12/04/2009 12:00AM

French apprentice finding success


Freddie Lenclud is going places. From country to country, state to state, racetrack to racetrack, the 22-year-old apprentice rider is on the move, courtesy of a profession he is growing into.

Having recently finished the Churchill Downs fall meet as the top apprentice with nine winners, Lenclud is currently living near and working at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. Around the first of the year, he will move to Oaklawn Park, the Hot Springs, Ark., track where the 2010 meet starts Jan. 15.

Lenclud's perpetual motion began when he was 14.

"I was born in the north of France, close to Belgium, about three hours north of Paris," began Lenclud. "Someone told me I was so small, I should consider being a jockey. I looked into it online and decided to try it."

For the next four years, Lenclud lived in the famed French equine town of Chantilly at the Moulin a Vent boarding school for future jockeys and stable lads. At 18, he went to work in England for Luca Cumani for the better part of two years, "so I could learn English and get a different experience," said Lenclud. He actually rode in a handful of races, winning twice at Kempton.

Lenclud then returned for less than a year to Chantilly, and kept in contact with a friend and fellow countryman, Florent Geroux, who was working at Arlington Park in Chicago for trainer Bill Mott. Geroux, now riding competitively at Hawthorne, encouraged Lenclud in his ambitions, and after three months of summer work for Mott, Lenclud went back and forth between the United States and his homeland, ultimately arriving last December with his visa issues resolved and ready to work as an exercise rider for trainer Ian Wilkes at the Palm Meadows training center in south Florida.

Some six months later, Lenclud was riding his first American race at Churchill Downs. In July at Ellis Park, he rode his first winner, Bearpath, trained by Wilkes.

"Bearpath is my favorite horse," said Lenclud, who has ridden the gelding to two subsequent wins, including a turf-marathon allowance last month at Churchill. "We always knew he was a good horse."

Through Thursday night at Turfway, Lenclud had won with 33 of 323 mounts, with other notable wins coming aboard Prince Will I Am, a 45-1 first-time starter in maiden-special company for Michelle Nihei, and on Guam Typhoon, trained by Wilkes, in a third-level allowance.

"That young man was an absolutely enormous help to me this summer," Nihei said. "I was at Saratoga over the summer and left some horses back in Kentucky, and my assistant [Billy Ramirez] relied on Freddie for a lot. His biggest asset is how hard he works. He also really tries so hard when he rides. You like to see a young rider have horsemanship like he does, but you also like to see a lot of 'try.' "

During his career ascent, Lenclud has been befriended by two top jockeys who ride frequently for Wilkes: Julien Leparoux, a fellow Frenchman he met at the Arlington Million in August, and Calvin Borel, the iconic Cajun who has won two of the last three runnings of the Kentucky Derby and has wintered for years at Oaklawn.

"I was pretty lucky to work for Ian because Julien and Calvin were always close by," said Lenclud, who rides with a five-pound allowance and is being represented by agent Doc Danner, the former longtime agent for Pat Day. "They have always been behind me and given me good advice. I'm happy about going to Oaklawn because Calvin will be there and he helps me a lot."

* Coy Cat and School Girl, the respective one-two finishers for trainer Paul McGee when Turfway opened last Sunday with the Holiday Inaugural, both could return for the $50,000 Wishing Well Stakes, a six-furlong filly-mare race on Jan. 9.

In the meantime, Coy Cat will train at the Fair Grounds, where McGee will split his horses this winter along with a second division at Oaklawn. Coy Cat took 14 starts to finally win a race but now is 5 for 22, including two stakes wins.

* The Sunday feature at Turfway is a $24,900 allowance that drew seven fillies and mares going a mile on the Polytrack. Lenclud has the mount on Kiss Mine, one of the main contenders in a race governed by second-level conditions and a $40,000 claiming option.

Kiss Mine, trained by Dave Vance, exits a tough Nov. 11 turf allowance at Churchill and could be a deserving favorite when she breaks from post 5 in the eighth of nine Sunday races.

* Robert "Fibber" Magee, a Churchill backstretch mainstay who was fondly called "The Master" for his work as an exercise rider, died Sunday in Louisville following complications from a brain aneurysm. He was 65.

Magee worked as an assistant for many years for Don Winfree, including during the mid-1980s, when Winfree trained such top runners as Lazer Show and No Joke.