03/05/2017 8:45AM

Former jockey Melancon in coma after suffering stroke

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Retired jockey Larry Melancon has been in an induced coma in a North Carolina hospital since undergoing six hours of surgery Saturday after suffering a major stroke the previous day.

Trainer Al Stall Jr., for whom Melancon worked as an assistant and exercise rider in recent years, said friends throughout the racing community are “devastated” at the news.

“Larry was one of the last people you’d think this would ever happen to,” Stall said early Sunday from New Orleans.

Melancon had been on vacation in the Asheville, N.C., area with his wife, Denise, when he began to have symptoms associated with a stroke in their hotel room Friday morning. He eventually was air-lifted to nearby Mission Neurology, which specializes in neurological care.

Melancon, 61, retired from a riding career that spanned nearly four decades in July 2010. Based primarily in Kentucky, the Louisiana native was known as an underrated and highly capable rider, a skilled technician who amassed more than 2,800 wins and more than $60 million in mount earnings from nearly 21,000 career rides.

Upon his retirement, he maintained ties with the racing community, mostly by working for Stall through the spring of 2015. He then dabbled as a jockey’s agent, working briefly for Calvin Borel.

“He’d put on maybe five to seven pounds since he quit riding,” Stall said. “He was a non-smoker, he exercised, and he watched what he ate. He had both the physical and mental part of life under control. He was very happy, especially after he and Denise got married (in August 2015). We’re all very sad about this and are very much hoping he pulls through.”

Melancon rode in four runnings of the Kentucky Derby between 1976-2001, with a fourth aboard Amano, a 55-1 shot in 1976, representing his best finish. He enjoyed his best year in 2001, when his mounts earned nearly $6 million. Some of his biggest wins included the 1986 Blue Grass on Bachelor Beau, the 1995 Pennsylvania Derby on Pineing Patty, the 1998 New Orleans Handicap on Phantom On Tour, and the 2001 Stephen Foster on Guided Tour.

Melancon has maintained close friendships through the years with many of racing's greats, including retired Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. He and Denise live in Louisville, Ky.