You would get a lot of different responses if you asked 100 people walking into Saratoga Race Course on opening day, “Who is leading all jockeys in Graded Stakes wins this year?”
Most would say 3-time Eclipse award winning jockey Javier Castellano. A lot would say one of the Ortiz brothers, either Irad (who won the Saratoga jockey title last year) or Jose (who just won the jockey title at the Belmont Park Spring meet). Some would think that the venerable veteran, Hall-of-Famer John Velazquez might be leading.
They would all be wrong! Few would reply that Florent Geroux is leading all North American jockeys with 18 Graded Stakes wins this year. Geroux will be riding full-time for the first time at Saratoga this summer trying to add to that number of Graded Stakes wins at the premiere meet in North America.
The recently turned 30-year old Geroux, who was born and raised in France, sits only behind the “Big Four” mentioned above in overall North American jockey earnings this year. That group of four has won 5 of the past 6 jockey titles at “The Spa” and puts Geroux’s run for a possible jockey title in perspective.
“I think it’s going to be pretty much impossible (to win the jockeys title),” said Geroux. “I know how it’s like being based at one place. You have all those claiming horses and people know you. I just want to keep the horses I have and pick up some nice ones as well. I just want to meet new people and ride for different people. Hopefully, try to grow my stable and the horses I’m riding.”
Geroux, along with his agent Doug Bredar, have indeed put together a list of “nice” horses and trainer connections that they have won with this year. The list below showing the horses that Geroux has ridden to Grade-1 victories reads like an all-star line-up:
The eight horses above are trained by six different trainers, showing the approach that Geroux and Bredar have taken to build out their “stable.”
“We try to spread it out as well as we can,” said Bredar. “I wouldn’t say that we have one barn that gives us every call, but we like to just ride as many as we can for as many different barns.”
Geroux has not disappointed these various connections as he is having his best year to date. In 2014, Geroux finished 35th in the jockey earnings for the year and rose up the charts to finish 13th in 2015. After his two Breeders’ Cup wins to end 2015, he has been catapulted into the top five so far this year.
“People are giving me better opportunities. I’m riding better horses,” Geroux said. “Last year I was having success in a lot of big races and people have more confidence in me to give me those type of horses and giving me those mounts.”
Those mounts will take him all over the country over the next few weekends including Del Mar on July 23 to ride Belvoir Bay for trainer Peter Miller in the Grade-2 San Clemente Handicap. The weekend after that, Geroux will head down to the Jersey Shore to ride Grade-2 Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner for Steve Asmussen in the Grade-1 Haskell at Monmouth Park on July 31.
Next he’ll be off to the West Virginia Derby on August 6 to ride Forevemo for trainer Al Stall. Geroux’s weekend shipping tour will continue when he returns to Arlington Park on Arlington Million day on August 13 to ride the card at a track that he has called home for the past few summers. In the Arlington Million, Geroux will have two possible mounts with last year’s winner The Pizza Man and recent Grade-1 winner World Approval.
“When I ship, it’ll be for one day, in and out,” Geroux said. “We’ll be full-time at Saratoga besides that.”
History at Saratoga
Geroux has shown the ability to compete at the highest level on Breeders’ Cup days, but does have a lack of experience on the NYRA circuit. His lack of experience in New York was not an issue during a recent stint at Belmont Park, though.
“The colony of jockeys here is pretty strong, so of course, it’s going to be tougher to win races. It’s horse racing, so when you have the horse, you’re in good shape. I was at Belmont and was able to win three stakes. That was the first time I was riding there, so I was able to win races when I had the horse and lost when I (didn’t have the) horse.”
Geroux’s wins at Belmont included a Grade-1 win on Catch a Glimpse, who is targeting the Grade-2 Lake Placid at Saratoga on August 21 (see full article here). Geroux may have multiple options in the Grade-1 Personal Ensign on the Travers day undercard on August 27, as he is the regular rider for I’m a Chatterbox and rode Cavorting to win the Grade-1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on June 11.
Even though Geroux had only two mounts at Saratoga last season (two second place finishes on I’m a Chatterbox in the Grade-1 Coaching Club America Oaks and Alabama), he has experience at the track.
“I’ve been here before. A few years back I was galloping horses for Patrick Biancone for the whole meet. It’s a very nice place. Last year, I was here to ride (I’m a Chatterbox) in a few of the Grade Ones,” Geroux said.
Starting his career in France as a jockey, Geroux has been able to build a versatile riding style, mostly on turf in Europe, but also on polytrack and training on dirt.
“I think I got good experience riding over there and losing my bug (apprenticeship) over there. It took me some time to transition when I came over here (in 2007), but it’s horse racing and when you have a good horse, it’s pretty tough not to win,” said Geroux.
Geroux has shown the ability to win with horses like Catch a Glimpse on the front-end leading, stalk to win with World Approval or close from the clouds with a horse like The Pizza Man on the turf. On the dirt, he has shown stalking tactics on Gun Runner finishing third in the Kentucky Derby this year (his first career mount in the Derby) or track from farther back on Cavorting in their Personal Ensign win.
“It’s more fun to win from behind, passing everyone like they’re standing there attached to a pole, but I can win from behind, on-the-lead, turf, dirt, doesn’t matter,” Geroux said confidently.
With his versatility and growing list of confident connections, a big summer at Saratoga is in the works for Geroux.
If they didn’t know his name this year, it’s likely casual racing fans will be discussing the name Geroux when they enter the gates at Saratoga on Opening Day 2017.