Racing & Wagering

Arlington Bugs Are Dangerous

| Churchill Downs Communications | 07/22/2008 #

Traditionally, apprentice riders have not faired too well at Arlington Park, but this year a couple of bugs are buzzing loudly.

Brandon Meier, the 20-year-old son of legendary Chicago jockey Randy Meier, and Inez Karlsson, 23, a former boxer from Sweden, currently sit in the top dozen in the Arlington standings, and they’re both top six riders during the month of July.

Boosted by support from Arlington’s top owner Frank Calabrese, young Meier has won with 32 of his 169 mounts (thru July 20), and has performed well in all categories. He’s shown a nice hand with 2-year-olds, winning with four of his 12 baby mounts.

Buoyed by a four-win day earlier in the month, Karlsson has taken her game to a new level of late, and wagering on her mounts for the entire meet would have been a profitable venture. A $2 win bet on each one of her 208 mounts would show a $74 profit.

When jockeys begin their careers, they are given a break in the weight that their mount is assigned to carry. They receive 10 pounds until the fifth winner, seven pounds until the 40th winner and five pounds for one calendar year after the date of the 5th winner.

It is important for jockeys to take full advantage of their apprenticeship, and often times that means riding at lesser racetracks where trainers will be more inclined to take advantage of their services. That’s how they rack up wins.

Any apprentice jockey with some athletic ability, riding on the right circuit, who can tack 110 pounds, has a chance to be a flash in the pan. Regardless of their success as an apprentice rider, the acid test comes when jockeys gain journeyman status. They no longer have the weight advantage that has lured trainers to them. They must stand on their own, on a level playing field, and the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to maintain weight.

The fact that both Meier and Karlsson have able been able to succeed at an upper tier track such as Arlington bodes well for the rest of their careers.

Not every star jockey kicked started their career as a successful apprentice – Hall of Famers Jerry Bailey and Mike Smith immediately come to mind. They took their lumps as young riders, but with hard work, determination, and good timing, they both carved out sensational careers.

Being a successful rider with longevity isn’t all about the skills one possesses on the track. The willingness to work horses at the crack of dawn, the ability to build lasting relationships with owners and trainers, and most importantly, securing a good agent, are keys to continued success.

That’s all well and good, but how does the presence of a bug rider in a race affect our handicapping?

Because of the break in the weights, bug riders are particularly dangerous with cheaper horses traveling a route of ground. Horses need every advantage they can get in such events, and having a few less pounds on their back could make the difference in the stretch.

This angle is doubly strong over dirt tracks that are drying out, deep and tiring. Horses with less weight on their back have a better chance of laboring through such circumstances.

The weight break is also very important with front-runners. If a horse can relax on the lead with less weight to tack, they are more likely to have something left for the stretch drive.

In a maiden race, particularly for claimers, where those who have started haven’t shown much, taking a first time starter with a bug rider is never a bad idea – particularly if the horse hails from a lesser-known stable. Such runners are likely to be overlooked in the wagering.

Watch what kinds of horses Meier and Karlsson are named on, and especially in the cheaper races where a break in the weight can make an even bigger difference, don’t be afraid to step up to the window, even if the horse doesn’t appear to be a top contender. Some of those horses win, and others light the tote a double-digit odds, potentially boosting the price of your winning tickets!

Leading Jockeys July 1 to July 20, 2008

Jockey                        Sts            1st
Rene Douglas           75              17
Jesse Campbell       85               15
Brandon Meier**        64              13
James Graham         85               12
Chris Emigh               73               10
Inez Karlsson*           60               10
Eusebio Razo, Jr.      64                9
E. T. Baird                   48                9
Ramsey Zimmerman 42              6
Junior Alvarado          83                5

* 5-pound apprentice
** 7-pound apprentice