Barn Notes 5/5/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Jon Court, among the most successful riders in North American history, said he will retire following Sunday’s sixth race at Oaklawn.

Court, 63, was Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2000 and entered Sunday with 4,263 victories and $114,023,582 in purse earnings in his career, totals that rank 67th and 59th, respectively, in North American history, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

“It’s time,” Court said moments after his final career stakes mount, Navy Seal, finished fifth in the $200,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Saturday at Oaklawn. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. People have been asking me a lot. I’ve had a great 43 years. I’m past the 43-year mark, 44. I’ve got some kind of cushion and retirement laid out. I’ve got a real estate license and I’ve got some other companies that I can work part-time with, doing things off the racetrack. I really enjoy kind of mixing it up like that and getting out there in world. One thing is I was drawn here by the love of the Thoroughbred and that’s going to be the toughest thing that pulls on me.”

A Florida native, Court launched his professional career in 1980 and recorded his first career victory June 7, 1980, at Centennial Racetrack in Colorado. Court’s first career Oaklawn victory was Feb. 16, 1981.

Court topped the Oaklawn standings in 2000 with 69 victories. He’s the seventh-winningest rider in Oaklawn history with 730 victories, including 38 stakes. Court also owns riding titles at several other tracks, including Ellis Park and Birmingham Turf Club.

Court continued to excel late in his career. At 58, he became the oldest jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby when he finished 16thaboard Long Range Toddy in 2019. Based on information compiled and supplied by Equibase, Court, then 61, became the oldest jockey in American Thoroughbred history to win a $1 million race when Last Samurai captured the G2-Oaklawn Handicap in 2022.

Court finished with 20 victories at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting. But he’s only 2 for 84 this season, numbers that factored into his decision to retire. Court has also been in fixture in Kentucky.

“It’s just hard to come by the fast horses at this circuit,” Court said. “This is a tough circuit, one of the toughest, I consider, worldwide. It’s recognized worldwide. Physically, no question, I can still do it. I’m in better shape than some of the years I was riding because I was riding with chronic injuries. Now, I feel good. I don’t want to push the envelope, like I have a tendency to do. I want to be able to walk away on my own terms.”

Court’s biggest career victories included consecutive runnings of Oaklawn’s $1 million G1-Arkansas Derby. He won in 2010 aboard Line of David for Southern California-based trainer John Sadler and 2011 aboard Archarcharch for trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs. Court, then based in Southern California, also won the $400,000 G1-Citation Handicap in 2004 at Hollywood Park aboard Leroidesanimaux for Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel. Leroidesanimaux collected an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion grass horse of 2005.

Court was also honored with the prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2007. It is presented annually to riders who demonstrate high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the track.

“It’s been a good career,” Court said. “Racing’s been good to me. The horsemen have been great. The fans have been superior. I’ve got nothing but positive things going out.”

Court is named on four horses Sunday, the last being League of Legends for Fires, the jockey’s one-time father-in-law. Fires has at least one victory at every Oaklawn meeting since 1977. He is winless this season.

“That would be the icing on the cake,” Court said of the storybook ending.

Asmussen Moves Closer

Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen inched closer to setting a single-season Oaklawn record for training victories Saturday. Asmussen recorded his 69th victory over the meeting in the $200,000 Lake Hamilton Stakes for older sprinters with heavily favored Skelly.

Asmussen’s total is the second-highest single-season mark in Oaklawn history. The late Cole Norman won an Oaklawn-record 71 races in 2003. Saturday was Day 63 of Oaklawn’s weather-shortened 64-day meeting.

Asmussen has 14 horses entered Sunday, the final day of the meeting.

The Lake Hamilton was the eighth consecutive Oaklawn victory for Skelly ($2.40), his fifth career local stakes victory and fourth victory at the 2023-2024 meeting that began Dec. 8.

The Lake Hamilton represented the record-extending 115th career Oaklawn stakes victory for Asmussen and his 11th stakes victory of the 2023-2024 meeting, a single-season Oaklawn record.

Asmussen (945 victories) is the winningest trainer in Oaklawn history. He also has a record 13 career Oaklawn training titles.

Finish Lines

Gun Pilot ($12.68) represented the first career Grade 1 victory for two-time Oaklawn riding champion Cristian Torres in the $1 million Churchill Downs Stakes Saturday at Churchill Downs. Gun Pilot was exiting a runner-up finish in the $175,000 Eclipse Stakes for older sprinters April 7 at Oaklawn for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. … Arkansas-bred standout Kaboom Baby was retired following an eighth-place finish in Friday’s $150,000 Natural State Breeders’ Stakes, trainer Ernie Witt II said Sunday morning. Kaboom Baby, a homebred for Arkansan Tracy K. Selby, finished with a 4-6-5 record from 21 lifetime starts and earnings of $498,909. She won the 2021 Natural State, a one-mile event for Arkansas-bred fillies and mares. Kaboom Baby, a 6-year-old daughter of Hightail, will begin a broodmare career in 2025, Witt said. … Jockey Chel-c Bailey said Sunday morning that she hopes to ride this summer in England while her husband, David Kembrey, visits family during a vacation to his home country. “That’s the plan,” said Bailey, Oaklawn’s champion apprentice in 2021-2022. … Haulin Ice, a three-time winner at the 2023-2024 Oaklawn meeting, is probably headed “for a little break,” trainer Lindsay Schultz said Sunday morning. Haulin Ice, a 3-year-old Arkansas-bred daughter of Coal Front, beat open company in a $140,000 allowance sprint Friday for Schultz, who will again be based this summer at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. … Oaklawn reached 500 claims at the meeting Saturday. Entering Sunday, the final day of the meeting, 500 claims totaled $10,611,500.