Jon Court, the six-time Ellis Park riding champion and only jockey to win the track title five straight years, got off to a quick start this meet and hasn’t slowed down.
Through the first 13 days of the 31-date meet, Court has won on 10 of his 57 mounts to trail only defending meet-leader Corey Lanerie’s 16 victories. Didiel Osorio, who won the 2015 Ellis title, also has 10 wins. Court is second to Lanerie in purse earnings, $291,289 to $256,704, which includes Court finishing third in Saturday’s Don Bernhardt aboard 74-1 shot Etruscan.
“Things have just come together pretty good,” said Court, who earned his 600th and 601st Ellis Park victories on opening day. “We felt good about coming into the meet. We didn’t have a predominant amount of horses, but we had enough and we picked some right spots — some not so right. It can change any day. So you’ve just got to keep a positive outlook, keep showing up. That’s half the battle.”
What goes into having a big meet?
“Good horses,” Court said. “And good working ethic.”
So it wasn’t coincidence that Court and agent Steve “Big Steve” Krajcir were hunted down shortly after 7 in the morning at Churchill Downs, the jockey working horses for trainers and the agent making his rounds of the barns. Having had a business relationship for some time, the men even worked together in a backstretch interview.
“Good horses, be out in the mornings,” Krajcir said, following up on Court’s answer.
“Dedication. Committed,” Court added.
Krajcir: “Trying to stay loyal to your people.”
Court: “Staying healthy. Being careful on the boat.”
The last comment was a reference to Court fracturing three ribs in a tubing mishap last summer that delayed his start at the Ellis meet.
“I’m just a little careful,” Court, 56, said cheerfully. “I get a little excited in my playtime when I’m skiing and riding a tube with family and friends. I like to recreate pretty hard, too. So I’m being careful and keeping the focus on my job and being healthy.”
Krajcir at this point saw trainer Mark Danner — for whom Court rides the very nice Indiana-bred mare She Mabee Wild — driving by and hollered, “6 o’clock tomorrow, right?” — in reference to an early-morning workout.
Of course, being loyal is no guarantee for success if a stable doesn’t have the right stock.
“You have to ride the ones who aren’t the good horses, the cheaper horses,” Krajcir said. “But you keep riding for them knowing something is going to come back around. You ride that wave when you get some good horses.
“We’re going to ride for our people. And when you good, all of a sudden other people call you. It kind of snowballs. When you start out good, you get a little more business. The phone rings more, and it’s a good thing to have — to be able pick a spot.”
Agreed Court: “Some of the guys rally around you that you haven’t ridden for in years, even decades. You jump up and win a few races for those guys, it just leaves a good feeling with them and they never forget.”
“It’s 7:31, you better go,” Krajcir told Court, ending the conversation with the reminder that the jockey had yet another horse to work.