Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Updated: October 7, 3:09 PM ET
International man of horseback
LEXINGTON, KY -- Since I last updated this blog, I've been in New Jersey, France, Philadelphia, Canada, Indiana, New York, and Louisville. Yesterday I was in Lexington to work one of my top mounts, Turallure, and to get ready for the upcoming season at Keeneland Race Course. The meet opens Friday and you can read more about what's expected to happen here.
When I left Saratoga at the end of the summer, I went back to France for a week to visit my family. The last time I went home was in June of 2010, so it's been over a year. It was great to see everyone, especially my nephew, who is going to be two in November. Usually when I'm there I'll go to the track, but this time I really took the week off from racing and just enjoyed being around my family. I wanted to spend the most time I could with them, and most of my friends from the racetrack there will be coming to the U.S. for Breeders' Cup, so I'll see them next month anyway.
I left France and I came back to Louisville for a day, and then I went to Lexington for the Horsemen of All Ages Auction to benefit the Race for Education on Sept. 16. This is a great charity that helps young people of equine industry families as well as those who want to pursue equine-related or agricultural careers to obtain college degrees. The organization provides tuition support; financial literacy training, mentoring services, and access to permanent jobs upon graduation, and the Horsemen of All Ages Auction was able to raise a record of more than $100,000 in one night to support the fund. It was a fun night and especially for a good cause. My dinner date went for $5,700. I'll probably go during the Keeneland meet.
After the auction I went to Woodbine for the weekend, which was a profitable trip. I've ridden there at least once each year since I started my career, and I've been riding for six years. It's a very nice track and the hospitality there is great. On Saturday night they have this big dinner after the races for people who are racing on Sunday. The main track is very wide with a long stretch, and the turf course is on the outside which makes it bigger than the average turf course.
It was nice to just come back from vacation and land on some good horses. I rode Never Retreat at Gulfstream this winter and won the Grade 3 Honey Fox Stakes with her, then I couldn't ride her next time out because of another commitment. Shaun Bridgmohan picked her up and won at Keeneland so he kept riding her, but he got hurt so I got the mount back and won the Canadian Stakes, which is a nice Grade 2, with her.
The same thing basically happened with Turallure; I'd ridden him at Churchill to win the Opening Verse Stakes but the first time he ran at Saratoga I was at Monmouth, so Alex Solis got on him. Then when I came back to Saratoga we paired up again to win the Bernard Baruch Handicap, and I kept the mount in the Woodbine Mile.
Turallure is a very nice horse to be around, pretty laid-back and relaxed, like a pet -- although he dropped his exercise rider three days ago on the track after galloping, but that was just because he was feeling good. Especially right now, in the mornings as it starts to get chilly, the horses love that bite in the air. He got loose for a little bit but they caught him and everybody's okay, none the worse for wear.
Yesterday he went four furlongs in :50 flat, a nice easy work. I thought he felt great and if everything goes good, we'll head to the Breeders' Cup Mile.
I could go into a lot of details on winning the Indiana Derby and Oaks last weekend, but the bottom line is they were nice surprises in both races with Juanita in the Oaks and Wilburn in the Derby, and I look forward to the next starts with those two. After that I rode a little at Belmont Park, mostly just to stay active. I don't like to be sitting at home doing nothing, I'd rather get on a few and stay fit. On Monday, I came back to Kentucky, and here we are gearing up for Keeneland.
In the U.S., my two favorite tracks are Saratoga and Keeneland. Aside from the level of competition and the fact that I've been fortunate to have a lot of success in Kentucky, I think it's just because of the people that come to Saratoga and come here -- they love the sport and there are always good-sized crowds. It just makes it fun for a jockey; you go to work and there a lot of people watching you and enjoying what you do for a living.
The biggest difference between the two is that Saratoga is open for just seven weeks during the year, and the focus for that seven weeks is all around horse racing. Keeneland is year-round even though there's only racing in the spring and fall, since they're also open for the sales and train all year too. Thanks to the farms all around, it's more of a sustained cycle here.
Other than Saratoga, Lexington is probably the town where they know horse people the best. I'm looking forward to opening weekend and hope everyone gets a chance to come out for some great racing. Hopefully the big horses I ride in the stakes here will turn in good efforts that lead us to the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs in November.