Louisiana Native Talamo Among Finalists for George Woolf Award

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Five finalists for one of American racing’s most prestigious honors, the Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, have been announced, with the winner to be revealed in February following a vote of jockeys nationwide.

Jockeys Alex Birzer, Javier Castellano, Jose Ferrer, Rodney Prescott and Joe Talamo are the finalists for the prestigious trophy that has been presented annually by Santa Anita since 1950.

One of the most coveted awards in all of racing, the Woolf Award, which can only be won once, is presented to a different jockey each year and it recognizes those riders whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport of Thoroughbred racing. The trophy is a replica of the life-sized statue of legendary jockey George Woolf, which adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area.

Woolf, who died at the age of 35 following a spill on Santa Anita’s Club House turn on Jan. 3, 1946, was regarded as one of the top big-money riders of his era. Known affectionately as “The Iceman,” he was revered by his colleagues, members of the media and fans across America as a fierce competitor and consummate professional who was at his best when the stakes were high.

The 2018 Woolf ballot, which will be distributed to active jockeys across the country, features five highly regarded riders who have plied their trade with honor and distinction.

A native of Hutchinson, Kansas, Alex Birzer was born Oct. 2, 1973. A rock-solid fixture in the nation’s heartland, Birzer first came to prominence at the now-shuttered Woodlands outside Kansas City, Kansas, where he was a four-time leading rider. Also a four-time kingpin at Prairie Meadows, just outside Des Moines, Iowa, Birzer notched his 3,000th career win at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas on Feb. 26 of this year. He’s also had top-five performances at Oaklawn and at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

A superstar by any accounting, Javier Castellano has been America’s leading money-winning rider for the past four years and, dating back to 2013, he has won four consecutive Eclipse Awards as America’s Champion Jockey. The son of a jockey, Castellano was born Oct. 23, 1977 in Maracaibo, Venezuela. A winner of this year’s Preakness Stakes aboard Cloud Computing, Castellano burst upon the national stage by winning the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic aboard Ghostzapper at Lone Star Park. Inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame this past August, Castellano’s 2015 single season purse earnings of $28.1 million stands as a North American record. He currently has more than 4,800 career victories.

Born March 31, 1964 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Jose Ferrer has been a mainstay on the eastern seaboard dating back to 1983, when he made his American debut at Calder Race Course in south Florida. With nearly 4,200 wins to his credit, Ferrer is a proponent of the power of positive thinking and views each day as a God-given opportunity to contribute to a sport that has provided him a magnificent career. Second in the standings this past summer at Monmouth Park, Ferrer is back in action at Tampa Bay Downs following serious injuries that resulted from a spill at Delaware Park in September.

Born March 8, 1974 in Portland, Indiana, Rodney Prescott began galloping horses upon graduation from high school. After a stint as a groom, he broke his maiden at age 20 at River Downs, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fittingly, Prescott is Hoosier Park’s all-time leading rider and it was at Hoosier that he notched his 2,000 career win on Oct. 18, 2006. Win number 3,000 came at northern Kentucky’s Turfway Park on Dec. 27, 2012.

America’s Eclipse Award-winning Apprentice Jockey in 2007, Joe Talamo is a perennial Top 10 jockey on the tough Southern California circuit, which he joined in the spring of 2007. Born Jan. 12, 1990, in Marrero, Louisiana, near New Orleans, Talamo has established himself as one of the country’s top young riders and he goes out of his way to accommodate media and racing fans. With more than 1,800 career wins, that include a large number of graded stakes, Talamo figures to be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come.

For more information on the Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, please visit the online media guide at www.http://www.santaanita.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/LATC17 MG web-final.pdf (page 9).

Brian Hernandez Jr. Hits Churchill Downs Milestone

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Brian Hernandez Jr. registered his 500th Churchill Downs win on Thanksgiving Day

 

Louisiana native, Brian Hernandez Jr. became the 14th jockey in Churchill Downs history to ride 500 winners at the home of the Kentucky Derby when the 32-year-old won the seventh race on Thanksgiving Day aboard Rock Shandy for trainer Jordan Blair.

