Corey Nakatani leaves for Kentucky Wednesday to ride full time, starting at Keeneland when that track opens on Friday. Kent Desormeaux heads to Japan on April 24 to ride for three months. That will leave more than 460 mounts open at the Hollywood Park meet, and about 80 wins, based on the two jockeys projected statistics for the 83-day Santa Anita session, which ends April 16.
Nakatani had 31 wins from 210 mounts and Desormeaux 43 from 231 with 12 days left in the Santa Anita meet.
Some jockey will benefit from the departure of two of the leading riders from the Southern California circuit. In theory, a talented apprentice rider with no previous indiscretions would fill the void ideally, in the opinion of veteran agent Richie Silverstein, who books mounts for Martin Pedroza and Luis Jauregui.
If a live bug rider came in right now, someone like that and Tyler Baze will benefit most, Silverstein said. Theres only so many winners at each meet, but this should really open things up for Tyler Baze and it will really open it up for whoever brings in the next live bug rider. Thats what it will take to fill the gaps.
The money riders wont have to worry where their next mount is coming from.
The top riders are the top riders, Silverstein says. Theyre going to get their wins. What will make an impact is a young, strong hustling rider, a fresh face. Sure, Nakatani and Desormeaux leaving will create (more) opportunities for Martin. He usually has his best meet at Hollywood every year anyway. Of the young apprentices already here, Id say Macario Rodriguez and Juan Leyva have the best chances of benefiting (Rodriguez suffered a broken wrist, broken ribs and a broken jaw in a spill at Santa Anita in January. His agent, Jim Pegram, says the rider, who won 50 races in the Bay Area before coming to Southern California, will resume riding the last week of the Santa Anita meet).
But ideally, an apprentice rider who has already won about 40 races would fit the bill. Either that, or a good, light rider, who could ride at 108 pounds. Three year olds get a huge weight allowance when they race against older horses right now. They get in with 108 pounds and the older horses get 120. Its very lopsided, so if you could find a journeyman jock who is light, say a Sandy Hawley type, a Julio Garcia type, someone who could tack 108 easily, a guy like that with a live agent could win a ton of races.
In addition to extended absences by Nakatani and Desormeaux, other marquee riders will leave Hollywood periodically in pursuit of Kentucky Derby mounts.
When those riders are gone, the riders who are usually seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th who havent burned too many bridges can go straight to the top, Silverstein said. Just like Rafael Meza did some years back. Tyler is doing that right now. He fits that mold exactly. He still rides for everybody (even after losing his apprentice allowance). He hasnt burned any bridges. He rides good, he rides hard, he works every day. He has the whole racetrack open to him, and someone like that could do very well for a short time.
Outside of the top nine or 10 journeymen riders, the others only ride for certain trainers now, because through the years, theyve had no luck for a lot of trainers and those guys wont ride them anymore. Theyve had a falling out, or whatever. As we say in the business, That ship sailed. Youll hear trainers say, Oh, I dont ride this guy. I dont ride that guy. A jockey with those limitations can go only so far, maybe rise to fifth or sixth in the standings. But a fresh face literally has every avenue open to him. If a guy like that gets hot right away, like Victor Espinoza did, he goes straight to the top.
Espinoza was the last guy to do that. He came in with no enemies whatsoever; he had been seventh-leading rider in Northern California and had all of Southern California open to him. Suddenly, he became a leading rider. After that it was Tyler Baze. He had every avenue open. If someone fresh were to come in, with Desormeaux and Nakatani gone, and with guys like Solis and McCarron traveling in search of a Derby horse, it presents a great chance for the right rider.
But the guys who have been riding in Southern California for a long time are molded and can only go so far. There are too many trainers who wont ride them. But if a new guy comes in, who knows? Joe Bravo came here last year, rode at 108 pounds and was successful. A rider like that would have openings. But the void is not going to be filled by Martin Pedroza, Joey Steiner or Paul Atkinson. It will take a new face.
THE HOMESTRETCH: Chris McCarron is looking for a Kentucky Derby mount. The Hall of Fame jockey, who will be 46 on March 27, opted to ride Bienamado in the $400,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita on April 14, the same day Derby hopeful Millennium Wind runs in the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. We had to make a choice, said McCarrons long-time agent, Scott McClellan. It was tough, but right now, we have no Derby horse. Not to worry. McClellan was in a similar position in 1994 before he gained an 11th-hour Derby ride for McCarron on Go For Gin, who won the Run for the Roses by two lengths at 9-1. McClellan is a major reason McCarron is the worlds all-time money-winning rider, with earnings of more than $250 million. McCarron has ridden in 17 Derbies, winning two. The beneficiary of McCarrons decision is 54-year-old Laffit Pincay Jr., who has been given the Blue Grass mount on Millennium Wind by trainer David Hofmans Hollywood Park, responding to Californias energy crisis, will shift to twilight racing on Fridays following its traditional 7:15 p.m. opening-night post time on Friday, April 20. Post time on all other Fridays during the 66-day meet will be 3:30 p.m We dont think it is fiscally or civically responsible to race on Friday nights, said track president Rick Baedeker. But in the course of considering alternatives, we think a twilight post might turn out to be a positive solution in many ways. In addition to solving the energy crunch, we think it might prove convenient for fans to arrive before rush hour and leave after traffic.