Meet the jockeys of the 2020 Belmont Stakes

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The jockeys represented in Saturday’s 152nd Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park represent some of the best in the sport, including three prior Belmont Stakes-winning riders and two making their very first start in the classic.

NBC is home to the 152nd Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 20, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV and NBCSports.com before, during and after the main event. Coverage runs from 2:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. on NBC, just hours after NBC’s coverage of the final day of the Royal Ascot in England. Stream the 2020 Belmont Stakes here.

Read on to learn more about each jockey slated to compete in the Belmont, including their past history in the race and their overall accomplishments:

Manny Franco

Age: 25

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Belmont: 0

Best finish: N/A

His 2020 Belmont horse: Tiz the Law

For a jockey making his first appearance in the Belmont Stakes, Manny Franco couldn’t have asked for better circumstances. Franco is scheduled to ride the prohibitive favorite in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. Tiz the Law won the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park last October, along with the Holy Bull Stakes and Curlin Florida Derby earlier this year. Franco was aboard for all of the victories. The second-youngest jockey in the Belmont Stakes field has consistently ranked near the top of the rider standings at Belmont over the past five years and he won the Belmont riding title last fall.


Joel Rosario

Age: 35

Originally from: Dominican Republic

Previous rides in the Belmont: 8

Best finish: Won in 2019 (Sir Winston) and 2014 (Tonalist)

His 2020 Belmont Horse: Max Player

Rosario has made the most of his opportunities in the Belmont Stakes and has proven himself a reliable rider on the biggest days and on the biggest stages in racing. Last year, Rosario won the Belmont Stakes aboard 10.20-to-1 longshot Sir Winston. It was the second Belmont Stakes triumph for Rosario, who previously won the race in 2014 at odds of 9.20-to-1 with Tonalist. He’ll have to work some more of his magic this year to defeat imposing favorite Tiz the Law. Entering this weekend, Rosario ranks third in the rider standings at Belmont Park. He will take his shot in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes aboard Withers Stakes winner Max Player, a horse Rosario will be riding for the first time.


Irad Ortiz Jr. 

Age: 27

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Belmont: 6

Best finish: Won in 2016 (Creator)

His 2020 Belmont horse: Dr Post

Of the three jockeys in this race who have tasted Belmont Stakes glory, Ortiz is the youngest. He scored a surprise victory in the 2016 running of the race aboard Creator at odds of 16.40-1. Irad has won a number of racing honors including consecutive Eclipse Awards the past two years as the top jockey in North America. Remarkably, he currently leads all U.S. jockeys in 2020 wins (147 victories) and purse earnings (more than $7.2 million) despite taking an extended break from riding earlier in the year in the wake of coronavirus. In fact, the jockey nearest to him in victories (Luis Saez) has 14 fewer wins as of June 17, despite having ridden in 100 more races. On Saturday, Ortiz rides Dr Post, whom he guided to victory in the Unbridled Stakes in his last start in April. The horse has only raced three times in his young career, so his ceiling us unknown. Dr Post is trained by Todd Pletcher who has won the Belmont Stakes three times, most recently with Tapwrit (ridden by Irad’s brother Jose) in 2017.


Luca Panici

Age: 46

Originally from: Milan, Italy

Previous rides in the Belmont: 0

Best finish: NA

His 2020 Belmont horse: Sole Volante

The second-oldest jockey in this year’s Belmont Stakes will be making his first start in the race and will be riding at Belmont Park for just the second time in his career. A native of Italy, Panici began his riding career in his home country and won his first race at age 16 in 1990. He won over 500 races in Europe before traveling to the U.S. in the late 1990s. Panici rides primarily in Florida and earned the second graded stakes win of his career when he guided Sole Volante to victory in February’s Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The journeyman rider will look to repeat the feat with Sole Volante at Belmont Park on Saturday.


Jose Ortiz

Age: 26

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Belmont: 5

Best finish: Won in 2017 (Tapwrit)

His 2020 Belmont horse: Fore Left

It was year ago that Jose entered the Belmont Stakes with the favorite, Tacitus, and seemed primed to win the race for the second time in his career. It wasn’t to be, as Tacitus finished just a length behind winner Sir Winston. Ortiz is one of the best young riders in the country and entered 2020 off of three consecutive years in which he finished first or second in the nation in purse earnings. He’s also a three-time Breeders’ Cup winner and has captured multiple riding titles in New York — frequently sparring with his brother Irad for riding dominance on the circuit. On Saturday, Jose will again bid for his second Belmont Stakes victory but he’ll do it with a late addition to the race and a likely longshot, Fore Left. The horse, trained by California-based Doug O’Neill, was originally scheduled to run in the Woody Stephens Stakes (at a shorter seven-furlong distance) on the Belmont Stakes undercard.


Junior Alvarado

Age: 33

Originally from: Venezuela

Previous rides in the Belmont: 1

Best finish: Finished sixth in 2012 (Unstoppable U)

His 2020 Belmont horse: Modernist

Junior has ranked in the top 15 in national earnings amongst jockeys five times over the past decade and has captured more than 55 graded stakes wins. He began his career in America in South Florida in 2007 before moving on to Chicago where he’d become a leading rider. Though he’s been on the New York circuit since 2010, he’s only had one opportunity to ride in Belmont Park’s premier race. He finished mid-pack in the race in 2012 aboard Unstoppable U. Alvarado’s mount this Saturday is Modernist, a horse who appears to be one of the more logical contenders to threaten Tiz the Law. Modernist and Alvarado won a division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford in February and returned to finish third in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby.