“It’s great to have my family here with me for this,” Hernandez said. “I’m thankful for all of the trainers and owners who have supported me throughout my career so far.”

Hernandez, who began riding professionally in 2003, won his first race at Churchill Downs aboard Machine to Tower on May 27, 2004. Overall, the native of Lafayette, La., has won 1,729 races and his mounts have amassed more than $63.8 million from 12,629 starts during a 15-year riding career.

He won the Eclipse Award in 2004 as the nation’s champion apprentice jockey. In 2012, Hernandez won the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita aboard Fort Larned for his biggest career win.

Geroux ‘Ready For A Big Season,’ Preparing For Title Defense At Fair Grounds

by | 11.18.2017 | 5:06pm
Florent Geroux on Gun Runner

Two-time defending Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots champion jockey Florent Geroux is ready for an attempt at the hat trick and is stacked with seven rides on the 10-race opening day card. The native of Normandy, France, is fresh off the biggest win in his career when guiding Fair Grounds-based 2016 Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner to victory in the Grade I $6-million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Said victory made the Three Chimneys Farm and Winchell Thoroughbreds-owned and Steve Asmussen-trained son of Candy Ride the likely Horse of the Year for 2017. 

“I’m ready for a big season, hopefully, and I feel good,” Geroux said. “The Classic was an amazing experience, but that is the past and now I look forward to the next race, not only with Gun Runner, but with every horse. Every race is important and I’m ready to ride hard no matter where I’m riding.

“I think I come in with the same confidence as the last few years,” Geroux continued. “When you ride the right horses in a good spot, you’re in good shape and hopefully that happens. Today I’m pretty confident. There are a few horses I have never ridden, but I have been on Wheatfield and Don’tmesswithjoanne and they both are good fillies. I also think Trust Factor will be tough. All of my horses have good chances and I look forward to today and the rest of the meet.”

Going into Saturday’s card, Geroux has 159 victories in 2017, has struck at 18% and garnered purses just under $13.5 million. In the last category, he is ranked seventh in the nation in purses, with only Jose Ortiz, Javier Castellano, Irad Ortiz Jr., Mike Smith, John Velazquez and Joel Rosario ahead of him.

Last season, Geroux earned 98 victories, demolishing his competition by a 37-win gap back to Robby Albarado. The year prior, 2015-16, it was a 21-win gap back to Mitchell Murrill when earning 87 victories.

Jockeys Melancon, Batista Organize Relief Supplies For Hurricane Harvey Refugees

by Paulick Report Staff

Jockeys Gerard Melancon and Alexis Batista worked together to organize a relief effort for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey last week, according to the Daily Racing Form. The riders gathered more than 50 cases of water and a stash of diapers to a shelter in Lake Charles, La. which has taken in Texas residents fleeing the flooding from the storm.

Melancon said the project was a combined effort of riders at Louisiana Downs, along with their valets and chaplain Dwight Brown.

Also on Wednesday, NTRA Charities announced it would donate more than $5,000 to the Penn National Gaming Foundation, which is helping Sam Houston Race Park employees affected by the storm.

The ‘Cajun Connection’ At Del Mar Has Tales To Tell

by | 08.11.2017 | 1:27pm

Kent Desormeaux, Joe Talamo, and Jamie Theriot

Cajun: An ethnic group mainly living in southwest Louisiana consisting of the descendants of Acadian exiles (French-speakers from what now is Nova Scotia) who have exerted an enormous impact on the state’s music, food and culture – Wikipedia

Anyone who follows U.S. racing knows about the Cajuns and their imprint on the game. The horsemen who have come out of the bayou and swamp areas centering on Lafayette, Louisiana have dominated racing in that state and rippled out to touch racing locales all around the country.

