It is not rare to see riders jockeying for the best possible Kentucky Derby mount this time of year. It happens frequently. Generally speaking, loyalty, a powerful barn, and the premise of more good mounts plays a big part in many jockey and agent decisions. That is not as true in the Kentucky Derby, even when it looks like it may be on the surface.
The Derby is the race coveted by all riders, and taking off a horse for one you may feel has a better chance is usually a forgivable offense. I remember Frank Brothers telling Shane Sellers to leave their friendship outside the door when the time came for him to commit to Pulpit who was looking to break the Apollo curse himself. Most trainers and owners understand the Derby and what it means, and won’t hold taking what they feel is their best shot against a rider.
Jockeys don’t always make the right call. After all Bill Shoemaker chose to ride favored Hill Rise over Northern Dancer when given the choice. The Dancer beat Hill Rise a neck under the great Bill Hartack.
This year has a fair share of musical jockeys. Cory Nakatani was replaced on Bolt d’ Oro by trainer Mick Ruis following a post workout disagreement. Javier Castellano who still searches for that first elusive Kentucky Derby win replaced Cory and rode the colt in two second place finishes. The first was made a win by disqualification of McKinzie in a controversial decision.
The second was to Justify one of the most hyped horses in memory to run for the roses. If it was hype, or his own observation that prompted Castellano to say he was chasing the best horse in the country when he chased Justify with Bolt d’ Oro I don’t know. I do know I was not surprised when Javier jumped ship to Audible for Todd Pletcher. I don’t think loyalty or his relationship with the barn had a whole lot to do with that decision. I think he wants that first Derby and feels that is his best shot.
Audible became open when John Velazquez chose Vino Rossi for the Kentucky Derby. I could see that coming as well. Vino Rossi looks to be more of a mile and a quarter, and perhaps even longer type that Audible does. I’m sure that factored into his call.
Victor Espinoza was the benefactor of Javier’s defection. He picked up the call on Bolt d’ Oro whereas he may have been on the sidelines otherwise.
While riders look pretty much set at this point, it is horse racing and you never know. Stay tuned.