John Velazquez

Age: 48

Originally from: Puerto Rico

Previous rides in the Belmont: 23

Best finish: Won in 2007 (Rags to Riches) and 2012 (Union Rags)

His 2020 Belmont horse: Tap It to Win

There’s little question who the most experienced rider in this year’s Belmont Stakes is – it’s John Velazquez. The Hall of Fame rider has won the Test of the Champion twice before in extremely tight finishes, most memorably aboard Rags to Riches in 2007 when she became the first filly to win the race in over a century. Velazquez gets the call this year aboard Tap It to Win, his 24th Belmont mount. It was just two weeks ago that Velazquez rode Tap It to Win for the first time and he guided the horse to a five-length victory at Belmont Park. The horse began his career at Woodbine in Toronto and has won races at three different tracks. He’s only been tested in graded stakes company once (he finished 10th in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity last year), so he might have his work cut out for him on Saturday.


Reylu Gutierrez

Age: 23

Originally from: Rochester, N.Y.

Previous rides in the Belmont: 0

Best finish: N/A

His 2020 Belmont horse: Jungle Runner

Reylu is easily the youngest jockey in the 2020 Belmont Stakes and will be making his debut in the race just two and a half years after earning his first career victory at Finger Lakes. Earlier in 2017, Reylu graduated from SUNY Cortland with a degree in exercise science. In his first full year as a rider, he was named an Eclipse Award finalist for Outstanding Apprentice (horse racing’s version of Rookie of the Year). Reylu’s Belmont Stakes hopes ride on of the longer shots in the race. His mount, Jungle Runner, most recently finished eighth in a division of the Arkansas Derby and hasn’t registered a victory dating back to last November when he won a stakes race at Remington Park while going a shorter sprinting distance.


Ricardo Santana Jr.

Age: 27

Originally from: Panama

Previous rides in the Belmont: 1

Best finish: Finished fifth in 2018 (Tenfold)

His 2020 Belmont horse: Pneumatic

Despite consistently ranking as one of the top jockeys in the U.S. dating back to 2013, Santana is still in search of his first victory in a Triple Crown race. In 2018, he finished third in the Preakness with Tenfold before a disappointing fifth-place finish in that year’s Belmont Stakes. Like Tenfold, Santana’s mount in this year’s Belmont, Pneumatic, is also owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds and trained by Steve Asmussen. Pneumatic enters the Belmont Stakes as one of the most lightly-raced horses in the field. He’s only had three starts in his career, including an allowance win with Santana aboard at Oaklawn Park in April and a very respectable third-place finish in the Matt Winn Stakes last out at Churchill Downs.


Age: 42

Originally from: Venezuela

Previous rides in the Belmont: 13

Best finish: Finished second in 2011 (Stay Thirsty), 2014 (Commissioner) and 2016 (Destin).

His 2020 Belmont horse: Farmington Road

A nose, a head, and three-quarters of a length – that’s what separates Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano from three potential wins in the Belmont Stakes. The native of Venezuela has been one of the most prominent riders in New York for the past decade, which included a span of four consecutive years in which he won the Eclipse Award for being the nation’s top jockey. Castellano has more than 5,250 career wins, including a dozen Breeders’ Cup victories, but is still in search of that elusive first Belmont Stakes score. He’ll have his shot on Saturday with Farmington Road, a horse that Castellano first rode in a division of the Arkansas Derby (he finished fourth) right as he returned to riding after testing positive for coronavirus. Castellano is back in full-force at Belmont where entering this week, he leads all riders in earnings at the meet.

Watch the 2020 Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 20 from 2:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. 

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

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Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

RELATED: Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

RELATED: Olympiad cruises to Jockey Club Gold Cup victory

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

RELATED: Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!

Pegasus on Jan. 28, Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream

Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Gulfstream Park announced the schedule for the 2022-23 Championship Meet, highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28.

Also on Pegasus day: The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, as well as the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Gulfstream’s top Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Florida Derby, will be run on April 1 as part of a card with 10 stakes races. Other top 3-year-old preps at Gulfstream in early 2023 include the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1, the $250,000 Holy Bull on Feb. 4 and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

The Pegasus is returning for a seventh time. The format has changed several times in the race’s infancy; the purse structure for the Pegasus World Cup no longer requires owners to put up $1 million apiece for a spot in the starting gate for what was, at its inception, the world’s richest race with a purse that reached $16 million.

This much has remained constant: Winning the Pegasus changes a horse’s resume. No Pegasus winner has ever finished worse than sixth in the yearlong earnings among North American horses, and two past winners – Arrogate and Gun Runner – are two of the three highest-earning thoroughbreds in U.S. history.

Gulfstream’s Championship Meet runs from Dec. 26 through April 2, featuring 60 stakes races, 35 of them graded, and worth a combined $13.6 million.