With two days remaining in Churchill Downs’ weather-shortened 24-day Fall Meet, the victories amassed by veteran jockey Jon Court have him sitting comfortably in the Top 10 in the meet’s jockey standings.
Heading into Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” program, Court had collected 16 wins – good for fifth place behind runaway leader Corey Lanerie – and his mounts have earned $495,296.
That’s pretty good for a jockey whose doctors told him to expect a long recovery process after he suffered major damage to his right hand in a Kentucky Derby Day spill at the Louisville track. The damage was so significant that Court’s doctors cautioned that it would require surgery, therapy and time.
Make that a lot of time.
“I’m fortunate to be back, because they insisted that I be patient,” Court said. “They told me not to necessarily expect to be on horseback until sometime in 2015.”
The surgery was performed not long after the mishap and, as promised, it was followed by a long summer and early fall in which his damaged hand underwent multiple therapies. But Court, who turned 54 earlier this week, proved to be a wonderful patient.
He has not only beaten both the clock and his doctors’ prognosis, but he has done so far ahead of their most optimistic schedule and is riding successfully at racing’s top level.
The most prominent of Court’s post-comeback victories was his Thanksgiving Day triumph aboard G. Watts Humprhey Jr.’s 19-1 longshot Frivolous in the 99th running of Churchill Downs’ $200,000 Falls City Handicap (Grade II), his first stakes win since his return to the saddle.
But he continues to work to improve that injured hand. Court is on a strong run, but the hand reminds him daily that the work that has led to his speedy recovery is far from complete.
“There may be some after-effects that will be with me for the rest of my life because of the nature of that injury,” Court said. “But I’m able to ride, perform my duties on a professional level and accomplish good results.”
“I didn’t let up, but I questioned myself many a time. It was really a tough recovery, but everything seems to be in line and continues to get better day-by-day.”
Court had a strong ally in his corner in Louisville hand surgeon Dr. Joseph Kutz, a nationally-recognized authority on hand injuries that also is a longtime Thoroughbred owner. Kutz performed the delicate surgery that was the first step on Court’s accelerated road to recovery.
“With the multiple fractures they had to reconstruct my entire hand and harvest some tendons and ligaments out of my arm,” Court said. “In the process of letting my hand heal, we brought it back through physical therapy and occupational therapy. We did other types of therapy as well – everything from chiropractic treatment on my hand, laser therapy and nutritional therapy was a big factor.
“Just getting my hand to working again was a challenge. The fingers were bent backwards – they weren’t broken, but they were hyperextended and I had to bring them back to function as they were designed. But the hand healed up and it’s good.”
Court is scheduled to ride 10 horses on Saturday’s program – including Simply Confection for trainer and father-in-law Jinks Fires in the Golden Rod (GII) and Majestico for Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas in the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) – and has mounts in nine of the 11 races on Sunday’s closing day card.
After Sunday’s program, Court plans to accept some mounts at Turfway Park and perhaps some other tracks, but he will be working over the holidays to continue to improve his recovering right hand for a full-time riding schedule at the Oaklawn Park meet that will open on Jan. 9.
"I have a theory that the racetrack loves a good comeback,” Court said. “I’ve had a lot of horsemen who rallied behind me and my agent (Steve Krajcir) did a good job, and I’ve been able to ride some live horses.
“I was really dedicated and came out and working horses on a regular basis and I was able to get back in a groove and make some magic happen. The win in the Falls City was sweet, and we hope to keep the momentum going into the Oaklawn meet.”
RIDE ON CURLIN BACK IN ACTION AFTER QUIET POST-CLASSICS SUMMER
He was a media darling during the weeks leading up to the Kentucky and the runner-up to Derby winner California Chrome in the Preakness (GI), but it’s been a quiet summer for Dan Dougherty’s Ride On Curlin.