This is especially so when it comes to race riders. For many years now the phrase “Cajun jockey” has been comparable to, say, Kenyan marathon runner or Canadian hockey player. Ten times the Kentucky Derby has been won by a Cajun rider. Five times racing’s Hall of Fame has beckoned a Cajun jock.

A quick scan of a general Cajun jockey roster would include names such as Albarado, Ardoin, Avant, Bernis, Borel, Borque, Broussard, Carmouche, Delahoussaye, Delhomme, Guerin, Guidry, Hernandez, Jr., Lanerie, Meche, Melancon, Perret, Perrodin, Romero, Sellers and Sibille.

You can add three more names to that list and take them right off this year’s Del Mar jockey roster: Kent Desormeaux, Jamie Theriot and Joe Talamo.

Befitting their Cajun roots, their names have a lovely rhythm to them: “De-sor-mo,” “Therry-O” and “Tal-ah-mo.” If you mix in some fiddle, concertina and accordion, no doubt you could come up with a Zydeco tune that would have folks up and dancing.

And what the trio of Del Mar horsebackers has in common is starting their schooling – even before they started their careers — in “the bushes,” the series of backwoods, unregulated and unshackled racetracks that flourished in southwest Louisiana from roughly the 1930s through the 1990s. They often were “bullrings” with rails (mostly) all the way around and starting gates for the beginnings; they sometimes were simply straights with rails down the middle for lanes and cow pastures for pulling up in. They featured mostly four-legged equines, primarily Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, though mules, Appaloosas, Shetland ponies, dogs and other sorts of four- and two-legged beasts and men that were capable of being matched up and bet on were occasionally employed.

They were all wild and wooly tailgating heavens filled with crawfish, gumbo, bar-b-q and other sorts of Louisiana treats cooking away; kingdoms filled with six-packs and kegs; man-on-man betting parlors (“I got $20 on the 2, you can have all the rest.”) where serious money regularly changed hands, and, in Cajun fashion, the tracks often were family-run. Besides all that, they also were among the great training grounds in all of sports.

Desormeaux, one of the most successful jockeys of our time who can brag of Hall of Fame credentials, three trips to the winner’s circle in the Kentucky Derby and nearly 6,000 winning rides on “legitimate” racetracks, just lights up in a smile when he’s asked about “the bushes.”

“Oh, man,” says the 47-year-old native of Maurice (10 miles southwest of Lafayette), “you’re talking about some seriously good memories now. I’ve got some stories to tell about those days.”

Theriot, 38, hails from Breaux Bridge (nine miles northeast of Lafayette), and took to riding in match races very early. “I was eight years old when I rode in my first match,” the rider says with a straight face. Yes, he said eight.

Shadwell Farm

Talamo, the 27-year-old “kid” of the bunch, was born in Marrero, just across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, which is about 135 miles east of Lafayette. “But I’ve got Cajun on both sides of the family,” he says. “Cajun and Sicilian. How scary is that?”

Though they came at it in different decades, they all went to Bushes School – Desormeaux when “bush racing” was in full swing; Theriot right at the very end of the “bush” era, and Talamo when one of the more famous “bush” tracks – the Quarter Pole in Rayne (18 miles west of Lafayette) – was reopened as a training center in the early 2000s and they ran “schooling” races for teenagers who wanted to be race riders.

“You know,” notes the vibrant Desormeaux, “I rode about a hundred races in ‘the bushes’ before I rode my first ‘real’ race. When I first rode at Evangeline (Downs in Opelousas, about 25 miles north of Lafayette) in 1986, they gave me a 10-pound bug. I thought I was stealing. I was full of confidence and knew I was ready.”

It didn’t take him long to show it. He went from Evangeline to Louisiana Downs to Maryland and a run of riding victories that have yet to be matched. He won 450 races in 1987 (and an Eclipse as the nation’s top apprentice); 474 races in 1988, and 598 in 1989 (and another Eclipse as the nation’s leading rider). His 598 victories in a year is the best ever recorded.

