07/28/2011 1:12PM

Ellis Park: Court mounts challenge for jockey's title


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Summers at Ellis Park are taking Jon Court back to the future. Court is the only jockey to win five straight riding titles at Ellis (1998-2002), and having added another title in 2009, he is threatening to tie the late Leroy Tauzin for a record seventh.

Court rode six winners last weekend at the Henderson, Ky., track, including a 9-1 upset aboard Abuela in the Ellis Park Turf Stakes and a three-win day Sunday. With 12 of 31 days complete, Court trailed Corey Lanerie by a 13-12 count atop the Ellis standings.

Court, 50, said he enjoys being at his old stomping grounds at Ellis, even though it’s a far cry from the Del Mar meets where he once rode regularly during his 5 1/2-year stint, from late 2003 to early 2009, on the rugged Southern California circuit. Indeed, the down-home, country-fair atmosphere at Ellis provides a stark contrast to the chic scene he experienced at Del Mar.

“I’m pretty adaptable,” said Court, a Florida native who began riding in 1980. “I really enjoyed being at Del Mar; it sure has its benefits. But I’m here at home, and we have these extra days off with only three days of racing.

“Del Mar is one of the premier meets here in the states, but at the same time, it has extremely high demands. There’s very little down time. Even though it’s at a beautiful location, really it’s all about doing your job. They call it a working vacation, but there’s not much vacation to it.”

Court lives with his wife, Krystal, and their 7-year-old daughter, Aubrey, just east of Louisville in the small town of Shelbyville. This year has been another memorable one for Court as he won the Arkansas Derby for the second straight year, then had his first-ever Kentucky Derby mount on that same horse, Archarcharch. Unfortunately, Archarcharch suffered a career-ending injury when finishing 15th in the Derby.

In 2009, Court won the Ellis title by a 33-32 tally over Lanerie, who was the leading rider last year while Court missed part of the meet with an injury.

Tauzin, who with R.A. “Cowboy” Jones ranks among the revered personalities of a bygone era at Ellis, won seven riding titles from 1969-80. The Louisiana native died in 1998 at age 55.

Into Friday action at Ellis, Court had 29,444 career mounts, with 3,593 wins and nearly $83.3 million in mount earnings. While his peak career years came in 2005 and 2006 in California, with mount earnings of more than $7.2 million both years, he has remained very steady in returning to a Kentucky base, winning with regularity wherever he rides.

“I feel extremely fortunate to be where I am right now with my career and my life,” he said.

Work continues on damaged barns

The reconstruction of the barns that incurred damage in the June 22 tornado at Churchill Downs is proceeding as hoped. Work by the Hall Contracting Co. is being undertaken after morning training is complete, shortly after 9 a.m., and could be complete as early as mid-September, according to track spokesman Darren Rogers. Barns under repair are fenced in and considered construction areas.

The seven barns with the most damage were 5, 21, 23, 24, 26, 28, and 40. None had to be completely demolished, even Barn 23, which housed horses trained by Steve Margolis and was the most severely damaged.

The Churchill fall meet begins Oct. 30, with the Breeders’ Cup set for Nov. 4-5.

Gardenia field taking shape

The annual highlight at Ellis, the Grade 3 Gardenia Stakes, is set for two weeks from Saturday, on Aug. 13. The $100,000 Gardenia, which was shortened in 2005 from its traditional 1 1/8-mile distance to one mile, dates to 1982, making this the 30th running.

At this early juncture, there are no stars among the fillies and mares under consideration, but Ellis racing secretary Dan Bork said this week that he is hopeful of assembling “a good competitive race worthy of maintaining the grade.” The early prospects for the Gardenia include Bella Medaglia, Choragus, Fortune Play, Groupie Doll, Inner Groove, La Rocca, and Secret File.

This is the first time in years, if ever, that the Gardenia will be run the same day as the annual highlight on the Chicago circuit, the Arlington Million.

◗ The feature on a 10-race Saturday card is a $32,000 overnight handicap at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf, but many in the ontrack crowd will be at Ellis to see something a little more exotic – the camel and ostrich races that have become very popular in recent years.

First post is 12:50 p.m. Central, with the camels scheduled to race at about 2:45 and the ostriches at about 4.