When Julien Leparoux first arrived at Keeneland for the 2005 Fall Meet, he was often reminded how challenging it is for even the world’s top jockeys to have success there given the depth and talent of the jockey colony. Eleven years and 400 victories later, Leparoux marvels at how far he’s come.
“The first time I came here (to ride) in 2005, I won one race and it was the last day of the meet,” Leparoux said Tuesday morning. “I was really happy to just have won one, so I wasn’t really expecting (success like this). I remember winning races at Turfway (Park) and people reminding me that going to Keeneland wasn’t going to be the same.
“It’s great company here. Every meet is tough and full of good jockeys. It’s a pleasure to be here every meet. Every time you come to Keeneland it’s beautiful, the people are nice, the races are great, so to be able to do good is fun.”
In Sunday’s ninth and final race, Leparoux became the fifth rider to reach 400 wins at Keeneland when he rode Gio’s Calling to victory. He joined Pat Day (918 wins), Don Brumfield (716), Robby Albarado (478) and Shane Sellers (412) as riders to reach that mark.
“I didn’t even know it was coming,” Leparoux said with a laugh. “I saw it on Twitter when Keeneland tweeted something, so that’s how I knew. It’s my favorite racetrack so it’s very, very nice to be able to be here and do good. The jockeys in front of me (on the Keeneland all-time wins list) … are big names.”
Leparoux became just the fifth jockey to win 50 stakes at Keeneland when he rode Tepin to victory in the Grade I Jenny Wiley on April 16.
Mor Spirit, runner-up to Exaggerator in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby last time out, put in his first breeze over Churchill Downs’ main track on Tuesday morning in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.
Working in company with stablemate Jimbo Fallon, the son of Eskendereya breezed 5 furlongs in :59.80, producing eighth-mile splits of :11.40, :22.40, :34.20, :46, galloping out three-quarters of a mile in 1:13.20 and 7 furlongs in 1:27 with regular rider Gary Stevens in the irons. It was the second fastest of 18 works at the distance for the morning over a fast track.
“Loved the work,” said Stevens, who will be looking for his fourth Kentucky Derby victory. “He was very aggressive going to the pole, which is not always him. He’s a little quirky sometimes. Bob (trainer Baffert) put a little more blinkers on him this morning to get him a little more focused and it did the job. He went to the pole aggressive, was aggressive throughout the work, he galloped out strong into the backstretch.”
The jockey for six of Mor Spirit’s seven career starts, Stevens is confident in Mor Spirit’s ability to get the mile-and-a-quarter distance.
“I can’t get the horse tired, and that’s a good thing when you’re going a mile and a quarter,” Stevens said. “I don’t think that distance is going to be a problem, but he’s come along at the right time. This has been the focus since last year in December; we’ve been pointing the Derby.”
Stevens reflected on Mor Spirit’s second-place effort in the Santa Anita Derby.
“We haven’t got to the bottom of him,” Stevens said. “In the Santa Anita Derby, I won’t say that he didn’t like the surface, but he didn’t like the kickback coming back. I felt like he ran about 80 percent for me and still finished second. He’s got some gears and I’ve felt them in the morning and I’ve felt them in the afternoon. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel them in the Santa Anita Derby so hopefully he brings the ‘A’ game.”
Baffert, who will be looking to become the second-winningest trainer in Derby history with Mor Spirit, spoke highly of the horse’s work.
“He’s never been a real willing worker,” Baffert said. “He got a good work today, seems like (Stevens) didn’t go too hard on him. This track is pretty quick, but it was good for him, he got into it. When Gary worked him a few weeks ago he started off slow and kind of lost interest. The surface is really kind on him, he likes the surface.”
Baffert and Stevens have collectively found Kentucky Derby success with Silver Charm in 1997.
“It’s fun with Gary because he’s focused,” Baffert said. “He knows what we need to and we’re getting to know this horse and we’ve been here before and we’re both getting older now so we appreciate it more and we’re enjoying it more. ... Once you’ve been here so many times, you know what you need to do, just stay focused and enjoy yourself as long as everything is going smooth, so that’s the whole key.”
▪ Lani jogged a half-mile and then galloped 2 miles under exercise rider Eishu Maruuchi on Tuesday at Churchill Downs. Before returning to the barn, Lani spent nearly 20 minutes walking in the mile chute. “He never gets tired,” said Keita Tanaka, agent for the horse’s owner, Koji Maeda.
Winner of the UAE Derby in his most recent start, Lani is scheduled to work 6 furlongs Wednesday with jockey Yutaka Take coming in for the breeze. The time of the work will be determined by the weather.
▪ Nyquist, early Kentucky Derby favorite, is scheduled to have his final work in preparation for the race on Friday at Keeneland. The colt is trained by Doug O’Neill. Nyquist, who will be ridden by regular jockey Mario Gutierrez, will work in company.
Trainer Steve Asmussen, who could potentially start four fillies in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks, has not decided on which jockeys will pilot his quartet, stating that he would discuss the topic with the owners. His four fillies, Terra Promessa, Taxable, Royal Obsession and Nickname, all breezed over the Churchill Downs main track on Monday morning.
Following morning workouts, Asmussen was informed that he had been inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame.
“It was fun to be able to call up mom and dad and tell them that,” Asmussen said. “We’re going to celebrate it for a while.”