The scene last year on the apron after the Smarty Jones Stakes was without a doubt the most entertaining post race discussion of all time! One man was the center of the discussion: Jon Court. Court was on the talented, but head strong, colt Mr. Z who looked to be a clear standout in the race. Turning for home, Mr. Z looked to be even more of a standout. He was all by himself and looked to be ready to romp. Bettors and fans alike were thinking we were about to see a special performance. We were right…it was special…but not in the way Court had hoped. Suddenly, without warning, Mr. Z veered to the right…and never stopped veering to the right the entire way down the stretch (see replay below). His once big lead diminished, and Mr. Z barely held on for third. The comments and heckles were crazy: “What the hell was he doing!!” “Why did he hit him left handed??” “I had him singled!!” “Jon Court can’t win on a favorite to save his life!” and my personal favorite “F*** YOU JON COURT!!!”
Jon Court has been no stranger to recent success at Oaklawn Park. In 2010 Court won the Arkansas Derby with Line of David, and in 2o11 he won the Arkansas Derby yet again with Archarcharch. In 2013 he was unable to bring home the Arkansas Derby, but did win the Smarty Jones and Rebel Stakes aboard Will Take Charge. With that kind of track record it is truly amazing the veteran jockey gets the abuse he sometimes gets. With Jon, people seem to forget his solid track record, mainly because when things go bad for Jon they usually go REALLY bad. Last year’s Smarty Jones was unreal, but other unfortunate instances come to mind as well, including the 2013 Kentucky Derby aboard Will Take Charge and the “non-ride” on Take Charge Brandi that nearly got her beat at Oaklawn Park last year in the Martha Washington.
As it turns out with the case of Mr. Z in the Smarty Jones Stakes last year, the complete collapse was not all Court’s fault. As hard as it is for me to admit it, Mr. Z causes most of his own problems. Everyone knows the Dudes are fans of the Lukas/Zayat Stables connection, and sometimes its just easier to blame the jockey when things go wrong. Speaking of Zayat Stables, lets fast forward to the sixth race on Monday which was ran just one hour prior to the Smarty Jones. Jon was aboard the Lukas trained/Zayat owned Sharm which was 1 for 21 going into the race. When it was all said and done, Court guided Sharm beautifully in a come from behind victory against a decent allowance field. Sharm is now 2 for 22, and I was happy to look Court in the eye and say, “Great job Jon!” “Thanks,” he replied with a huge smile. If he had only known that one year ago I was cussing him the entire drive home!
Fast forward one hour later and Jon Court had completed his ultimate redemption tour aboard Discreetness as he gave yet another picture perfect ride to win the Smarty Jones Stakes. It was a different set up turning for home this year. Discreetness had work to do as Gordy Florida was out in front and Discreetness had to run him down. Court described it like this: “He broke well and we were in the race, in the hunt early and actually just had a dream trip. It’s good when it comes together like that. I was keeping an eye on the speed horses on the front, of course the Baffert horse, and those were the only two I had to contend with and it worked out today. We have an optimistic outlook with this colt, he’s really moved forward steadily over the last couple of months and just hope he continues to move forward over the next couple of months to the other big races on his agenda. I’ve ridden a lot of special horses for Jinks and he’s definitely in the upper caliber group.” You can tell the excitement he has for this colts future.
We all need to remember (including myself) that being a jockey might be the hardest job in the world. You are asking a guy that weighs barely one hundred pounds to control an animal that weighs over a thousand pounds. Not to mention that every time they sit in the saddle their lives are literally on the line! Every jockey is out there trying to win and sometimes things happen that are out of their control. However, not blaming the jock is easier said than done, especially when emotions and money are on the line!
In the end, Discreetness has now stamped himself as the early favorite amongst the local string at Oaklawn Park, but obviously there’s still a long road ahead of him. The distances will get longer from here on out, and the competition will get tougher. For now though, Court and the rest of the connections can enjoy this win. The colt proved to be a contender which is all you can ask for this time of year. You can bet Oaklawn Park hasn’t seen the last of Discreetness and hopefully these local connections can continue down the road to the ultimate goal: The Kentucky Derby.