Jockey Court three wins away from 700 Oaklawn victories

March 21, 2021

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—The next equation goes like this: 3 + 697 = 700. That’s because Court entered Sunday needing three victories to become just the sixth jockey in Oaklawn history to reach 700.

“I’m aware of it,” Court, 60, said late Thursday afternoon. “Actually, I was thinking about the 4,200 wins when I was riding down the lane. I was like, ‘No one is taking this one away from me.’ When I went to 4,200, I felt as good as I ever did.”

Court was referring to Catholic Guilt’s front-running 9 ½-length victory in the first race March 14, which nudged the jockey’s overall career total to 4,200. That ranks 63rd in North American history, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Court won another race on the card to reach another milestone, surpassing $20 million in career purse earnings at Oaklawn with the riding double that came a little more than 40 years after his first in Hot Springs.

Now, Court is poised to join Hall of Famers Pat Day and Calvin Borel, the late Larry Snyder, John Lively and Tim Doocy as the only riders in Oaklawn history to reach 700 career victories. Day holds the Oaklawn record for career victories (1,264).

“I just like Oaklawn,” Court said. “I like the town, the quality of racing. Just the allure keeps bringing me back. Many times, I’ve struggled, but I enjoy being here. I love winning here, I love being here.”

Court’s first Oaklawn victory came Feb. 16, 1981, aboard Velvet Chieftain for future Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey and prominent Texas owner Anne Dunigan (Bacacita Farm). Court, who rode his first career winner in 1980, was Oaklawn’s leading apprentice jockey in 1981 with 10 victories. Save a stint in Southern California during the mid to late 2000s, Court has rarely missed an Oaklawn meet in the last four decades. 

Illustrating the breadth of Court’s career, Oaklawn’s 1981 riding colony included Lively (he retired in 1991), Snyder (he retired in 1994) and Doocy (he retired in 2009). Day’s first year as an Oaklawn regular was 1982. He won 12 consecutive Oaklawn riding titles (1983-1994) before retiring in 2005. Borel, 54, is still active and based at Oaklawn.

Court was Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2000 and won consecutive runnings of Oaklawn’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) in 2010 and 2011 with Line of David and Archarcharch, respectively. Court likely would have already eclipsed 700 victories at Oaklawn if he hadn’t missed most of the 2020 meeting because of rib and lung injuries suffered in an accident going to the gate before a race. Injury free in 2021, Court had rebounded with nine victories through Saturday, including two aboard Kentucky Oaks candidate Will’s Secret for breeder/owner Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark., and trainer Dallas Stewart. Will’s Secret won the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 30 and the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 6.

“If everyone stays healthy and we’re still having fun, the Oaks is the target for the short term,” Court said. “From there, I see her finishing up in Breeders’ Cups. It’s exciting.”

Horton has been among Court’s biggest supporters the last decade. They teamed to capture Oaklawn’s $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) in 2013 with eventual 3-year-old Eclipse Award-winning male Will Take Charge (the sire of Will’s Secret), 2015 Martha Washington with Eclipse Award winner Take Charge Brandi and the first division of the 2019 Rebel with Long Range Toddy. Court, then 58, was reportedly the oldest jockey to ever ride in the Kentucky Derby when he finished 16th aboard Long Range Toddy in 2019.

“It’s very enjoyable to see what he’s doing for the Hortons,” said Stewart, adding he was Court’s valet in the mid-1980s at Louisiana Downs. “He’s always been a great rider and a great competitor. He loves the game and he loves his job. But he just steps his game up for the Hortons and that’s a plus for me.”

Will’s Secret is among 28 nominees to the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 3 at Oaklawn. The 1 1/16-mile Fantasy is a major prep for the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) – the nation’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies – April 30 at Churchill Downs. Will’s Secret worked a half-mile in :49.20 Saturday at Fair Grounds, where she has been based this year.

Court, in his pursuit of 700, was named on five horses Sunday. Court’s career numbers through Saturday at Oaklawn included 6,367 (mounts), 697 (victories), $20,030,356 (purse earnings) and 35 (stakes victories).

Court said he plans to keep making math simple.

“No thoughts of retirement at this time,” Court said. “I’m going to continue to ride. I’m enjoying it. We always have the joy until that day comes. Like Pat Day, he and I had that discussion. He said one day he went and rode a race, a little stake, and said he didn’t enjoy it. It was no fun. He was like, ‘Maybe it’s time to hang it up.’ I was like, ‘Man, I don’t want to hit that wall.’ You can see I still have fun out there. I have fun in the morning, I have fun in the room. Just going to continue to enjoy it until the day I know it’s time to step away. I don’t want an injury to take me out, some tragedy, that makes the decision for me. I want to be able to say, ‘OK, you’ve reached the point and it’s time to step away.’ ”

Terry Thompson, who entered Sunday with 653 career Oaklawn victories, and Luis Quinonez (608) are also riding at the 2021 meeting that ends May 1.

Finish Lines

A week after recording the most lucrative victory of his career in the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes for older horses at Oaklawn, jockey Alex Canchari won Saturday’s $150,000 Gazebo Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters aboard Sir Wellington ($15.40). Canchari, who doesn’t have an agent after arriving in Hot Springs roughly a month ago, rode both winners for his longtime client, trainer Mac Robertson. … Trainer Chelsey Moysey recorded her second career Oaklawn victory, and 14th overall, with War Ballad ($14.80) in Saturday’s fourth race. … Two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl returned to the work tab Friday at Fair Grounds, covering a half-mile in :48.20 for trainer Brad Cox. Monomoy Girl is pointing for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares April 17 at Oaklawn. She won the $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 28 at Oaklawn in her 2021 debut.

Oaklawn Park Press Release

Photo: Jockey Jon Court in the post parade atop Will’s Secret before their win in the Honeybee at Oaklawn. (Coady)

@jonathanstettin What a surprise….thank you—- thank you….I can say I was part of history.

John Ball (@P3Tacco) View testimonials