04/27/2011 2:59PM

Kerwin Clark gets first Kentucky Derby mount at age 52

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Emily Stevens/Coady Photography
Kerwin Clark rode Decisive Moment to victory in the $250,000 Jean Lafitte at Delta Downs.

OPELOUSAS, La. – After 36 years in the saddle, Kerwin Clark will ride in his first Kentucky Derby this year.

“It’s like a dream come true,” said Clark, who recently celebrated his 52nd birthday. “For something like this to happen at his point in my career, it is truly remarkable.”

Clark has been the regular rider on Decisive Moment since a second-place finish in the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot last November. The With Distinction colt won the $250,000 Jean Lafitte in his next start, before finishing fifth in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds in February. Most recently, Decisive Moment finished second in the Grade 3 Spiral at Turfway. His $301,000 in graded stakes earnings put him comfortably in the field for this year’s Derby.

Clark said he was able to pick up the mount on Decisive Moment for the Delta Jackpot because he had experience over the six-furlong Delta track.

“I had been riding a couple of horses for Trace Richards earlier in the meet at Delta,” he said. “They were owned by Ruben Sierra’s Just for Fun Stable, who had Decisive Moment in Florida at the time. My agent, Tony Martin, called and suggested we ride, and they agreed since I was familiar with the track at Delta.”

Clark said the relationship between Sierra, Decisive Moment’s trainer, Juan Arias, and himself has been rock solid ever since.

“Mr. Sierra has been one stand-up guy,” Clark said. “You would not believe the calls being made trying to change trainers, trying to change riders. He just says no. He tells them that we are three old-school guys who are going to do this together.”

Equally gracious is Clark, who credits Martin with helping him enjoy a bit of a career renaissance.

“I’m old fashioned in that I don’t believe in changing agents, but when Wes Landry, who had been my agent for about five years, left for Delaware with Brian Hernandez Jr. last summer, I was forced to find another,” Clark said. “I am very fortunate to have hooked up with Tony. He is not only a top agent, but he is a heck of a good guy.”

While not a household name, Clark, a native of Louisiana, has won close to 2,600 career races.

“We just want to go up to Churchill and do Louisiana proud,” he said of the Derby. “I’m Cajun head to toe, I’ve got good kids, good grandkids, and I’m making a great living doing what I love to do. Mentally, physically, and financially, I’ve never been happier than I am right now.”

Chief Jay set for Need for Speed

Before heading to Louisville next week, Clark will tend to business at Evangeline. He has the mount on Chief Jay in Friday night’s $50,000 Need for Speed Stakes. A field of six will scoot five furlongs in the evening’s opener.

Chief Jay has been a model of consistency for trainer Sam Breaux this year, having finished in the money in all four of his starts, including a win in the John E. Jackson Jr. Stakes at Fair Grounds in mid-March. In his most recent start, the 6-year-old son of Ile St. Louis reported home second in the Bayou St. John Stakes over the Fair Grounds turf in late March.

Also in the Need for Speed are the multiple stakes winner Tortuga Straits, third in this race a year ago, and Southern Style, winner of the open allowance prep for the Need for Speed on April 7. Don Simington will ride Tortuga Straits, while C.L. Marquez will be aboard Southern Style.

◗ Evangeline has amended its 2011 schedule and will now conclude its meeting the week after its traditional Labor Day close. The track has dropped the final two Wednesdays of the season, Aug. 24 and 31 in order to add Friday, Sept. 9, and Saturday, Sept. 10.