08/13/2013 12:46PM

Del Mar: Leparoux making his mark in Southern California


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DEL MAR, Calif. – A decade has gone by since jockey Julien Leparoux emigrated from France to the United States to pursue a riding career.

“I’m almost American,” he said last weekend.

He certainly has seen most of the country.

Leparoux has ridden on major circuits in Kentucky, Florida, and New York, and he is in the midst of his first full year of riding in California. Summertime seasons at Saratoga are gone, replaced by seaside racing at Del Mar.

Leparoux, 30, has made a successful transition as he continues a career that includes two Eclipse Awards – as outstanding apprentice of 2006 and outstanding jockey of 2009.

Through Sunday, Leparoux was tied for second in the standings at Del Mar with 16 wins, 13 behind leader Rafael Bejarano. Leparoux’s most recent win came in Sunday’s Grade 2 John Mabee Stakes for fillies and mares on turf with Tiz Flirtatious, and it is a reflection of his goal for the summer: collect mounts on stakes runners bound for valuable race later this year.

“I hope it keeps going,” Leparoux said. “The meet has been good. I’ve been riding some nice horses.”

This weekend, Leparoux is scheduled to ride Discreet Marq in Saturday’s $300,000 Del Mar Oaks and Curvy Cat in Sunday’s $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap.

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Leparoux’s other leading mounts in the last month at Del Mar include the promising 2-year-old maiden race winner Diamond Bachelor, who won his debut in a one-mile turf race on Aug. 8, and Rising Legend, the 3-year-old who won a division of Oceanside Stakes on July 17 and is bound for the Del Mar Derby on Sept. 1.

Leparoux rides Diamond Bachelor for trainer Patrick Biancone, who gave the jockey a job as an exercise rider in 2003 after he left France and has watched him develop.

“He’s a good talent,” Biancone said. “He’s a hard-working kid.”

Diamond Bachelor had a lofty reputation before he reached the races. A colt by War Front, Diamond Bachelor was purchased for $570,000 at the Barretts March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training earlier this year and had been working well before drawing off to win his debut by 3 1/4 lengths.

From Leparoux’s point of view, Diamond Bachelor is an outstanding prospect.

“He’s been very good in the morning and he’s the kind of horse that does what you want him to do,” Leparoux said. “If you don’t ask him, he won’t do much more. He proved us right. He ran a huge race. I think he can improve from that race, too.”

Last fall, Leparoux married the former Shea Mitchell, the daughter of California trainer Mike Mitchell. The marriage led Leparoux to move to California at the end of 2012. During the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting earlier this year, he won 28 races and ranked eighth in the standings. He missed the final three weeks of that meeting to ride at Keeneland, where he won four stakes in April.

At the spring-summer meeting at Betfair Hollywood Park, he won 18 races and was ninth in the standings.

[DEL MAR 2013: Complete meet coverage, schedule, race replays]

“I think I had a good Santa Anita meeting,” he said. “Hollywood Park was a little slow. But I was going out of town nearly every weekend. That doesn’t help you at home when you go out. The Del Mar meeting is good, for sure.”

Leparoux rode only 89 races during the 50-day Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, spending weekends at Churchill Downs and Pimlico in May, traveling to Belmont, Churchill Downs and Colonial Downs in June, and riding at Arlington Park in early July.

Years of riding for major stables in Kentucky and New York have led to continued opportunities out of town this summer for Leparoux. In late July and early August, Leparoux missed consecutive Saturdays at Del Mar to ride at Saratoga. The highlight of those journeys was a second by Successful Dan in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap on Aug. 3.

“I went for trainers who have supported me all through my career,” he said. “I needed to go even if we didn’t win. Hopefully all of the travel will pay off in the Breeders’ Cup.”

While Leparoux rides at Del Mar this week, more travel is not far off.

After the Del Mar meeting, he plans a mid-September vacation in France. Santa Anita’s fall meeting begins on Sept. 27, and Keeneland opens its fall meeting a week later. Leparoux said last weekend he is not sure where he will be based for much of October.

It’s all part of the career plan for the well-traveled jockey, who has found a permanent home in this country. Officially, Leparoux is a citizen of France, but that may change soon.

“I can do my citizenship next year,” he said. “I might do it.”