The rags-to-riches son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin – a $25,000 yearling purchase by Dougherty and trainer Billy Gowan – has been out of action since he failed to finish in 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes (GI), the third leg of the Triple Crown known as the “Test of the Champion.”
But Ride on Curlin has emerged from the sidelines and is back in training at Churchill Downs with an eye toward a campaign as a 4-year-old.
Gowan, known as “Bronco Billy” to his friends, started Ride On Curlin on the comeback trail just over a month ago. The colt jogged for about three weeks, and stepped up to regular gallops under exercise rider Bryan Beccia about 10 days ago.
“After the Belmont he was a little sore,” Gowan said. “He was just kind of body sore everywhere and that’s kind of why they decided to lay him up. Then he popped a splint out there on the farm, and I had to take care of that.
“My plan was to run him here in the Clark Handicap, but when he popped that splint I knew he was done for the year and we might as well give him plenty of time. So I gave him an extra week of shedrow and an extra week of jogging. There was no reason to rush him back.”
Should Ride On Curlin improve on the form he displayed at two and three, it would be reasonable to expect a strong year in 2014. His only victory in seven 2014 starts was an allowance win at Oaklawn Park, but he was runner-up to Danza in the Arkansas Derby (GI) and third to Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) winner Hoppertunity in the Rebel (GII) and third to Tapiture in the Southwest (GIII). Along with his Triple Crown efforts in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Ride On Curlin ran seventh in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).
While he’s hoping for more and better things down the road for the colt, Gowan appreciates the Triple Crown journey and other new experiences provided by Ride On Curlin.
“It’s been really good and we’ve had a lot of fun,” Gowan said. “I’m just amazed that so many trainers back here and been training for 40 years and have never gotten to do what I did. So I consider myself pretty lucky.”
Gowan will send Ride On Curlin and the rest of his stable to Oaklawn Park when the curtain falls on Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet on Sunday. His initial major 2015 target for the stable star is the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (GII).
After their good fortune in the sales ring with Ride On Curlin, Gowan and Dougherty returned to the sales ring last year and purchased a son of War Chant for $28,000. That colt is now the 2-year-old War Point, who will run in Saturday’s Kentucky Jockey Club (GII). He is a 50-1 longshot in the morning line odds for the race, but Gowan hopes to see some progress for the colt that has one victory in five starts.
“The race looks a little tough to me,” Gowan said. “I had no other races I could un him in, so we’ll take a shot.”
McPEEK CHANGES WINTER PLAN TO INCLUDE OAKLAWN, SAM HOUSTON
The end of the Fall Meet at Churchill Downs has in recent years been a cue for trainer Kenny McPeek to head to Florida for his stable’s winter training and competition.
But McPeek will need a new travel map this year as horses will travel to locales west of the Sunshine State. Vans carrying his horses will be stopping this year at Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park and another division will settle in at Sam Houston Park in Houston, Texas.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of our running at Oaklawn,” McPeek said. “As for Sam Houston, I needed a location from which I can logistically move horses and the best winters I’ve ever had were when we could rest horses in December and part of January, then we could ease them back as winter wound down and we were ready to roll when springtime came. I’ve also had kind of switch in clients and have a few more of them located in the middle of the country rather than the South and even East, so I’ve decided to take a string to Sam Houston.”
McPeek said he will leave about a dozen horses in New York through the winter, but the divisions in Arkansas and Texas will be larger.
“I’ll be running primarily at Oaklawn, but I’ll be heading down to Texas to watch those horses and we’ll be a presence there, too.”
McPeek has been allotted 40 stalls at Sam Houston and 35 at the Oaklawn meet.
The Lexington-born trainer has had another strong Fall Meet at Churchill Downs and his eight wins are good for a tie for 10th with Eddie Kenneally in the race for “Leading Trainer.” McPeek will saddle runners in eight races – include stakes races – on Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow” program and he has horses entered in two races on Sunday’s closing day card.