But back to Theriot and riding match races at the age of eight. For real?

“You bet,” says the long (5′ 7”) and wiry reinsman who has won nearly 2,500 races in 22 years in the “big time.” “My daddy (Harold) was a trainer; had about 60 head of horses back then. I first learned on Quarter Horses; really liked riding them. First match race I rode was on a Quarter. I was eight and weighed about 45 pounds at the time; they put me in against an adult. I beat him.”

That was the beginning; then it became a regular happening. “Every weekend,” Theriot recalled. “So much fun; so exciting looking forward to it. Three hundred or four hundred people yelling, shouting, cheering. The environment was so special. The people; the food. Bar-b-q. Oh, yes. It was all so good.”

Especially for a third grader.

Talamo wasn’t riding match races at eight, but he grew up with a horse in his backyard and was up on horseback not long after he learned to walk. He was galloping horses at 12 and riding “schooling” races at 14.

“I was 14 and riding in races at the Quarter Pole against Cody Meche, Randall Toups and David Borque,” he remembered. “We were all 14 or 15. I won a race on a horse named Marie Laveau (New Orleans’ famous voodoo queen). Boy, that was special. I was wearing a pair of jockey pants that Robby Albarado gave me. My father bet $20 to win on me. I got a roast beef po’ boy (sandwich). I felt like I’d won a Triple Crown race.”

Talamo had just finished 10th grade and got his jockey license and spent the summer riding at Louisiana Downs (in Bossier City, about 200 miles northwest of Lafayette). He’d promised his folks he was going back to school in September (“One of the great selling jobs of all time,” he says.) But he got hot at the end of the meet, rode that on into a hotter streak that saw him win the riding title (over Albarado) at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and get a call from Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel to come ride in California. More than 1,700 wins and $92-million in purses later, he’s a Southern California fixture.

One of Desormeaux’s favorite “bushes” tales deals with a mostly Quarter Horse named Skunk Em Up.

“Had some Appaloosa in him and the spots came up over his knee, so they couldn’t call him a Quarter Horse,” he reminisced. “But he was fast, really fast. I weighed about 90 pounds at the time and his trainer, Dale White, had me ride him in match races in Louisiana. He was down for good money — $5,000, $10,000. We went three times, won all three. Then he set up another match in Mississippi. I rode in the van in the back with the horse, feeding him hay all the way over. We went like a shot there, too, and won that one. That was it, though. The game was up. Nobody would take him on after that.”

Among the great stories coming out of “the bushes” were sagas of “catch weight” races (you can put anyone or anything you want on a horse’s back – the lighter, obviously, the better). A classic example was when a chicken was tied on as the “rider,” an extraordinary bit of horsemanship made famous by a bit in the 1978 movie “Casey’s Shadow.”

Did our trio ride in any chicken races?

Talamo did not, but the other two did.

“Oh, yeah,” said Desormeaux. “I rode against chickens. I even remember a match race where both horses had chickens on their back.”

Theriot did it just once. Who, he was asked, won?

The rider lowered his head, then fessed up: “The chicken.”

For those so inclined, days in “the bushes” and fine tales of Cajun racing are well told in the 2008 book “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” by New York-based turf writer Ed McNamara. It’s a good read with a fine feel for a special place and its special people for anyone wanting to learn more about a most colorful and unique subject.

For those wanting an insightful thought from a man who was right in the middle of it all, here’s this from Desormeaux:

“You know, until Chris (Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron) started his jockey school in the last few years in Kentucky, this country really didn’t have a national one. Lots of other places do – Puerto Rico, Panama, South America. That’s a big advantage for a young rider. But in Louisiana – in “the bushes” – we had our own riding school. We learned lots of lessons and had lots of fun. In a lot of ways, you couldn’t have asked for a better one.”

