LEPAROUX CLINGS TO TOP SPOT, BUT IS JOINED BY ALBARADO – Julien Leparoux’s bid to lead wire-to-wire in the race for leading jockey of the Spring Meet at Churchill Downs is still alive, but surging Robby Albarado has made it a head-and-head battle for the lead heading into the Memorial Day weekend.
Leparoux ended a two-day win drought with a single victory on Friday while Albarado grabbed a pair of victories. That left the two jockeys tied at the top of the standings with 22 victories each heading into the three-day holiday weekend.
The leaders were a single victory in front of trio of riders tied for second that includes Calvin Borel, Shaun Bridgmohan and Miguel Mena.
But despite a slow week that has yielded only two wins in four days of racing, Leparoux remains in the spot that all members of the Churchill Downs would like to occupy. The 24-year-old Frenchman remains atop the 2008 Spring Meet race after sweeping both the spring and fall riding crowns in 2007.
The winner of the 2006 Eclipse Award that honored America’s top apprentice rider started the year slowly as he and agent Steve Bass ventured to Californa to test the waters in the talent-laden jockeys’ room at Santa Anita. The slower than expected business in California sent Leparoux and Bass heading back East for a run at the Fair Grounds before settling back in their comfort zone at Keeneland and Churchill Downs.
Leparoux said he did not lay the proper foundation and make enough connections with West Coast horsemen before attempting that major move.
“We didn’t get over there ready – we went over there and didn’t think about some questions,” Leparoux said. “It was a mistake, but we learned from the mistakes. So we got back to the Fair Grounds and got back rolling after that.”
Despite the disappointing experience on the West Coast, Leparoux would not rule out another bid in that racing market sometime down the road. But he is clearly very happy to be back in Kentucky and pleased with the results in the first month of the Churchill Downs Spring Meet.
His strong spring at Churchill Downs includes a win aboard West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again in the Derby Trial. That colt came back to run second in the Preakness (GI) to unbeaten Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Big Brown to give Leparoux his closest brush with Triple Crown success. Last fall he notched his first Breeders’ Cup victory with a win aboard Nownownow in the inaugural $1 million Juvenile Turf over the soggy grass course at Monmouth Park.
“It’s always good to ride those big races – it’s very exciting,” he said. “The win in the Breeders’ Cup was a special moment. My mom was here and it was very good.”
Leparoux was scheduled aboard seven mounts on Saturday’s racing program at Churchill Downs, while Albarado was named on eight horses.
“We’re going to try,” said Leparoux. “We’re going to try to end up leading Churchill again.”
GOMEZ TO RIDE MACHO AGAIN IN BELMONT – West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again will have a new rider in his expected rematch with unbeaten Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown in the $1 million Belmont Stakes (GI) on June 7 at Belmont Park.
Garrett Gomez, the Eclipse Award winner as America’s top jockey in 2007, has been named to replace Julien Leparoux aboard the 3-year-old son of Macho Uno in the 1 ½-mile final jewel of the Triple Crown.
Trainer Dallas Stewart said the decision by West Point Thoroughbreds to give the mount to Gomez should not reflect negatively on Leparoux, who had ridden Macho Again in four of his last five races and had won two of those.
“Julien has done a great job with him,” said Stewart. “But after talking with (West Point Thoroughbreds’ managing partner) Terry Finley and the owners, it was decision based more on a ‘home court advantage’ for the rider. Gomez is a New York rider and he knows that mile-and-a-half track. That’s not taking anything away from Julien or anything, but Gomez rides there every day and he’s going to ride a bunch on the card.
“We’re going up there trying to win it, not that we think we couldn’t win it with Julien,” Stewart said. “Terry just felt that it would give us a little bit of an edge to have someone that rides there every day.”
Gomez leads the nation’s riders with more than $7.4 million in earnings on the year.
Macho Again will enter the Belmont Stakes with a career record of 3-3-0 in nine races and earnings of $343,761.
