Jon Court reached a riding milestone in 2021 at Oaklawn, after all.
Court, 61, was poised for his 700th career local victory when he moved his tack to Churchill Downs in late April, about two weeks before Oaklawn’s 2021 live meeting ended.
“(Seven hundred) will be my goal upon my 2022 return,” Court said in a parting text April 23.
Times change, but the number didn’t.
Oaklawn announced in June that an expanded racing calendar for the upcoming season would feature a December opening for the first time in its 117-year history.
Stalled at 699 since April 9, Court reached the milestone when he won Friday’s fifth race aboard Unbridled Twister ($6.20) for trainer Al Cates of Hot Springs. It was Court’s second and final mount on the opening-day card, which drew an estimated crowd of 15,000. Only five other riders in Oaklawn history have reached 700 career victories.
“Isn’t that amazing?” Court said Saturday morning. “It was so exciting. It gave me butterflies to think, ‘Wow! I’ve actually made it,’ because at the end of last year’s meet I had run so many second and thirds, I thought I’m just snakebit.”
Court said his wife, Rosemary, reminded him that the wait to 700 may not be as long as he initially believed. Oaklawn’s live season was originally scheduled to begin in late January, a more traditional spot, before the date was amended.
“My mind is programmed to think every first of the year we come here,” Jon Court said. “I said to her, ‘That’s right, I do have a chance to get to 700.’ Not only do I have a chance, but the cards fell favorably. There seemed to be a useful sense of excitement for me to do it in 2021. When I left the meet, it was, ‘Oh, man, I tried so hard. I’m one win away.’ But it was fun. It’s always been fun and there’s a lot of energy and excitement. I’m just enjoying the journey.”
Court rode his first winner at Oaklawn in 1981 and was leading rider in 2000 with 69 victories. He has 35 career stakes victories at Oaklawn, including consecutive runnings of the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) in 2010 and 2011. Court won 11 races last season at Oaklawn.
Pat Day, the late Larry Snyder, Calvin Borel, John Lively and Tim Doocy are the only other riders in Oaklawn history to reach 700 career victories. Day rode a record 1,264 winners at Oaklawn, his last coming in 2004. Borel, also a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, is still active at Oaklawn and had 973 victories through Friday.
Court said he has no plans to stop at 700.
“Full steam ahead,” he said.
Court is represented by longtime friend Larry Baker, who began booking mounts for the jockey last spring.