The jockey colony for Ellis Park's 95th meet, which runs July 1 through Labor Day, is virtually identical to last year. And that's a good thing.
Ellis Park had its strongest jockey colony ever last season, with Corey Lanerie returning after several summers at Saratoga. The perennial Churchill Downs meet leader joined a robust assembly of jockeys that included Robby Albarado, winner of more than 5,000 races and three times the rider of Horses of the Year; six-time Ellis champion Jon Court, winner of more than 4,000 races; former Eclipse Award winner Brian Hernandez Jr.; Midwest stalwarts Miguel Mena and Joe Rocco Jr., and the up-and-coming Didiel Osorio, winner of the 2015 Ellis crown, and Chris Landeros. Former Chicago kingpin James Graham returned from California to ride at Ellis for the first time in well over a decade, and Channing Hill also became a regular in his first full year in Kentucky.
Resuming his career at Ellis last Aug. 27 after a five-month retirement was three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel, now back for the full meet. Borel also is one of three Ellis-based jocks to have won Triple Crown races, with Albarado and Jesus Castanon also winners in racing's biggest stage.
“It's worth stopping to really think about — and appreciate — how accomplished the Ellis Park riders are,” said Dan Bork, the Ellis Park racing secretary. “It's easy to take for granted, but this is one of the best collections of riders in the country. No other professional sport allows such access to its athletes as does horse racing, and Ellis Park's set-up is particularly well-suited for the fans to interact with jockeys.”
Ellis' top 10 riders in 2016 each won at least 11 races for the 30-date meet, with Lanerie leading the way with 26, followed by Graham at 23, Mena and Hernandez at 21 and Osorio at 20. All will be back with Ellis as their main summer base, while going out-of-town as their business dictates.
The Ellis colony essentially duplicates the Churchill Downs jockeys minus Julien Leparoux, Florent Geroux and Shaun Bridgmohan, who ride at Saratoga. But Albarado, who used to be a Saratoga regular, says Ellis can prove more productive as far as landing on a good young horse.
“From what I hear on the backside, a lot of people are holding their best 2-year-olds to run at Ellis Park,” said Robby Albarado, who last year rode Albaugh Family Stables' Not This Time, a 10-length Ellis Park maiden winner who in his next start romped in Churchill Downs' Iroquois Stakes before finishing second by a head in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. “I renamed it Saratoga South because of all the nice horses to come out of it the last couple of years. Dale Romans has quite a few. Kenny McPeek has quite a few. I'm excited. I'm ready for it. It's a safe racetrack, first of all. Second, I think they don't have to run as hard as they would to break their maiden at Saratoga. So it's a good learning experience for horses and they don't have to be at their peak learning potential. I think every year it will be tougher and tougher.
“I enjoy the fans at Ellis. No matter what day it is, they pack it up and they appreciate the racing. I think they're going to get a great show this year with the 2-year-olds. I'm not saying it (the jockey colony) is as tough as Saratoga, but we're got five, six guys who could compete anywhere in the country.”
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