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By Barry Faulkner
Churchill Downs stages three meetings a year – a nine-week stint in Spring/Summer, a fortnight filler in September and the final four-week season-ender from the end of October into November which, this year, plays host to the Breeders’ Cup.
The three meetings attract many top connections in the sport Stateside and they have also been the launch pad for the careers of a number of top jocks. Below are four riders who may enjoy the fact that the Breeders Cup is back in Kentucky.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Frenchmen Julien Leparoux and Florent Geroux entered the national consciousness of the sport over the Atlantic on the back of their accomplishments in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and both have been regulars at the Churchill Downs in recent years.
Julien Leparoux was born in Senlis in France 1983 and moved to USA in 2005 when he made an immediate impact as an accomplished apprentice. However, it was 2006 when he really emerged as a major talent and Kentucky played a huge part. In the first half of the year he collected riding titles at Turfway Park, Churchill Downs and Keeneland - although that was shared with Robbie Albarado – and by the end of the year had amassed 406 wins in total, more than any other jockey across the pond. He is also pretty useful at Churchill Downs and has a strike rate of 21.8% from his 248 rides in the last calendar year.
He has plenty of experience at the Breeders’ Cup, having taken 77 rides since his debut at the 2006 renewal and this year will mark the thirteenth time he has ridden at the meeting. His best-known Breeders’ Cup winning mount came on Tepin in the Mile at Keeneland in 2015 and he thrilled her fans over here when steering her to victory in the 2016 Queen Anne at Royal Ascot for trainer Mark Casse.
He has four mounts scheduled this year; STRIKE SILVER for Mark Casse in the Juvenile Turf Sprint, BELLE LAURA for Mark’s son Norm in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, GIANT EXPECTATIONS for Peter Eurton in the Dirt Mile and GLORIOUS EMPIRE for James Lawrence in the Turf. None of the quartet features at the front end of the market for their divisions but I think Silver Strike could easily outrun his price in the newest addition to the Breeders’ Cup menu.
Like Leparoux, Geroux is the son of a jockey who then became a trainer and the parallels don’t end there, although his career stateside was more of a slow-burner. He was born in Argentan in 1986 and, when he moved to US in 2007, he was also taken under the wing of leading trainer Patrick Biancone. His early career Stateside was rather stop-start due to injuries but, after he had established himself in Chicago, he moved to Kentucky in 2015 and since then his career has only headed in one direction!
He has had fourteen Breeders’ Cup mounts so far and has guided three of them to the top spot, including last year’s Classic winner, Gun Runner. During that race I thought he had gone too quick but he knew his mount better than I did and engineered a truly memorable performance from Steve Asmussen’s charge
Although he has been busy with national riding commitments, he has still managed to guide home 52 of his 292 mounts at Churchill Downs in the last year.
Geroux has an interesting book of mounts, with three of his five rides being supplied by Brad Cox, who has an excellent strike rate at Churchill Downs. His best chance looks to be the filly of the year from the classic generation, MONOMOY GIRL. She has passed the post first in all her six starts in 2018 but only has five wins on her record thanks to a controversial decision to disqualify her in the Cotillion G1 at Parx in September. Asmussen’s Midnight Bisou was the beneficiary there and the rivals will re-oppose in the Distaff on Saturday.
Cox also provides rides on GOLDEN MISCHIEF in the Filly and Mare Sprint and big outsider ARKLOW in the Turf. RUBY NOTION from the barn of Darrin Miller in the Turf Sprint and MARIE’S DIAMOND from our own Mark Johnston in the Juvenile Turf on Friday complete his quintet on mounts.
Florent Geroux and Monomoy Girl are first past the post in the Cotillion.
THE CAJUN CONNECTION
Brian Hernandez Jr and Corey Lanerie both hail from Lafayette in Louisiana, and Cajun country has been fertile ground for jockeys plying their trade throughout the US. Kent Desormeaux, Eddie Delahoussaye, Craig Perret, Calvin Borel and Robbie Albarado, all Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown race winners, hail from Southern Louisiana and started their careers there before making a name for themselves elsewhere.
BRIAN HERNANDEZ JR
Brian Hernandez Jr celebrates his 33rd birthday on 3rd November and what better way to mark the occasion than with a Breeders Cup success or two, to add to his one win so far. That came back in 2012 but it was the big one, the Classic, aboard Fort Larned for trainer Ian Wilkes. A canny front running ride there saw him keep enough of his mount’s energy in reserve to hold Mucho Macho Man, the Classic winner himself the following year, at bay by a ½ length. Overall, possibly due to most of the recent action taking place in California, he has only had six Breeders’ Cup mounts in total.
He is second in the Churchill Downs jockey standings in the calendar year based on number of winners, achieving 67 trips to the winner’s circle from 385 rides (17.4%) and has been used by a number of the leading, locally-based Louisville trainers.
He has half a dozen rides booked over the two days of the Breeders’ Cup extravaganza, getting the leg up on a couple for Kenny McPeek on Friday. His first mount is on RESTLESS RIDER, who showed improved form to win the Alcibiades G1 at Keeneland last time, in the Juvenile Fillies – his best chance according to the available odds – and SIGNALMAN, a longshot in the Juvenile.
On Saturday his best chances are FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM for William Bret Calhoun, in the Filly and Mare Sprint and SEEKING THE SOUL who has been entered in the Dirt Mile rather than the Classic (where he had little chance) by trainer Dallas Stewart.
He also gets the leg up on a couple of outsiders; VERVE’S TALE for Barclay Tagg in the Distaff and Brazilian challenger QUARTETO DE CORDAS, who has been transferred to local trainer Ian Wilkes, in the Turf.
Brian Hernandez Jr captures the Classic on Fort Larned in 2012.
Throughout his long career which started in 1991, Corey Lanerie has only ever had five rides at the Breeders’ Cup with a couple of 3rd placings in 2015 at Keeneland being his best return to date. However, he is certainly worth a look around Churchill Downs. With 91 wins from his 464 mounts (19.6% strike rate), no jockey has won more races at the Louisville track in the last calendar year, adding to his already impressive record. You don’t need me to tell you that he rides this track as well as anyone and he has a live contender to ride this year in the shape of SERENGETI EMPRESS for local trainer Tom Amoss.
She won her two most recent races by a combined 33 lengths! First, she took a minor stake at Ellis Park before following up at the Churchill Downs September meeting, crushing ten rivals in the Pocahontas G2. Her winning distance there was the biggest in a Graded stake at the track since Rachel Alexandra put the Kentucky Oaks field to the sword in 2009. She has a major chance. He also takes the mount on AWESOME SLEW in the Dirt Mile for Mark Casse on Saturday.
By any measure Corey Lanerie personally has had a very tough year. His wife Shantel died in June after being diagnosed with breast cancer earlier in 2018 and, if he is successful, (I know it’s a well -worn cliché) there really won’t be a dry eye in the house.Follow @BarryFAULKNER11