04/04/2012 12:07PM

Keeneland: One last meet for Leparoux before moving on to New York

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Keeneland/Coady Photography
Shortly after riding this spring at Keeneland, where he has been the dominant rider for six years, Julien Leparoux intends to move his tack to New York.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Not since the era of Pat Day has a jockey been more dominant at Keeneland than Julien Leparoux has been over the last six years. Leparoux has won or shared seven of the last 12 meet titles at this historic track, and although his life and career are about to undergo a couple of major changes, he is intent on keeping the status quo here at Keeneland.

Change one: Leparoux is engaged, having asked Shea Mitchell in February to marry him. Change two: After the Kentucky Derby is run May 5, Leparoux will ride regularly at Belmont Park and not Churchill Downs, where he also has been the alpha jockey in the post-Day age.

The move to New York means Leparoux has only Keeneland left among the Kentucky tracks in his regular rotation. In his career infancy, in 2006-07, he shattered records at Turfway Park before quickly proving himself among the headier competition at Keeneland and Churchill.

Leparoux said purses are a major factor in his move. While Kentucky still has made no headway on alternative gaming at state racetracks, the New York circuit is starting to see tangible effects of slots at tracks.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of years,” he said. “I think it is the right decision.”

Leparoux and his fiancée made the 16-hour drive Tuesday to Louisville from the Fort Lauderdale area, where he had another productive, if not spectacular, meet at Gulfstream Park. He won 60 races, good for third in the standings upon his departure, although his last couple of rides there could have worked out better. His final mount, Keertana, was third as the favorite in the Orchid, about a half-hour after Union Rags had traffic trouble when finishing third as a heavy favorite in the Florida Derby.

Gulfstream fans did not cut Leparoux much slack for either ride, and through his Twitter account, he took a parting shot at the way they treated him.

“To all the ones that says that I sucked,” he tweeted in part, “I will prove you wrong.”

Leparoux said Wednesday that he didn’t want to further delve into what he tweeted other than “we will talk about it after the (Kentucky) Derby.”

In the meantime, Union Rags remains one of the Derby favorites, and Leparoux is focused on being the leading jockey at Keeneland for the fourth straight meet, having sandwiched titles at the 2010 and 2011 fall meets around one here last spring. His agent, Steve Bass, said business should be brisk as this meet unfolds.

“I always look forward to having a good meet at Keeneland,” said Leparoux.

Successful Dan returns in talent-rich allowance

Aside from the featured Transylvania Stakes, the 10-race Friday opener at Keeneland is dotted with gems. The most obvious is the eighth race, a $65,000 allowance that drew Successful Dan, whose highly promising career was interrupted by a suspensory injury after he finished first (before being disqualified to third) in the 2010 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

“This horse has such a tremendous stride,” said Charlie Lopresti, who trains 6-year-old Successful Dan for breeder-owner Morton Fink. “He is just so talented. My job is to keep him happy and healthy. We’re just trying to get him started out on the year. We’re really hoping for a big year with him.”

Successful Dan, with Leparoux to ride, is part of an outstanding nine-horse field that also includes Nicanor, a full brother to Barbaro; Hoofit, winner of the Phoenix Stakes here last fall; Capt. Candyman Can, a six-time stakes winner; and Noble’s Promise, the millionaire winner of the 2009 Breeders’ Futurity.

In an earlier allowance (race 4), Don’t Tell Sophie will be trying to emulate a winning race here last fall when she captured a second-level allowance on Polytrack.

“I think I’ve got her back to where she was in the fall,” said trainer Phil Sims. “I might’ve forced things a little by running her on the grass, and maybe that’s not her cup of tea. I like the way she’s trained since we gave her a little break after the Fair Grounds race.”

Ward ready with young horses

Wesley Ward has made a name for himself as a trainer of extremely fast 2-year-olds, and he will be looking to add to his reputation in the first race of the meet. Ward has the stable coupling of Barisoff and Skylander in the meet opener, although he said he most likely will scratch one of them.

Barisoff is the only filly in a race that otherwise drew nine colts.

“She’s my best 2-year-old this year,” said Ward. “I was thinking of saving her to run Saturday, but I’ve got a wealth of fillies this year, so I don’t know.”