02/22/2017 12:10PM

Game has changed for Jolley, 79, but he's still a player

Barbara D. Livingston
LeRoy Jolley, who trained two Kentucky Derby winners, in a photo dated 2009.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – LeRoy Jolley can walk virtually unnoticed among the crowd at Gulfstream Park. It wasn’t always this way.

More than a generation ago, Jolley was the trainer of the moment in much the same way that Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher, and Bob Baffert are today. He was destined for greatness at a very young age; when he was just 24, he trained Ridan, the heavy favorite and third-place finisher in the 1962 Kentucky Derby. He accomplished so much during the quarter-century that followed that his plaque was enshrined in the Racing Hall of Fame in 1987.

But when Jolley, now 79, saddled a 6-year-old named Sparkle Factor for a race here Sunday, it came without the slightest semblance of fanfare. Jolley had made the four-hour drive from Ocala, Fla., his winter base, to watch the dark bay mare finish last of six, beaten just three lengths.

“She needs a lot of things to go her way,” he said afterward with a slight chuckle.

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Besides Sparkle Factor, Jolley has two 2-year-olds in training at the Ocala Training Center. He wouldn’t mind making more road trips, but he lacks the stock. Since 2009, operating primarily out of Ocala and Saratoga, he has won just three races from 81 starters, with no more than one winner a year.

“Coming down here or over to Tampa breaks up the monotony of what we’re doing every day up in Ocala,” he said.

There once was a time when Jolley wasn’t so idle. He won the Kentucky Derby with Foolish Pleasure (1975) and Genuine Risk (1980) while also having such standouts as Honest Pleasure, General Assembly, Manila, and Meadow Star pass through his shed row. He’d love to come up with one more star as a last hurrah of sorts, but “they’re hard to come by,” he said.

“I’m always looking,” he said. “But yeah, they’re tough to find.”

Last year, Jolley brought his small stable to Keeneland for the spring and fall meets for the first time in many years. His traveling exercise boy: Jacinto Vasquez, a fellow Hall of Famer who rode many of the Jolley stars during his heyday.

“I can’t get away from him,” Jolley said with a laugh.

Jolley appears relatively fit for his age, and his mind and sense of humor remain sharp. He seems content with where life has taken him and with his legacy in racing. Once in a while, he still gets the recognition he deserves. He said he will be a guest on a radio show next week along with 80-year-old trainer Jack Van Berg.

“The subject is going to be ancient history,” he said with another laugh.