03/23/2016 1:20PM

Derby Watch: With a murderers' row of mounts, Geroux's time has come

Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography
Gun Runner wins the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds under Florent Geroux.

NEW ORLEANS – Florent Geroux showed up right on time at the Fair Grounds track kitchen for a scheduled interview Wednesday morning, just after working three horses, including the top filly I’m a Chatterbox, with another to work later after the renovation break. It’s been that kind of a meet for the jockey, making well-timed moves and getting on the best horses, and he’ll look to win the biggest of them all at this meet Saturday when he rides Gun Runner in the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby.

Geroux’s ride to prominence this season at Fair Grounds coincides with his emerging as the go-to rider for Gun Runner’s trainer, Steve Asmussen. Though Geroux, 29, has plenty of business with a number of big stables here – including those of trainers Wayne Catalano, Brad Cox, Larry Jones, and Mike Stidham – it is Asmussen who has made him his top rider, and that includes both races and workouts.

“He puts the horse first and understands what we’re trying to do in terms of progression and development,” Asmussen said Wednesday. “He does what’s right. He comes from a team environment. That’s very obvious with him.”


Geroux is the son of Dominque Geroux, who was a jockey and then a trainer in his native France. Geroux began his career there after attending a French riding academy, then came to the United States, where he worked for trainer Patrick Biancone, who also helped launch the career of Julien Leparoux.

He was largely a regional sensation in the Midwest, particularly in Chicago, until two years ago, but his profile has been raised exponentially. He won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2014 with Work All Week and then last year won a pair of Breeders’ Cup races with Catch a Glimpse and Mongolian Saturday and won the Arlington Million on The Pizza Man. He finished 2015 ranked 13th nationally in purses and 32nd in victories.

Geroux is off to an even stronger start in 2016. He is sixth in the nation in earnings and eighth in wins, and that’s reflected in the lineup he has in stakes here Saturday. In addition to riding Gun Runner, he’s on Stageplay for Asmussen in the Fair Grounds Oaks, Coup de Grace for Jones in the New Orleans Handicap, and Chocolate Ride for Cox in the Mervin Muniz on turf. Coup de Grace is the only one of the four who is not the favorite or second choice on the morning line of Fair Grounds linemaker Mike Diliberto.

“The trainers that are putting me on the horses, they’re the ones making it happen,” Geroux, who speaks English fluently, said modestly. “Better horses help you become a better rider.”

He’s underselling his talents, for Geroux has proven that he is adept at anything – sprints, routes, turf, dirt, fillies, colts. Whatever is thrown his way, he adapts.

Geroux had ridden occasionally for Asmussen before this meet, but their association is at a new level.

“He gave us a shot,” said Geroux, whose agent is the razor-sharp former racing secretary Doug Bredar, husband of the television analyst Caton Bredar. “It was a great opportunity.”

He’s made the most of it. Geroux rode Gun Runner in a race for the first time last month in the 1 1/16-mile Risen Star, which Gun Runner won while making his first start in nearly three months.

“He’s very athletic,” Geroux said. “If a hole opened, he was able to go through it. He’s not a big horse with one stride, like you sometimes see in Derby horses. He has stamina, and he has gears. You can put him where you want to be.”

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

In the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby, Gun Runner will break from the rail in a field of 11.

“I think and hope he’ll be even better this time,” Geroux said. “He’s more mature. He was coming off a long layoff last time. He’s worked well. All signs say he should improve.”

All signs are pointing up for Geroux, too. He has quite a lineup heading into the next few weeks, with Catch a Glimpse and I’m a Chatterbox scheduled to race at Keeneland, where Geroux is headed next.

He may be in Kentucky a while. Geroux sold his home in Chicago and is moving to Louisville with his wife and their two small children.

“I want to ride nice horses and be in the big races, and I’m grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “When you work hard and know what you want, you can go far. That’s what I’m hoping.”