A conversation with veteran jockey Jon Court is full of joy and laughter – he's just that kind of guy. On Tuesday, the thrill-seeking 58-year-old answered the phone in the middle of a bicycle ride up and down the hills of Hot Springs, Ark., and never missed a breath while talking about his latest triumph on the track.
Court put in a picture-perfect ride in Saturday's first division of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, guiding Long Range Toddy to run down the favored Improbable and win by a neck.
“Oh man, what a sensational feeling,” said Court. “I had it in my head that I can't punch too late… I also hoped I hadn't let (Improbable) get too far in front. Believe me, I was sweating bullets, but I had a lot of confidence in him. I had watched his races and I had worked him before the race. It's great when a plan comes together as well as this one did.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen was especially pleased with Court's heady ride. After breaking sharply, Court and Long Range Toddy settled back off the pace against the rail. While Improbable went five-wide around both turns, Court hung to the inside until the last possible moment. When he saw his chance, Court angled the horse out and sent Long Range Toddy flying to hit the wire first.
“Jon gave him a beautiful trip and I love how he earned it late,” Asmussen said after the Rebel. “The horse was away well and got a good spot. They went about their business and he relaxed down the backstretch. You could tell coming into the stretch he was loaded. He waited until they all lined out, didn't waste any ground and wheeled him out late like he should and got rewarded for it.”
The Rebel was Court's first time aboard the 3-year-old son of Take Charge Indy, but he has a long history with Long Range Toddy's owner and breeder, Willis Horton. Court won the 2013 Rebel Stakes aboard Horton's Will Take Charge, then rode the colt to an eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
“The Hortons have always been good to me,” Court said. “I'm just glad to see people like that who put so much into the game getting paid back.”
Court has also put a lot into the sport of Thoroughbred racing. Raised around horses in Florida, he rode his first races in Colorado in 1980. He won 10 races at Oaklawn Park as an apprentice in 1981, and he has since ridden primarily in the Midwest and earned leading rider titles at Ellis Park, Hoosier Park, Turfway Park, Kentucky Downs, and at Oaklawn.
From 2004 to 2009, Court shifted his tack to California and even took park in the television show Jockeys on Animal Planet network before moving back to Kentucky.
For the past several years, Court has struggled with injuries sustained off the track. Most recently, he broke his collarbone in a motorcycle accident in late 2018, and in the early summer of 2016 he cracked two ribs while water skiing. Also in 2016, Court suffered three broken vertebrae and two more broken ribs in a riding accident at Churchill Downs.
“I want to put him in bubble wrap on the days there's no racing,” said his agent, Steve Krajcir.
Other activities Court enjoys while he's not riding a half-ton Thoroughbred include slalom (a water sport with a single ski and a speedboat) and snow skiing, as well as pretty much any sport his family or friends might be participating in.
“Let's put it this way, if I go to the ski lodge, I'm not going to sit inside while everybody else is outside,” said Court. “I'll probably stick to the green and blue slopes though, not the black (most difficult courses)! I've gotta stop hurting myself; I've never had to have that goal before.”
Despite the spate of injuries, Court feels like he's in the best shape of his life. About five years ago, the jockey was considering retirement before he was introduced to a “biohacking” company called LifeVantage, which makes nutritional supplements.
“I feel like I've reinvented my life, not to mention my career,” Court said. “Now they call me 'ageless' in the (jockey's quarters).”
With 4,144 wins to date, Court joked: “I can't find my retirement plans.”
Last year, Court found the time to earn his real estate license and he is also a senate member of the Jockeys' Guild. If Court has any spare time, he spends it fundraising for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund or the Race Track Chaplaincy of America.
“The only time I'm not busy is when I'm sleeping,” Court laughed, peddling his 21-speed through Hot Springs' light Tuesday afternoon traffic. “It's just such a delight to be here at this stage of my career… it's a whole new level of exhilaration. There's nothing to compare to winning a major horse race at the site of the finest racing in the country!”
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