Kentucky Derby: Despite COVID-19, jockey assignments coming into focus

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

August 20th, 2020

Slowly but surely, the Kentucky Derby field is coming into focus. And one by one, jockeys are being named to ride each prospective Derby starter.

With 2 1/2 weeks remaining until the Derby, 17 horse and jockey teams have been confirmed. Leading the way are Tiz the Law and jockey Manny Franco, who have teamed up to nab three straight Grade 1 wins this season, highlighted by a runaway triumph in the Belmont Stakes (G1).

Honor A. P. (Mike Smith) and Art Collector (Brian Hernandez) are other key Derby contenders who have forged productive and long-term relationships with their riders, a subtle but potentially significant advantage compared to horses who will carry unfamiliar jockeys on the first Saturday in September.

The following horses and riders have been confirmed for the Derby by various reports:

Tiz the Law
Manny Franco
John Velazquez
Art Collector
Brian Hernandez
Honor A. P.
Mike Smith
Ny Traffic
Paco Lopez
King Guillermo
Samy Camacho
Max Player
Ricardo Santana
Javier Castellano
Adam Beschizza
Thousand Words
Florent Geroux
Major Fed
James Graham
Storm the Court
Julien Leparoux
Attachment Rate
Joe Talamo
Sole Volante
Luca Panici
Winning Impression
Joe Rocco
Necker Island
Miguel Mena
Shirl’s Speight
Corey Lanerie

This leaves four prospective Kentucky Derby contenders—Dr Post, Rushie, Finnick the Fierce, and Money Moves—without confirmed riders for the first Saturday in September. Travel restrictions related to COVID-19 are partly to blame, since several top jockeys based in New York and California won’t be making the trip to Churchill Downs.

Dr Post is the highest-profile runner lacking a rider. The stakes-winning colt was guided by Irad Ortiz when finishing second in the Belmont Stakes, but Ortiz will remain in New York rather than travel to Churchill Downs. Trainer Todd Pletcher has yet to announce a replacement, though Joe Bravo—who rode Dr Post to a third-place effort in the Haskell (G1)—could be an option.

Ortiz isn’t the only high-profile jockey slated to skip the Derby. Jose Ortiz, Joel Rosario, Flavien Prat, and Luis Saez (all ranked among the Top 10 riders in North America by earnings) will likewise forego the trip to Churchill Downs. Saez has been the regular rider of Money Moves, who will need a replacement rider if his connections opt to enter the Derby.

So who does this leave available to round out the Derby jockey colony? Tyler Gaffalione, ranked third in the nation with more than $8 million in purse money, could be in the mix. Classic-winning jockey Martin Garcia is open and possible to ride Finnick the Fierce, according to Horse Racing Nation. Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel is free as well.

The effects of COVID-19 on the Kentucky Derby have been wide-reaching, beginning with the postponement of the race from May 2 until Sept. 5. Its influence on jockey assignments is the latest twist on a prolonged and winding Road to the Kentucky Derby, leaving horsemen and handicappers to wonder how everything will play out during the final weeks.