SUNDAY IS ‘FAN APPRECIATION DAY’ WITH FREE ADMISSION & CALENDAR, $1 BEER
As the racing year at Churchill Downs Racetrack winds to a close on Sunday, the historic racetrack will offer a sincere “Thank You” to its guests with a multi-faceted “Fan Appreciation Day”:
- Free general admission
- Free 2015 Churchill Downs Wall Calendar that features classic Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby imagery to the first 5,000 fans through admission gates courtesy of Humana
- $1 domestic draft beer (16 oz.)
- $1 Pepsi product fountain drinks (22 oz.)
- $1 bottled water
- $1 hot dogs
Also, fans have an opportunity to back a strong opinion or purchase a great holiday stocking stuffer by participating in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager that closes Sunday at 6 p.m. ET.
Additionally, Churchill Downs will salute its Fall Meet Champion Jockey, Trainer and Owner between races.
Post time for Sunday’s closing day card is 12:40 p.m. ET and admission gates will open at 11:30 a.m. The 11th and final race of the year is scheduled for 5:38 p.m.
Also, there will be mandatory payouts on the Single 6 Jackpot and Super Hi-5.
SUNDAY’S WHO’S THE CHAMP? WINNER OFF TO HORSE PLAYER WORLD SERIES
The winner of Sunday’s “Who’s the Champ? Betting Challenge” will be awarded with a fully-paid spot in the Horse Player World Series at The Orleans Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on March 25-28.
The “Who’s the Champ? Betting Challenge” requires entrants to place mythical $2 Win/Place wagers on Races 3-8 at Churchill Downs. The contestant with the highest bankroll at event’s end is crowned the winner. The weekly grand prize includes a four-night hotel stay and $250 travel voucher. Second place gets a $500 betting voucher and the third place-finisher receives a $250 betting voucher.
Registration for Sunday’s finale is 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Churchill Downs Lounge. It costs $35 to enter ($30 for TSC Elite members) and entrants receive an official program and meal voucher.
KENTUCKY DERBY FUTURE WAGER
KENTUCKY DERBY FUTURE WAGER – POOL 1
Opens Friday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m. ET. Closes Sunday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. ET.
Saturday, May 2, 2015, Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), 3-year-olds, 1 ¼ miles, 141st running, Churchill Downs.
# Horse Sire Trainer Fri.
1. American Pharoah Pioneerof the Nile Bob Baffert 8-1
2. Blofeld Quality Road Todd Pletcher 37-1
3. Calculator In Summation Peter Miller 57-1
4. Carpe Diem Giant’s Causeway Todd Pletcher 9-1
5. Classy Class Discreetly Mine Kiaran McLaughlin 80-1
6. Competitive Edge Super Saver Todd Pletcher 34-1
7. Daredevil More Than Ready Todd Pletcher 41-1
8. Dortmund Big Brown Bob Baffert 17-1
9. Eagle Candy Ride-ARG Neil Howard 54-1
10. El Kabeir Scat Daddy John Terranova II 96-1
11. Frosted Tapit Kiaran McLaughlin 36-1
12. I Spent It Super Saver Tony Dutrow 50-1
13. Imperia Medaglia d’Oro Kiaran McLaughlin 38-1
14. Lord Nelson Pulpit Bob Baffert 52-1
15. Lucky Player Lookin At Lucky Steve Asmussen 85-1
16. Mr. Z Malibu Moon D. Wayne Lukas 22-1
17. Ocho Ocho Ocho Street Sense Jim Cassidy 18-1
18. Ostrolenka Musket Man Todd Pletcher 57-1
19. Punctuate Distorted Humor Bob Baffert 65-1
20. Texas Red Afleet Alex Keith Desormeaux 9-1
21. The Great War War Front Wesley Ward 34-1
22. Unblunted Sharp Humor Michael McCarthy 99-1
23. Upstart Flatter Rick Violette Jr. 34-1
24 All Others 6-5