07/07/2002 11:00PM

Court authoring a champion jockey's bio


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A wise man once said something like, "They don't build statues of critics," with the point being that monuments are made only for people who play in the main arena, not for those who watch.

The saying is pertinent to Jon Court because, ever so briefly in the 1990's, when Court was injured so badly that he thought he might have to give up riding racehorses, he considered a career as a turf writer.

They don't build bobbleheads of turf writers.

Having recovered long ago from his injuries, Court has become such a riding legend at Ellis Park that on July 27, bobblehead replicas of the jockey will be given away at the Henderson, Ky., track. Indeed, no one in the 80-year history of Ellis Park appears more deserving of a bobblehead tribute than Court, whose four consecutive riding titles there are not only a track record, but might also become five in a row, if the veteran jockey has his way.

"This meet coming up is as tough as I've probably seen at Ellis," Court said Sunday before he concluded another outstanding meet at Churchill Downs, where he rode three winners on the closing-day card and finished fourth in the rider standings.

"There are going to be a lot of good jocks there, giving me a run for the money. But I'm making that my primary goal, to get five in a row. I have to set my sights on that."

For Court, a 41-year-old native of Gainesville, Fla., "making a good living as a jockey in Kentucky is a dream come true for me. Ever since I was a boy, I always wanted to do just what I'm doing."

Court therefore could never have imagined that someday a bobblehead would be created in his image. "It's truly an honor," said Court. "It's a phenomenon in itself, all this bobblehead craze, and to have one of me, well, I'm really humbled."

Court said shifting his tack to Ellis Park not only means "not having to move too far from home," which is Shelbyville, Ky., but "it's two months of a great meet. Ellis Park is where people really enjoy themselves. It's a family-oriented place with a lot of different activities. Our job is to instill some quality horse racing during that time, and I believe that's what people will see again this meet."

For Court, winning a fifth straight title would make his summer at Ellis that much more enjoyable.

"Back when I was sidelined and trying my hand at a little writing, I never would have believed how far my career has come," he said. "It's probably a good thing, anyway, because I didn't have quite the ability at writing that I maybe thought I did."

Good thing, because then Ellis Park might not have ever had its brightest star. Nor its first bobblehead.

Rundown on the riders

Besides Court, the Ellis jockey colony is expected to include several other accomplished riders, including former Ellis champions Calvin Borel (1996), Willie Martinez (1993), and Tony D'Amico (1989).

The list of newcomers includes Lonnie Meche, who won a Fair Grounds title in 2000-01, and Dean Butler, an East Coast veteran who recently moved here from New Jersey. Mike "Clarence" McGary has been hired as Butler's agent.

Ellis general manager Paul Kuerzi, who is overseeing his fourth Ellis meet, said that partly because imported simulcasting at Ellis was up 3 percent during the first six months of the year. "We're probably being less conservative with our first condition book than in the past," he said. "We're going to give away about $190,000 a day for the first part of the meet, which is up over past years."

Doug Bredar, who is working his first meet as racing secretary at Ellis after having concluded his first meet as racing secretary at Churchill, estimated that overnight purses would average about $160,000, not counting stakes or Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund bonuses. With those additions, per-day purses will average roughly $210,000, said Bredar.

If the first two days are any indication, horseplayers should enjoy the large field sizes that Ellis will offer. A total of 105 horses were on the overnight (from 148 entered) for opening day, and 102 were on the Thursday card.