Florent Geroux, rider of 2018 champion filly Monomoy Girl and 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, will stay in Kentucky this summer in another sign of the increasing quality of racing and enhanced purses offered at Ellis Park.
Also new to the Ellis Park jockey colony:
✦ Tyler Baze, long a California mainstay and the 2000 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey who has won 2,629 races and more than $117 million in purses in his career.
✦ Oaklawn Park leading rider David Cohen, who ranked sixth in North America in wins with 288 in 2009 and who resumed riding last year after an almost four-year hiatus forced by injury and prolonged by the deaths of his father and sister.
✦ Chantal Sutherland, one of Canada's top riders before finding success on the tough Southern California circuit, including being the first female jockey to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and the Hollywood Gold Cup.
Geroux is likely to miss most Saturdays to ride in stakes around the country, and Baze and Cohen probably will go out of town some as well. But racing fans can expect all the jockeys to maintain a significant presence at Ellis Park's meet that runs June 30 through Labor Day.
In addition, two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Julien Leparoux will ride at Ellis Park the first week before leaving Kentucky for New York's elite Saratoga race meet. It will mark the first time that Leparoux, voted North America's outstanding apprentice in 2006 and outstanding jockey three years later, has ridden at Ellis Park.
With Leparoux riding the first few days, there could be four Eclipse Award winners in the Ellis jocks' room, with Brian Hernandez Jr. in 2004 and Shaun Bridgmohan in 1998 voted champion apprentice jockey.
“The riding colony has been very strong the last couple of years, but this is unprecedented,” said Ellis Park racing secretary Dan Bork. “It really says something about Kentucky racing's upswing when nationally prominent jockeys are increasingly staying in the state for the summer. And it's why we have our stakes on Sundays, because we know some riders will be out of town on Saturdays. The quality of Ellis Park racing has been really good the past couple of years, and having even more talented and accomplished jockeys join us just makes it even better for the fans and bettors.”
“We couldn't ask for a better endorsement than Florent Geroux opting to stay home and ride a good number of days at Ellis Park,” said Ellis general manager Jeff Hall. “It speaks volumes about our racing program. Four years ago we averaged $155,000 a day in purses. This year we're offering $330,000. I don't know a horseman who isn't good at math.
“But it's more than just money. Owners, trainers and jockeys also want to like where they're racing. We're so appreciative of the horsemen supporting us, believing in us and the possibilities they see at Ellis Park. And, of course, it wouldn't be possible without Kentucky Downs and our horsemen's group (the Kentucky HBPA) transferring purse money and Churchill Downs' off-season stabling providing housing for many of our horses. I'm so bullish on the future of Kentucky racing with this spirit of cooperation.”
Geroux ranks 13th in North America in purses this year at $5.1 million. He has won five Breeders' Cup races, including the 2018 Distaff on Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl and the 2017 Classic aboard Gun Runner, and ridden 12 horses who won at least one Grade 1 stakes, including 2014 champion sprinter Work All Week. He has won 1,443 races and $86 million in purses since his first full year of riding in 2008.
The 32-year-old French-born Geroux, who became a U.S. citizen a year ago, previously made Saratoga his summer base after relocating his tack from Chicago to Kentucky in 2015. He made his Ellis debut last July 1, riding five mounts over two days for major client Brad Cox before going to New York.
Jockey agent Doug Bredar, who lines up Geroux's mounts, said a key factor in their decision is that Monomoy Girl won't be at Saratoga after her season was delayed by a colic episode.
“We felt the smart move was to be based in the Midwest, which obviously includes Ellis Park,” Bredar said. “If we've got a nice horse running somewhere, we'll definitely travel. If we need to just stay home, we'll probably be riding at Ellis quite a bit.”
In that regard, Geroux joins colleagues such as Hernandez, Bridgmohan, Corey Lanerie and Robby Albarado who in recent years elected to stay home in Kentucky and fly out to races when needed, rather than incurring the significant expense of being based at Saratoga and often struggling for live mounts. The riders say they have as good or better chance to get on a nice young horse at Ellis Park than if they spend the summer at Saratoga, where the daily racing typically is dominated by New York trainers using their New York jockeys.
“The way the racing has changed at Ellis Park is unbelievable,” said Lanerie, a five-time Ellis Park leading rider who spent the summer at Saratoga in 2014 and 2015 – and who this past Saturday won New York's Grade 1 Woody Stephens on Ellis 2-year-old winner Hog Creek Hustle. “You can find a Derby horse or Oaks filly at Ellis Park. Now I think it will be even better.”
Amid the difficulties facing California racing, the 36-year-old Baze this spring relocated to the Midwest, riding the last six weeks of Oaklawn Park's newly extended meet in Arkansas before coming to Churchill Downs.
Baze has won 2,629 races and more than $117 million in purse earnings, including the Grade 3 Arlington Matron on June 1 with Calumet Farm's Coachwhip and Churchill Downs' Grade 3 Winning Colors on Honey Bunny on May 25. He has won 19 Grade 1 races throughout his career.
Baze is from one of horse racing's best-known families, which includes second-cousin Russell Baze, the sport's all-time win leader at 12,842. Tyler's mom was a jockey and his dad rode for two months — “He liked to eat more than I do,” says his son — before becoming a horse-shoer, as well as a singer and songwriter. Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Gary Stevens is an uncle by marriage.
“I love California, that's been my home,” the father of three young kids said. “But it was time for a change. I had a good opportunity, so I took it. I love Kentucky… To me, it's about riding and having a good time and fun while you're doing it. The only hard part of any of this for me is being away from my kids and family. But I get to go out there occasionally and see them. We'll make it work. Maybe they'll have to come and spend some time here.”
Ellis Park's $330,000 offered in average daily purses resonated with Baze's agent, Vic Stauffer, who also is Oaklawn's announcer.
“When we heard that Ellis is going to have $330,000 a day in purses, it just seemed like a natural transition to try to just stay here in Kentucky literally year-round except for when we go back to Oaklawn in the winter time,” he said. “It's a perfect fit.
“Being in the top three in the standings means a ton. Because if a horse ships in from out of town, or an owner doesn't necessarily know who the riders are, he might just say to his trainer, 'Well, give me one of the top three guys.' We do know there are stakes that we might be able to ride out of town on Saturdays. But it will have to be a very big deal to have us leave Ellis.”
Cohen, who has a home near Louisville, won Oaklawn's riding title with 75 wins, two more than six-time defending meet-leader Ricardo Santana Jr. He had the opportunity to ride in New York this summer, with agent Bill Castle calling Ellis Park an investment in the future.
“We'll be at Saratoga from time to time, but this is about committing to Kentucky, to ride for more of the people who are from here that we haven't done business with,” Castle said. “We're not leaving. It's not a one-inning ballgame. We love the circuit.”
Sutherland, who last summer rode at Woodbine after returning from injuries incurred in a spill in a race at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, likewise is committing to the commonwealth.
“I've always wanted to come to Kentucky; it's been a dream to ride here,” she said. “I'm excited to try a new track. I'm already having a great summer, but I'm looking forward to Ellis.”