Top Jockeys and Long Shots
Why do top jockeys sometimes ride long shots?*
The primary reason top jockeys ride long shots is because they are most likely riding the horse for one of their good, steady clients, and they will most assuredly be riding that trainer’s live horses very soon. It is like having to take the bad with the good. Some top jockeys refuse to ride any long shots at all, because they feel riding horses that finish up the track (get beaten multiple lengths) makes them look bad. This is an acceptable tactic if the trainer in question does not have any good horses in the barn. But if he/she does, it would behoove that jockey to ride the long shot.
Many top jockeys will not give a long shot a decent ride or try very hard, because they figure the horse has no chance in the race anyway, and they have other, more important, races to ride later in the day, thereby saving their energy for their better horses. Many smaller trainers get excited when they finally contract a top jockey to ride their horse. This is false hope, because the top jockey may not give their horse an energetic, honest ride. This is called a “test ride” in the business.
Furthermore, when an unknown trainer ships a horse in to run in that day’s races and reaches in to hire the top jockey, it is even less likely that this horse will receive a fair ride. The jockey may have never heard of this trainer before, even if he/she is a top trainer at their home track. The jockey also has no idea what the trainer’s methods are or even if the horse is in good condition. Top jockeys rely on their agents to take care of the business of acquiring mounts (rides) for them; however, sometimes a jockey finds him/herself on an unknown horse for a trainer he/she also does not know. Not a good scenario for getting an aggressive, honest ride. On top of that, sometimes the local jockeys will not give an out-of-town horse a good ride so as to protect the interests of the home team horses running in that same race. Nobody wants to see the out-of-town horse ship in and take all the money home to a different track.
This is why many, if not most, trainers bring with them a jockey with whom they are familiar to ride their horses out-of-town. This takes the jockey variable out of the equation.
As an aside, everyone wants to have the top jockey on their horse. Just as every director envisions the top actor for their movie. Besides assuring success, the trainer’s wives/husbands get to stand around cocktail parties comparing their jockeys to everyone else’s. Whoever’s got the leading jockey wins the evening, gets top jockey bragging rights, and their ego inflated, at least until the race is run.
To continue, after a “test ride,” the top jockey may return to the paddock and say something like, “This horse didn’t want to run today,” or “He didn’t like the track surface,” or “She doesn’t like being on the inside.” Meanwhile, the jockey never really asked the horse to give its all, and merely rode around the track staying out of everyone’s way, conserving his/her energy for his/her better horses later in the day.
The hapless trainer then goes back to the barn, scratching his/her head and wondering what went wrong that the horse didn’t want to run today, figuring the horse had the best jockey so it must’ve gotten the best possible ride .
Sometimes, it is better to contract a rider further down the standings who will try his/her best to give the horse an honest ride, no matter what the odds, and leave the star jockeys to riding the Kentucky Derby.
*This article does not refer to all top jockeys all of the time.