04/15/2015 11:41AM

Melancon quietly goes about business of winning

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Coady Photography
Gerard Melancon won 77 races from 278 mounts (28 percent) at the recently concluded Delta Downs winter meeting.

OPELOUSAS, La. – For someone who just became the 52nd-winningest jockey in North American history, Gerard Melancon has to be one of the best-kept secrets on the continent. The 47-year-old native of nearby Rayne, La., posted a two-bagger on Evangeline Downs’s season-opening program April 8, boosting his victory total to 4,348. The tallies vaulted him ahead of Pat Valenzuela, who is decidedly on the other end of the visibility spectrum.

“I truly feel blessed,” Melancon said. “I’ve gone by Randy [Romero] now and Ray [Sibille]. I mean, these are the guys I grew up admiring, and to be grouped with them now is an honor.”

Melancon has been quietly pursuing excellence in the saddle for three decades, mostly in his home region of southern Louisiana. With only a few exceptions, he has consistently ranked in the top 100 in the country in both wins and earnings since 2000, the earliest year Equibase’s database is available on its website. Highlights during that remarkable run of consistency include his 13th-place finish in the national standings for wins in 2003 and his ranking of 42nd in earnings in 2013.

He is showing no signs of slowing down, as he enjoyed a solid Delta Downs meeting over the winter that saw him finish second in the standings by both wins and earnings to Colby Hernandez. Melancon visited the winner’s circle 77 times from 278 mounts, for a gaudy 28 percent success rate. Melancon holds the Delta Downs record for wins in a season, posting 146 in 2007-08.

Melancon estimates that he has won “eight or nine” riding titles, all in Louisiana. He continues to be represented by his longtime agent, Louis Coco.

Some of his biggest wins also have come in the Bayou State. Melancon has won two runnings of the $1 million Delta Jackpot, with Sabercat for trainer Steve Asmussen in 2011 and Rise Up for Tom Amoss in 2013. He also accounted for the 2004 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs aboard Fantasticat, who was trained by Bobby Barnett. There is a lot to be said for home cooking, according to Melancon.

“I get to sleep in my own bed almost every night,” Melancon said. “Our house is 50 minutes from Delta and 20 from Evangeline. I think it really helps.”

Melancon said family also has played a large part in his riding career and is the biggest reason why he has stayed close to home instead of trying higher-profile venues. He counts his wife, Annette, and sons, Jansen and Jonas, among his biggest fans.

“Jansen, of course, is a rider like me, and I’m proud, as any father would be,” he said. “He’s got his own place now, and Jonas is about to graduate college.”

Inevitably, when talking with a 47-year-old who makes his living while being followed around by an ambulance, the conversation turns to the subject of retirement.

“I get asked about it all the time,” Melancon said. “I really don’t have any goals as far as that goes. I feel good physically and try to stay in shape. I look at Boo Boo [Kerwin] Clark, who is eight or nine years older than I am, and the kind of success he has had lately. I’m just doing what I love to do.”