James Graham captured the fourth and fifth races on Ellis Park’s closing card to earn his first riding title in Kentucky with 26 wins.
That was one more than Corey Lanerie, the three-time defending meet leader and five-time champ overall who rode Monday at Parx Racing, where he finished second in the $300,000 Smarty Jones on Ellis Park Derby winner Gray Magician. Winning one race on the final day to tie Lanerie for second was Tyler Baze, a long-time fixture in California who is riding full-time in Kentucky for the first time.
Declan Carroll, who began riding races last fall, had a break-out meet, finishing fourth in the jockey standings with 19 wins after really heating up the last half of the meet to be the leading apprentice rider.
Lanerie won the last two races Sunday to take a 25-24 lead over Graham and Baze. Graham’s title moves came in winning the fourth race on Giro Kate ($16 to win) and the fifth on Bonnet ($6.80) to finish with 26 wins out of 157 mounts, with 26 seconds and 21 thirds. Baze won the 10th race on Sister Nova ($14.20) for Asmussen for his 25th win but did not have a mount in the 11th race that closed out the meet.
“It’s been a wonderful place to race all summer, and we’ve had a lot of fun,” Graham said. “It’s been a tough meet all along. The two boys kept it honest the whole meet, Corey and Tyler. I’m just happy we all came out in one piece. It’s been great. Ellis Park did a wonderful job throughout the summer, racing quality horses, a lot of horses staying here now and not going to New York for racing because racing is good here. It’s great to finally get a riding title at Ellis. I think I’ve been second the last two years.”
The 40-year-old Graham cast off any discussion of a title in recent weeks, insisting he didn’t even know where he stood - though Lanerie suggested Sunday that his friend and rival knew exactly where things stood.
“Kind of,” Graham, a product of Dublin, Ireland, admitted with one of his trademark playful laughs. “I wasn’t paying that much attention until coming down to the last week, because you can’t. You’d put too much pressure on yourself; you just have to let things flow. I’m just glad for all the trainers who helped me out this meet and my agent, Frank (Bernis), my wife Lisa and all my kids and everybody is here and happy.”
Making the moment even more special was that Monday was the Grahams’ 13th wedding anniversary, with the jockey’s wife showing up at the races with their three young children. The Grahams recently sold their New Orleans home and are looking for a farm in the Louisville area.
Lisa Graham said the jockey never brought up the title. She only knew he had clinched a tie when her mother texted that James had won two in a row.
“For him, he just wants to ride,” said Lisa, who is from Cork. “He doesn’t worry about titles, because you can make yourself crazy. It’s so out of your control. But I’m really proud of it. Our very first summer in America, we were here in 2003, then we went to Chicago. So it’s kind of cool to come back and be leading rider.”
Meanwhile, Baze, who rode predominantly for Asmussen at Ellis, took his second-place tie in the standings in stride.
“Titles mean a lot, but safety is what I’m worried about,” he said. “We all had a good meet, everybody left here safe. So it was a very successful meet for everybody.
“I’m very happy how the meet went. Steve gave me this wonderful opportunity. Without him, who knows how the meet would have gone? It was fun and I liked being here.”
Leading apprentice jockey: Declan Carroll
Carroll, a 20-year-old graduate of Louisville’s Trinity High School, has wanted to be a jockey for practically his entire life, being the son of well-respected horsemen David and Kim Carroll. Declan Carroll won the sixth race on Shorely Monday to get his 19th win.
“It means the world to me,” Carroll said of being recognized as leading apprentice. “I’ve been very lucky to ride for very good people and the horses have been running very well for me. I’m just glad I’ve gotten the opportunities and am trying to make the most of them. We’re on to Kentucky Downs, then Churchill and Keeneland coming up. Just trying to keep the ball rolling.”