05/31/2013 1:28PM

Fort Erie opener features big crowd, return of Jack Lauzon


FORT ERIE, Ontario – One of the largest crowds in years cheered on the racing action – and the return of a veteran rider – at Fort Erie last Sunday under a warming opening-day sun.

Food and beverage sites were packed all day and the mutuel clerks were inundated with customers who bet more than $128,000 in ontrack wagering for the 8-race card. That represents a 28 percent increase over last year’s opening day, which came three weeks earlier on the Sunday of Kentucky Derby weekend.

Good-sized fields were the order of the day, highlighted by 14 runners going to post in the first turf race of the season, and racing secretary Eric Johnston was all smiles.

“I could have carded 11 races on the day,” Johnston said.

Brian Cheyne rode two winners and trainer Danny Wills also had two wins on the day, which featured some healthy prices. The winners of six of the eight races paid more than $15, topped by $53.30 winner Mark’s Soul in the seventh race.

One of the highlights of the day was the return of jockey Jack Lauzon after six years away from the saddle. Lauzon, 51, finished second on Cutie Girl in the third race in his first mount back.

After retiring from riding, Lauzon became a successful jockey agent at Woodbine, his clients including Sovereign Award- and Eclipse Award-winning apprentice Omar Moreno and journeyman Jermaine Bridgmohan.

Lauzon was working in the oil transport business in Alberta over the winter when he started thinking about returning to the racetrack.

“Wet weather in Alberta did not work out well for my transport company and the winter roads became a muddy bog for the many vehicles that are used in the oil business,” Lauzon said. “Work slowly ground to a halt and there was not a great deal to do. By chance, a woman employed as a foreman for a nearby Thoroughbred farm had to take some time off and I happily stepped into the role. One thing led to another and before long I was back in the saddle, working with and enjoying the company of horses. Before I knew it, riding was back on my mind, and now here I am.”

Jocko, as he is known to horsemen everywhere, looks much younger than his 51 years and has returned to riding at 119 pounds.

“Dropping a few pounds was not a problem,” Lauzon said, “but I still have some work to do to reach top riding shape. Even so, my horse in that third race was live and we nearly got it done.”

Lauzon has made Fort Erie his home over the years with his wife Geraldine, son Josh, and daughter Hailey.

“Josh, 21, is currently down in Kentucky working with the Mark Casse operation at the moment,” Lauzon said.

“Hailey, now 10, has already become a success in her own right, working on advertising commercials since the age of 5. I am sure that Hailey and mom Geraldine were pleased to find me home rather than considering a move to Alberta.

“I do love riding, and after watching Gary Stevens complete his own comeback with a win for Wayne Lukas in the Preakness, I decided that, much like Gary, I was not ready to put away my tack just yet.”

For the time being, Lauzon has decided to be his own agent while he renews his contacts and friendships with owners and trainers. He should have no problem doing just that.