Pilot or Passenger

If you are familiar with my handicapping style and philosophy, or read my columns here on AmWager, or on Past the Wire, or watch Past the Wire TV, or listen to our podcast Gate to Wire, you know I am from the jockeys are very important opinion. There are many who think the jockey does not matter all that much, and it comes down to you must have the horse. While in theory that is true, a great rider won’t get the best horse beat or in trouble as much as a lesser rider. Yes, you must be able to ride to compete, but like all athletes, the skillsets differ even at the professional level.

We recently did an episode of one of our shows, Unfiltered, on Past the Wire TV we called Pilot or Passenger. Michael Wilson, a former trainer who was also an assistant for a few Hall of Famers, and I rated most of the riders who rode in The Kentucky Derby this year. We called them a pilot or a passenger and explained why including strengths and weaknesses. I think it was an interesting show, and it brought up some interesting discussions. You can watch it HERE.

When I handicap a race or a multi race sequence I place a lot of importance on the jockey. There are some riders I simply will not single in a sequence. Regardless of how much I might like the horse, if the rider is on my Do Not Single classification, I assure you they’ve earned their way there. It may force me to re-think a sequence, but when investing my money in an already tough game, I don’t want to give up an inch.

In an individual race if I love a horse a Do Not Single rider is on, I may still bet them in just that race, but it won’t be as big a bet as if a jockey I preferred or was more comfortable with was aboard. I look at betting the races as an investment, and again, I want things my way as much as I can get them and I always remain aware, there is no race I or anyone else has to bet. Pick your spots like you pick your battles.

One of the things that came up on Pilot or Passenger was the difference between a bad trip and a bad ride. On TRACKING TRIPS we dissect this all the time and look for both. Many are often to blame or criticize a jockey when they lose but sometimes it is the trip and not the ride, and the jockey is blameless. Either scenario in noteworthy or can warrant a bet back if the horse turns up in the right place. The right spot is always significant.

Jockeys I call Pilots almost always put their mount in the best position to win. If they have the gas in the tank, the jockey has them where they need to be to get it done. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter where they are positioned. Pilots know the pace, when to move and when to sit and wait. They know the other horses and riders around them and study the races. You’d be surprised how many riders just glance at the past performances, and some only at their mount not the competition.

Pilots can navigate their way out of a bad trip or mitigate what it costs their mount. Pilots trust and know their horse and what they can and can’t do. For me, this is invaluable.

Passengers can get the job done when things go just right. In racing how often do things go just right? Not often enough for me, especially when putting my money down. Passengers are more likely to make a mistake or miscalculation, and when they do, less likely to get out of it without costing their mount the best chance.

If I am going to wager, I want as much in my favor as I can get. We can’t always get the pilots, so we at times will take a passenger. I factor it into my strategy, money management, ticket structure and it helps. If I go hard, it is likely a pilot in the saddle. You may sacrifice a point or two in the odds, but a win always counts more than a loss the way I play.

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Jon Stettin

Since childhood, Jon has always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. His years of experience have earned him a well respected spot in the industry as a handicapper. He now is a frequent contributor to AmWager as well as writing for his own site.

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