Setback Jeopardizes Hall Of Fame Jockey Romero’s Chances For Organ Transplants

by | 07.09.2017 | 10:48pm

Paulick Report

Hall of Fame jockey Randy Romero

A new health condition has caused Hall of Fame Jockey Randy Romero to be removed from the list of recipients for a transplanted kidney and liver, something he likely needs to sustain his life for a long period of time.

The new health condition started during his trip to the June 10 Belmont Stakes as a celebrity jockey  guest. Romero, 59, is one of the rare persons who has undergone dialysis three times weekly for over 12 years. Besides being particularly tiring, it requires a port placed under the skin, in his case on an arm, so he doesn’t need a thick needle stick for every session. The port ruptured while in New York and he wound up in a Garden City hospital Emergency Room. Doctors stemmed the bleeding, stitched and bandaged the arm, and he otherwise said he had a good time.

But during his drive back from the airport to the home of his brother, John Romero, in Lafayette, La., he hit another auto from the rear, totaling his car. With no one injured, he made it to John’s home and was upstairs in his room awaiting dinner and napping. The port ruptured, this time so violently he bled out and became unconscious.

“My mom (Joyce) came to get me for dinner and found me in a pool of blood,” he said. “She saved my life. I wound up in Intensive Care and my blood pressure was like 40 over 20. I nearly bled to death. They had to give me four liters of blood.”

Romero was placed on a ventilator to assist his breathing and was unconscious and in critical condition for over a week. The ventilator was successfully removed but he was hospitalized until early last week.

 

 

During a career that included 4,294 victories and purse earnings of over $75 million, Romero broke over 20 bones, suffered third degree burns over 40 percent of his body in a bizarre “hot box” fire, developed Hepatitis C from tainted blood transfusions following the accident, has one kidney and has undergone over 30 surgeries. But the latest injury may be the most serious because he will have to get strong enough to get back on the donor list.

“I’ve been through a lot,” he said. “But I still believe in God and I’m not giving up. I believe in prayer and I know a lot of people out there are praying for me. “

Desormeaux Splits With Pegram, Hires Nelson Arroyo As New Agent

Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux has parted ways with agent J.R. Pegram and teamed up with agent Nelson Arroyo, it was announced Monday. Desormeaux, who has been represented by Pegram since March 2016, was also previously represented by the agent in 2012 and 2013 while riding in New York.

“I’ve worked with Pegram a few times over the years and he’s done a good job for me,” Desormeaux said. “We have different views on managing my future, and as a result I thought it best to part ways. Nelson has done a great job as an agent and I am looking forward to him carrying my book.”

Desormeaux, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, is ranked sixth all-time in jockey earnings with $272,913,629, and has 5,856 wins from over 30,000 career starts. He has won seven Triple Crown races, including three Kentucky Derbies, three Preakness Stakes and the Belmont once.

After a second-place finish in last year’s Kentucky Derby aboard the Keith Desormeaux-trained Exaggerator, the pair went on to capture the Preakness Stakes, finishing 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. He went on to pilot the colt to victory in the $1 million Haskell Invitational last July.

“Before I became a jockey my father encouraged me to watch and learn from Cordero, Pincay, Velazquez and Desormeaux,” Arroyo said. “I never imagined I’d be representing a Hall of Fame jockey and to be representing Kent, along with my brother Norberto, in Southern California is a dream come true.”

Desormeaux is currently riding at the Santa Anita Park meeting where he is fifth in the jockey standings. He rode three winners on the card there Sunday, including the Fran’s Valentine Stakes aboard Moonless Sky.

Hernandez Rides Four Winners At Churchill

by | 05.14.2017

Brian Hernandez Jr. won four races for four different trainers on Saturday’s card (5-13-17) at Churchill Downs, starting with the early double aboard Tarpy’s Surprise ($8) for Dale Romans in Race 1 and Miss Cobblestone ($15.60) for Bernie Flint in Race 2. He entered the winner’s enclosure once again for Ian Wilkes with Fifth Title ($12.60) in Race 5, then gave trainer Tim Glyshaw his 400th career victory in Race 7 with Louies Flower ($12.40).

