Jockey7: innovation at 'fabulously lucrative boutique season'
Gary West

By Gary West, for JockeyTalk360

FRANKLIN, Ky. — Horse racing doesn’t change quickly or readily, not in any essential way, and in that there’s a comforting reassurance. Still, even while remaining faithful to its traditions and essential values, the sport must accommodate exogenous changes in our culture and society; in other words, it must adjust to technology and evolving interests. At least it should try —or try harder, for in truth it seldom makes a serious effort in this area. The sport’s largest racetracks rarely try anything new (wiener dogs don’t count); nor are they receptive to change. Not even Han Solo could smuggle an innovation across the border and into the racing domain.

But Wednesday, with the start of its fabulously lucrative boutique season, Kentucky Downs, will indeed try something innovative — a jockey wager. Kentucky Downs, by the way, has become the industry leader in willingness to innovate. It offers, for example, the lowest takeout in the nation. And the jockey wager could become another unique wrinkle at the unique racetrack in Franklin, Ky.

The idea of grouping jockeys’ mounts together for a separate bet isn’t entirely new, however; it dates back at least 15 years to the All-Star Jockey Challenge (an idea that was innovative and so, of course, short-lived). But offering the bet each day is new. And such a wager probably has more appeal now than ever.

Here’s how it works. The Jockey7, as it’s called, will cover races four through 10. It’ll be listed, though, as the 11th race in the program. After scratches, Kentucky Downs will establish 13 individual betting interests based on groupings of jockeys’ mounts. One betting interest, for example, will be those horses ridden by Robby Albarado. Another will be horses ridden by Julien Leparoux; yet another will be horses ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, who’ll be here for the first time. And so it will go for 13 groupings. The 14th and final betting interest will be the “field,” covering all the other horses and jockeys. Even if there’s a late rider change, the grouping, for Jockey7 purposes, will remain intact; the winning points stay with the grouping and don’t transfer to a jockey who might pick up a mount.

A points-system determines the “result,” with 25 points for a win, 12 for a second, nine for a third, five for a fourth and one for a scratch. Payoffs will serve as a tiebreaker. Horseplayers can bet to win, place or show; they also can swing at a trifecta or an exacta.

Inveterate horseplayers who have their comfortable routines and favorite approaches, as well as their lucky latrine, might be excused for thinking the bet is a gimmick — they might have thought the Internet was a gimmick, too. But for some bettors, the ones who like puzzles and money and who think variables are potato chips, the Jockey7 will present an intriguing intellectual challenge. Of more importance, the wager just might appeal to casual bettors, to the folks who follow the sport intermittently and maybe go out to the racetrack rarely, but have seen enough and bet enough to know which jockeys they like. They know Calvin Borel and Jose Ortiz and Sophie Doyle, but maybe they’ve never heard of Miss Temple City or Green Mask or Bigger Picture. And so to these folks, these intermittent fans and casual players, the Jockey7 will reach out emotionally.

C. J. Johnsen, Kentucky Downs’ director of broadcasting and interstate wagering, declined to make any projection or prediction about the handle for the new bet. He just hopes, he said, that fans and bettors find it to be fun and interesting.

When competing with other sports, horse racing finds itself at a disadvantage in many regards. For one, it’s not violent; for another, it can’t rely on inherent loyalties to attract an audience.

Even if they can’t name a single player on the team and have never heard of Tom Landry, people in Texas cheer for the Dallas Cowboys. New Yorkers are passionate about the Yankees, unless they’re passionate about the Mets. No matter what, people in St. Louis forever love their Cardinals. And even if they don’t know their teams’ records or prospects or coaches, graduates from the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma will sit down every year to watch the annual clash in the Cotton Bowl.

Horse racing, however, doesn’t benefit from such loyalties. Geographical allegiance gets blurred, if it exists at all. And today’s equine stars don’t race long enough to nurture meaningful connections with fans. But jockeys can. They can also sign autographs, smile winningly and wish you good luck. They can connect. The Jockey7 bet makes sense to all those folks who play fantasy football because, well, the 11th race on the card is just that, a fantasy. That’s why a jockey-based wager just might find an audience. The Jockey7 represents an effort to reach out and, yes, touch fans. Reaching out to fans — now there’s an innovation.

Morning line for Wednesday's Jockey7 wager

  1. Robby Albarado 10-1
  2. Shaun Bridgmohan 15-1
  3. Jon Court 30-1
  4. Tyler Gafflione 10-1
  5. Jack Gilligan 30-1
  6. James Graham 30-1
  7. Brian Hernandez Jr. 12-1
  8. Chris Landeros 15-1
  9. Corey Lanerie 15-1
  10. Feargal Lynch 6-1
  11. Joe Rocco Jr. 6-1
  12. Ricardo Santana Jr. 6-1
  13. Jose Valdivia Jr. 15-1
  14. Field 5-2