10/31/2006 12:00AM

A success out West, Court back for big day


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When Jon Court rides at Churchill Downs on Saturday in the Breeders' Cup, it will mark a homecoming of sorts for the 45-year-old Southern California-based rider. Although originally from Florida, his base for many years was Kentucky, where he won multiple riding titles at Ellis Park, Kentucky Downs, and Turfway Park.

But in the months after winning the $2.33 million Japan Cup Dirt aboard Fleetstreet Dancer in November of 2003, he made the decision to shift his tack out West, leaving behind his roots in Louisville and in south Florida.

With the backing of Doug O'Neill and other prominent trainers, Court has enjoyed some of his finest years in the saddle since. After breaking into the California circuit in 2004, his mounts earned a career-best $7.24 million in 2005. And with two months of racing remaining this year, his mounts have made $6.37 million, the third-highest total of his 26-year career.

Among the highlights: riding his 3,000th winner in April of this year, and scoring victories in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby aboard Pure as Gold and the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap aboard Healthy Addiction.

Saturday he hopes to add to his success this year with another Grade 1 victory. He has two Breeders' Cup mounts, Malt Magic in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Quick Little Miss in the Juvenile Fillies. He is also scheduled to ride Southern Africa in the Ack Ack Stakes, a supporting stakes race on the Breeders' Cup card.

These mounts will mark his first rides at Churchill Downs since Nov. 23, 2003. Not that he has been a stranger to Louisville - he still has family and friends in the Louisville area, and his position as secretary of the Jockey's Guild also brings him to town.

Trainer Jinks Fires, Court's father-in-law, who has a stable at Churchill Downs, recalled Court's decision to head west. He said he encouraged him to go to the West Coast following the retirement of Hall of Fame riders Eddie Delahoussaye, Laffit Pincay, and Chris McCarron.

"He's done real well and we're all proud of him," he said.

In the midst of his success, Court has also suffered heartache. His older brother James was killed in Florida on Oct. 6 after getting struck by a car when riding his bicycle.

But come Saturday, Court will put that loss aside - just as he has done for the last few weeks of riding. The focus for Court will be on trying to win his first Breeders' Cup race. His only other Breeders' Cup mount, Chorwon, ran sixth in the Turf in 2001.

Malt Magic and Quick Little Miss will be longshots. He has worked and ridden both horses, and likes what they have shown him. The track at Churchill Downs should also suit the late-running Quick Little Miss. "It's conducive to her style," he said.

Having won 302 races at Churchill Downs, he ought to know.