Getting dialed in

May, 5, 2011
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It's Kentucky Derby week at Churchill Downs, and between thunderstorms, everyone is getting ready for the best two minutes in sports. I'll be taking you along to tell you a little about the experience and my mount, Dialed In. I think he's got a good chance for the Derby. Everybody says it's a wide-open race, but if I had to pick one horse, I'd pick him.

I'm Julien Leparoux, and I've been riding races since 2005. I've won Breeders' Cup events and two Eclipse Awards, but I've never won the Kentucky Derby. Hopefully we change that this year.

My first experience with the Derby was in 2004, when I was working for Patrick Biancone. Lionheart was running, so I watched the race from the track because I brought the horse over to the paddock. If you bring a runner to the paddock, once you let it go, you watch the race from right there on the rail. I hadn't even won my first race yet, so it was a pretty amazing thing to watch.

It was a lot different in 2007 when I rode my first Derby mount, Sedgefield, for Darrin Miller. As a jockey, the lead-up to the race is totally different from just helping out around the barn because all the media come and talk to you all the time. I wasn't shocked because I'd seen it before, but it was different to actually go through it myself.

I didn't have a big spotlight on me other than the fact that it was my first time riding in the race. I was on a long shot, so I didn't have any pressure, either. I didn't even race the horse before; I'd never ridden him except to breeze him in the morning. Ahead of time, I talked to some of the veteran riders about what to do. For my first Derby, I also drew post position No. 1, so they said, 'Try to make sure you've got a good spot and just be careful around the first turn, because that's when everybody comes in, and if you're on the fence you have more of a shot at getting shut off.' But I got lucky because my horse broke good and I was in good position early. I pretty much felt like I was by myself the whole race -- no one troubled me and I didn't run into traffic, so that was good. We finished fifth, and after the race I couldn't wait for the next year to be in it again. It was a more intense experience from anything else I'd ever done.

In 2008, I rode Cool Coal Man for Nick Zito and Robert LaPenta, and I got No. 1 in the gate again. I had about the same kind of trip the second time that I had the first time. I wasn't on the pace but close to the pace, and everything went well until my horse pretty much just faded and we finished 15th. Then in 2009, I rode General Quarters, and that was a different kind of race. We didn't have a very good trip, and I got shuffled back a little bit and never could really be in the race or make any move. It was a good learning experience for me, though, because I figured out what it means to be behind horses with so many of them in the race. We ran 10th.

Last year, I was on Awesome Act, and he got hurt. I wasn't expecting him to be where he was in the race because he was the kind of horse that was very, very tough and very strong. I just wanted him to be relaxed during the first part, so leaving the gate I took him back and he was very relaxed, but then he got hurt and couldn't go on. He finished 19th. It was just too bad, because I don't know if he was going to win, but he was a better horse than what he did that day.

People ask why it's every jockey's dream to win the Derby, and I guess the main reason is that it's a milestone, something people look for. Everybody, even people who don't know anything about horse racing, knows about this race. The Derby would be like any big event in any other sport -- the Masters, the Super Bowl, the Final Four, the playoffs.

It's something we point toward all year, trying to get the best 2-year-olds that we hope will turn into great 3-year-olds, and that's why it's very exciting when you ride young horses: You never really know what you're going to get. In a couple of months, we'll already start looking for a young horse for the next time.

But this week is all about finally getting to see whether everything that we've invested in Dialed In will pay off. I've been his only jockey through his four career starts. In my next entry I'll tell you more about him.



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