06/10/2010 11:00PM

Leparoux, agent both on the mend


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Eclipse Award-winning jockey Julien Leparoux has been sidelined since mid-May with a back injury sustained in a spill at Pimlico - and that's not even close to being the bad news for Leparoux's agent, Steve Bass.

Fortunately for Leparoux, it appears he will be able to return to riding at Churchill Downs by July 1. On Thursday, Leparoux saw his physician, who cleared him to begin an exercise regimen that will allow him to begin exercising horses on June 24, with his first day of competition tentatively set for a week later.

But in the meantime, Bass has encountered his own serious health issues. Bass said he awoke on the morning of May 18 "completely deaf" in his right ear, and although he said he has regained about 30 percent of his hearing in the ear, the condition is incredibly uncomfortable and distressing.

"It's been awful, really frustrating," said Bass, a 52-year-old former jockey who retired in 1994 after 12 years of riding. "I went to bed fine and woke up deaf in the one ear. It's not necessarily painful, but it really alters your life in a terrible way."

Bass said doctors initially believed the condition might have stemmed from a tumor, a virus, excessive fluid, or a stroke, but an MRI and other tests have found none of the above. He said he also had no catastrophic spills or accidents during his riding career that might have led to the condition. An aggressive program of oral steroids has partially restored his hearing, "but they don't know how much hearing I'll get back," said Bass.

As the front man for Leparoux since shortly after the Frenchmanbegan riding in America in 2005, Bass has become very well known among horsemen and other racing industry participants from coast to coast. While based in Kentucky every spring and fall, Leparoux has ridden extensively at other times in California, New York, and Florida, with Bass handling his business every step of the way.

In 2006, Leparoux led all jockeys in wins with 403 and was voted an Eclipse Award for top apprentice. As his career arc climbed steadily, he won three Breeders' Cup races last November at Santa Anita, culminating in winning the Eclipse Award for top jockey.

Leparoux sustained a fractured vertebra and chipped tooth when thrown from his mount in the May 14 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico. Although he felt well enough to ride May 15 at Pimlico and May 16 at Churchill, he was ordered to stop riding after being diagnosed with the fracture early the following week.

Bass said he and Leparoux were scheduled to leave together Monday for a brief vacation and that they hope to return refreshed in mind and body.

"This has been a pretty tough time for both of us, as you can imagine," he said.