Hernandez has now brought his victory total to 11 through the first nine days of the 38-day Spring Meet.

“It was a great day,” Hernandez said. “It’s always fun to get on a roll like that. Hopefully we can keep the streak going.”

 

Final Jockey Assignments Confirmed In 2017 Run For The Roses: Includes Three Louisiana Natives

by | 04.30.2017 | 3:05pm

Always Dreaming works under the Twin Spires with John Velazquez aboard.

The last of the Kentucky Derby riding assignments was confirmed on Sunday morning, and the current field of 20 is all booked up for Saturday’s Run for the Roses. The most recent addition is that of jockey Channing Hill aboard Fast and Accurate for trainer Mike Maker; Hill breezed the colt at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning, then announced the decision later in the morning on Twitter.

Tyler Gaffalione will be aboard the Todd Pletcher-trained Patch for Calumet Farm, it was also announced on Twitter Sunday morning. Pletcher’s other riders were announced over the past few weeks, with John Velazquez scheduled to team with Always Dreaming and Jose Ortiz to pilot Tapwrit.

Trainer Steve Asmussen confirmed his final Derby reinsmen on Saturday, naming Ricardo Santana to ride Untrapped and Corey Lanerie to ride Lookin at Lee. Florent Geroux had previously been named to ride Hence.

Late last week, trainer Dale Romans named Luis Saez as the replacement rider for the injured Robby Albarado aboard J Boys Echo.

 

Here is the full list of expected Kentucky Derby contenders and their riders, as of Sunday afternoon:

  • Always Dreaming (John Velazquez)
  • Battle of Midway (Flavien Prat)
  • Classic Empire (Julien Leparoux)
  • Fast and Accurate (Channing Hill)
  • Girvin (Mike Smith)
  • Gormley (Victor Espinoza)
  • Gunnevera (Javier Castellano)
  • Hence (Florent Geroux)
  • Irap (Mario Gutierrez)
  • Irish War Cry (Rajiv Maragh)
  • J Boys Echo (Luis Saez)
  • Lookin At Lee (Corey Lanerie)
  • McCraken (Brian Hernandez Jr.)
  • Patch (Tyler Gaffalione)
  • Practical Joke (Joel Rosario)
  • Sonneteer (Kent Desormeaux)
  • State of Honor (Jose Lezcano)
  • Tapwrit (Jose Ortiz)
  • Thunder Snow (Ire) (Christophe Soumillon)
  • Untrapped (Ricardo Santana Jr.).

Next up in order of preference: Royal Mo (Gary Stevens)

Albarado Fractures Lower Leg, Off J Boys Echo in Derby

Albarado Fractures Lower Leg, Off J Boys Echo in Derby
Photo: Coady Photgraphy

Robby Albarado

Jockey Robby Albarado sustained a fracture of his lower left tibia and fibula after falling from Chiltern Street at the beginning of the eighth race at Keeneland April 23 and will be off mounts for approximately three to four weeks, including Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) hopeful J Boys Echo, agent Rob Ebanks said.

The 5-year-old horse stumbled at the start of the 5 1/2-furlong race on turf unseating Albarado, who was immdiately attended to on the track. After being taken to first aid at Keeneland, he was then transported to UK Chandler Hospital.

In an official statement, Keeneland medical director Dr. Barry Schumer said: “Robby’s horse stumbled at the start of the race and Robby was thrown to the ground. He braced himself. He suffered an injury to his left ankle. He is being transported to UK Chandler Hospital (at the University of Kentucky in Lexington) for X-rays and further evaluation.”

Albarado underwent surgery April 24 at UK Chandler Hospital and had a rod and two pins inserted in his lower left leg, per Ebanks.

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