11/21/2005 12:00AM

Court takes bad week in stride


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Jon Court had a week that would drive a lesser man to distraction.

He was already dealing with the death of jockey Chris Herrell, a friend from the Kentucky circuit. On Tuesday, with that tragedy still very much on his mind, Court played a key role in the tumultous transition of power at the Jockeys' Guild. Then, once he was back in the saddle, Court's three modest victories at Hollywood Park were offset by the frustration of six seconds and four thirds, including a runner-up finish with True Xena in Sunday's Moccasin Stakes that haunted him well into the night.

So what did he do? Kick the dog? Throw his food? Spew harsh language at defenseless service personnel? Not hardly. Court simply showered, packed, and boarded a red-eye Sunday night for Kentucky, where he awoke Monday morning determined to enjoy a few days off with family and friends.

Jockeys usually take time off only when they break something, or land on the wrong side of a stewards' decision. Court had planned to combine a Thanksgiving holiday with business at Churchill Downs, where he was scheduled to ride Sport Page Handicap winner Gotaghost-ofachance in the $500,000 Clark Handicap on Friday. As it turned out, Gotaghostofachance will be staying in the barn, which means Court has all week to chew on the Moccasin results if he so chooses.

Billed as an ungraded seven-furlong stakes for 2-year-old fillies, the Moccasin turned out to be an old-fashioned bar brawl between the little chestnut brick wall Private World, by Thunder Gulch, and the leggy, elegant True Xena, a daughter of Yes It's True.

As the two fillies got down to business in the final furlong, Court was going after True Xena right-handed when she began leaning left into Private World, who was ridden by Kent Desormeaux. Court switched to the left hand and his filly seemed to straighten, but then Desormeaux tightened the gap, forcing Court to switch his stick back to the right.

In a matter of strides, True Xena veered left again. Private World took a brush but plowed on, while Court pulled hard on his right rein to straighten True Xena. The final margin was too close for either jockey to judge.

"I'm sorry, man, but I've got to put a hold on this one," Desormeaux said as they galloped out.

"I understand, and I don't blame you," Court replied. "If I won it, I'm coming down."

Private World got the nod, but Court knew he had no shot, no matter what the photo revealed. As he stepped to the phone by the weighing scale, hecklers barked at him for having the nerve to claim foul.

"Far from it," Court shot back. "I was just addressing the stewards, because I've got something to answer for."

Maybe so. But if Court gets days for what was an admirable display of consummate professionalism in the heat of battle, it would be a shame.

"I was just trying to win a race without jeopardizing horses and riders in the process," Court said Monday. "What happened wasn't too brutal, but it was brutal enough to warrant a disqualification. My filly got about a head in front, but I could tell she was spent. After that it was just a matter of hanging onto that head, which I was unable to do.

"I really thought I had her under control," Court added. "But when they start to get tired, they have a tendency to swagger when you hit them. Like I said yesterday in the room, even us great ones make mistakes."

That last crack was delivered with tongue poked firmly in cheek. At the age of 45, Court is a solid, no-frills journeyman with more than 3,000 wins, and his skills are appreciated by a growing number of influential horsemen. His credentials do not exactly scream Hall of Fame, but in the 20 months since he moved from the Midwest to California they have grown to include major victories with such runners as Leroidesanimeaux, Miss Loren, Excessivepleasure, and Pohave. Court ranks 17th in the nation in mount earnings for 2005, with just over $7 million.

Off the track, Court is determined to help raise the Jockeys' Guild from the depths of recent controversy and strife. To that end, Court has stepped forward to take a seat on the guild's revamped board of directors. One of his first actions was to lend his support last Tuesday to a group of riders determined to secure control of the Jockeys' Guild offices, not far from Santa Anita Park, in the face of the ousted management team led by Dr. Wayne Gertmenian.

"Dr. Gertmenian's word was always that we were 'going to war' with this entity or that," said Court, who had declined several opportunities to join the guild's board during the Gertmenian years. "I never believed in that concept. You make enemies in war. You have casualties, you've got wounds, and burned bridges.

"As a result, we were systematically dilapidating our relationships with companies like Magna and Churchill Downs. That will stop. From now on we've got to work though negotiations, and learn to amicably compromise for the good of all riders. And for the good of the game."