2019 Racing Preview: Who Will Get Hot, Who Will Get Cold?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

December 22nd, 2018

A new year of racing is on the horizon, and in preparation, it can be a useful exercise for handicappers to project which jockeys, trainers, and horses are poised for banner years or quiet years compared to 2018.

Having an idea of what to expect during 2019 can help us formulate more effective wagering strategies and maybe even zero in on where the most promising Kentucky Derby contenders will come from. With that in mind, here’s my take on a few names who might heat up or cool down in 2019….

Who Will Get Hot

Drayden Van Dyke

Saying that Drayden Van Dyke will heat up in 2019 isn’t quite fair since he’s riding quite a hot streak already, but I expect his current streak of success to continue for the foreseeable future. Winner of the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey in 2014, Van Dyke enjoyed by far his best season in 2018, winning 20 graded stakes races and more than $10 million in purse money.

Notably, Van Dyke has forged a high-profile alliance with trainer Bob Baffert and is currently riding an impressive slate of mounts for the Hall of Fame conditioner, including the top Kentucky Derby contender Improbable and the Kentucky Oaks candidate Chasing Yesterday. With Van Dyke riding more and more of Baffert’s top horses, expect 2019 to be another banner year for this rising star jockey.

Todd Pletcher

By his own lofty standards, 2018 was a quiet year for Todd Pletcher, particularly during the second half of the season. After winning a minimum of 40 graded stakes races every year from 2010 through 2015, Pletcher dipped to just 20 graded stakes wins so far in 2018, and he hasn’t won a Grade 1 since May.

But Pletcher typically warms up during the winter when Gulfstream Park is running and his Kentucky Derby contenders are on the rise. Take last year as an example—after a pretty quiet second half of 2017, Pletcher enjoyed a terrific start to 2018, unleashing a string of talented Derby contenders who ultimately garnered victories in the Florida Derby (gr. I), Arkansas Derby (gr. I), Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. II), and Louisiana Derby (gr. II). I expect to see Pletcher heat up the same way during the first half of 2019.

Who Will Get Cold

Mike Smith

After enjoying a simply sensational year in 2018, with a Triple Crown sweep aboard Bob Baffert’s Justify being the obvious highlight, it would be a tough ask for Mike Smith to achieve the same level of success in 2019, though of course, "cold" for Mike Smith is relative to his own extraordinary accomplishments. Compared to a year ago, Smith isn’t heading into the upcoming season with quite as many high-profile riding assignments on the horizon, and with Draydan Van Dyke (see above) riding more and more of the top horses in Baffert’s barn, the action might be a little quieter for Smith in 2019.


A three-time leading sire in North America, Tapit is among the most respected and successful stallions in the nation, but he’s sired just one juvenile stakes winner in 2017 and 2018 combined (compared to ten in 2015-16), and without those up-and-coming stars waiting in the wings, Tapit could wind up having a slow year in 2019. This could be particularly evident in the Kentucky Derby prep races, which have seen extensive participation from Tapit’s progeny in recent years.

Who do you expect to see heat up or cool down in 2019?