Leparoux Takes Lead At Churchill
LEPAROUX TAKES LEAD AT CHURCHILL
As he approaches his 500th career victory at Churchill Downs, jockey Julien Leparoux has been on the sort of tear not seen at the track since retired Hall of Famer Pat Day was dominating in the late 1980s and '90s.
Leparoux, a seven-time Churchill titlist who will turn 28 on July 15, trailed first-place Corey Lanerie by 11 wins after 25 days of the 38-date meet. But in the nine racing cards since he has won 25 of his 60 starts, good for a 41.6 percent win clip and a 48-41 lead over Lanerie in the chase for the jockey title.
During the span, Leparoux had one five-win day (June 17), four three-victory days and four two-win days heading into the final weekend of racing.
“That's huge,” said trainer Ian Wilkes, who won Thursday's fourth race with Leparoux. “Usually it's a few days, but not day in and day out just rolling. He's just a good rider getting on some nice horses. The combination is clicking. Plus he's riding a smart race. He always has.”
Leparoux called his current streak “amazing.”
“I mean, we got lucky,” he said. “The last two weeks have been very good. Hopefully we keep on going, for this meet and for after the meet, too.”
That's something the native of France doesn't take for granted. After earning the Eclipse Award as North America's outstanding rider in 2009, Leparoux missed most of last year's spring meet with a compression fracture of a vertebra suffered in a spill during Pimlico's Black-Eyed Susan on Preakness Eve.
Leparoux, who has been riding less than six years, has 498 victories at Churchill, where only nine other riders have reached 500.
He has missed several days at Churchill to ride stakes elsewhere. In fact he will miss Saturday's 13-race card to ride Dominus in Belmont's Dwyer in New York while Lanerie rides 12 here.
“You leave, and Corey was hot and he took the lead,” Leparoux said. “I'm lucky to have these two weeks. … I'm out to win. But if I don't, I'd be very happy for Corey. He's a very nice guy. And it's still possible. He could win five Saturday when I'm gone and catch up with me.”
Lanerie, 36, is not giving up on winning his first Churchill title. As Leparoux heated up, he cooled down, going 7 for 69 the past nine race days. During that span he had 17 second-place finishes. Ten of those seconds were decided by a length or less, including five losses by a nose, head or neck.
“I've just got to go out there and ride my horses and hopefully win some races,” he said Thursday morning. “What he's doing is his thing, and I've got to go out there and do mine. Can't change anything, just see how the outcome comes.
“Who would have thought he'd win 43 percent? That's something he had to do to beat me. Hat's off to him. He's been doing well.”
Lanerie finished second in last year's spring meet with 39 wins to Calvin Borel's 52. Lanerie said he'll be disappointed if he loses the title after having a big lead but that visiting Kosair Children's Hospital with some other jockeys recently put things in perspective.
“At least I can get up and ride the next day,” he said.
Wilkes said no matter the outcome, it has been a breakout meet for Lanerie. He predicts the jockey will start getting better and better horses to ride.
“Corey, day in and day out, is a workmanlike jockey,” Wilkes said. “He doesn't make many mistakes in a race. I'd love to see him win the title.”
“You don't want to cheer against Julien, but,” he said, then paused and added with a laugh, “Can they share it?”
Elusive Jozi wins
Elusive Jozi charged down the stretch, caught early-pacesetter Scintillation inside the sixteenth-pole and beat Costly by three-quarters of a length to win Thursday's $64,155 feature for fillies and mares on turf at Churchill.
The Ralph Nicks-trained 4-year-old daughter of Johannesburg covered five furlongs in 57.56 seconds under Brian Hernandez Jr.
Scintillation finished another half-length back in third
The win was worth $39,120 and increased Elusive Jozi's bankroll to $133,198 with a record of 3-1-3 in 14 career starts.
Racing continues today with the final “Downs After Dark” program of the meet. First post for the special 13-race card is 5 p.m. EDT.
by Jennie Rees
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