreet Cat made his turf debut a winning one, stalking pacesetter Gelfenstein into the stretch before edging away to victory by a half-length.

Notyouraveragejoe, who broke his maiden in his fourth career start in an off-the-turf race at Gulfstream on Sept. 15, ran a mile on turf in 1:39.66.

“We tried him a couple times going short on the dirt. He wanted to go long. The last time we tried him on the dirt he really dug in so we thought we’d try him on the turf,” trainer Steve DiMauro said. “The owner has a half-sister (Mysterious Jewel) who did really well on the turf.”

Here’s Johnny, the 4-5 favorite ridden by Kent Desormeaux, finished second, a head in front of Gelfenstein and jockey Edgard Zayas.

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