BY JIM WELLS
What has become increasingly more evident as the current racing meet progresses is that jockeys can’t throw their weight around this summer.
Not like they used to, anyway.
Not even talented, veteran riders can take anything for granted. An accomplished jock can’t lock up a barn, make it an exclusive source of mounts this summer, not for long anyway, not if he’s not riding in peak form or something approaching it.
Certainly, specific stables stay with respected riders as they always have, but now they might not rely on only one or two as they’ve done previously. They don’t have to. And it doesn’t matter what breed of horse they stable.
“We’ve never had this many good riders, quarter horse and thoroughbred at the same time,” said Ry Eikleberry, a two time thoroughbred and three-time quarter horse riding champ.
In the thoroughbred colony alone there are five former riding champions. In addition to Eikleberry, Jareth Loveberry, Leandro Goncalves and Dean Butler, a five-time riding champ, are making their presence felt. And, although he has been struggling to gain attention from trainers after a lengthy hiatus from racing, Derek Bell, a Hall of Fame six-time riding champion has joined the ranks in recent weeks as well.
And previous riding champs are being challenged daily by Franciso Arrietta, who has led the rider standings much of the summer after winning nearly 200 races over the winter at Turf Paradise. Eikleberry is right on his heels, one win back heading into Saturday’s card. Orlando Mojica, who is having a solid summer with 19 wins, including the richest race of the summer, the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby, is next, two in front of Butler.
Loveberry is one back of Butler and two in front of wily veteran Eddie Martin, Jr., with Goncalves next.
The quarter horse colony is loaded, too. Nik Goodwin, a two-time champion, has nudged into the lead in recent days and has one more win than defending champion Cristian Esqueda. Josh Romero is third, two out of first and two in front of Eikleberry and two-time champion Jorge Torres and four other riders _ Eugenio Alberto Navarrete, Jr. Mark Jasso, Marcus Swiontek and Cody Rodger Smith.
“It’s been a lot more competitive this year, really tough,” said Torres. “Three years ago there were one or two really good ones, even two years ago, but now it’s really changed, a lot tougher.”
Good riders abound this summer. It is a trainer’s paradise. The conditioners have the upper hand. One false move, and an unforgiving trainer might dish out his equivalent of a pink slip, his version of walking papers. Conditioners have the leverage, the ball is in their court and they are playing it on a daily basis.
“Never been like this before, with both quarter horses and thoroughbreds,” said Goodwin. “Now, anybody in the (jockey’s) room can win if he gets the right horse. It’s very competitive, very tough.”
During meets in which two or three riders stood out, they had the upper hand, could reject mounts they didn’t want in favor of those they did, or have an agent spin them off one excellent mount for an even better one if it became available.
Not any more, not with same impunity anyway. Not with so much talent on the grounds.
Nowhere is it any more apparent than during morning workouts that riders with ability abound. As they scout the barns to work horses in an effort to secure mounts, riders are confronting a new reality.
“Every morning there is a lineup at my barn,” said trainer Shawn Davis, who will then survey the applicants. “All I have to do is point at one of them,” he said, ” and say, ‘You. I’ll take you.’ ”