ELITE SQUADRON SHARP IN FINAL PREP FOR ARISTIDES – Tom Walters’ Elite Squadron, a “horse for the course” at Churchill Downs and winner of the $250,000-added Churchill Downs Stakes (GII) in his most recent start on Kentucky Derby Day, fired a sharp “bullet” workout on Saturday that indicated he should be ready for a top effort in next Saturday’s $125,000-added Aristides Stakes (GIII).
The 4-year-old son of Officer covered the distance over a “fast” track in :47. The move by the James Baker trainee under exercise rider Mick Jenner was the fastest of 47 at the distance.
“He looked great,” said Baker. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Elite Squadron has won four consecutive races at Churchill Downs. His only other victory in 12 career starts came last year in stakes race at Presque Isle Downs.
Baker’s star is expected to face an elite field in the six-furlong Aristides that includes Summerplace Farm’s 2005 Aristides winner Kelly’s Landing; Maggi Moss’s Indian Chant, the current record-holder for six furlongs; George Bolton, Joan Corrigan and Anthony Beck’s Churchill Downs runner-up Noonmark; Sassafras Racing I, LLC’s Carnacks Choice and Royce S. Jaime Racing Stable’s Esperamos.
Two other stakes races will share Saturday’s racing card with the Aristides.
The 34th running of the $100,000-added Dogwood (GIII) for 3-year-old fillies at a mile is expected to attract Savorthetime Stables Alina, runner-up to Eight Belles in the Fantasy (GII) and fourth to Game Face in the La Troienne (GIII); Overbrook Farm’s Honest Pursuit, a sharp allowance winner earlier in the meet for trainer Dallas Stewart; Gary and Mary West’s La Troienne runner-up Keep the Peace; and Fitzhugh LLC’s Hartigan, winner of the Hilltop at Pimlico. Other possible Dogwood starters include Secret Gypsy, Temper Temper and Tiz to Dream.
The $100,000-added Opening Verse Handicap for 3-year-olds and up on the turf attracted 36 nominees. Heiligbrodt Racing’s Inca King, winner of the $200,000-added Jefferson Cup (GII) and the $150,000-added Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs, heads the list of prospective starters. Others possible starters include William S. Farish Jr.s’ Seaside Retreat, who was 10th in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and winner of a recent allowance race for trainer Mark Casse on the Churchill Downs turf; Micheal Jarvis and Ken Smole’s Crested; and Patricia Blass’ Prom Shoes, runner-up in the Peter Pan (GII) at Belmont Park at three and winner of this year’s 5th Season at Oaklawn Park.
Weight assignments for the Opening Verse will be issued on Sunday, May 25.
WORK TAB (Track: FAST) – Edgewood winner Zee Zee breezed four furlong in :51 for trainer Bill Mott. … Cradle Stakes winner Old Man Buck breezed a half-mile in :49.80. … Bold Start breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60.
Julien Leparoux 136 22-26-26
Robby Albarado 91 22-9-10
Calvin Borel 145 21-18-24
Miguel Mena 129 21-16-20
Shaun Bridgmohan 89 21-15-11
Jesus Castanon 101 14-11-8
Jamie Theriot 86 8-9-9
Larry Sterling, Jr. 40 6-5-6
Elvis Trujillo 17 6-2-3
Corey Lanerie 77 5-13-5
Brian Hernandez, Jr. 65 5-12-7
John McKee 59 5-10-9
Kent Desormeaux 31 5-8-6
Ken McPeek 30 13-4-3
Steve Asmussen 50 12-8-9
Tom Amoss 31 9-6-5
Mike Maker 24 8-4-2
Ian Wilkes 19 7-5-3
Dale Romans 52 6-10-6
Greg Foley 33 6-6-3
Eddie Kenneally 27 5-6-6
Steve Margolis 19 5-3-3
Four (4) trainers tied with four (4) wins
Ken and Sarah Ramsey 24 8-3-4
Zayat Stables, LLC 24 5-5-3
Maggi Moss 14 5-2-3
Richard, Elaine & Bert Klein 17 4-3-1
Padua Stables 6 4-1-0
Heiligbrodt Racing Stable 7 4-0-0
Three owners tied with three (3) wins