Ask any rider which race he or she would most like to win, and the most frequently offered answer is the Kentucky Derby, but within each riding colony around the country, there exists a sense of pride about being able to compete in and try to win the local circuit's biggest races, and the Arlington International Racecourse jockey colony is no different as the International Festival of Racing draws near.
Kent Desormeaux, a Hall of Fame rider with more than 5,500 career wins, is no stranger to success in Arlington's biggest races, having won seven Festival races in his career, including three wins in both the Secretariat (Chiselling, 2002; Take the Points, 2009; and Paddy O'Prado, 2010) and Beverly D. (Kostroma, 1992; Mauralakana, 2008, and Dynaforce, 2009) to go with a win in the 2004 Arlington Million aboard Kicken Kris. Desormeaux, riding regularly at Arlington for the first time this year, has been near the top of the jockey standings throughout the entire meet, and picked up the mount on the locally based Beverly D. competitor La Tia along with the ride on Tattenham in the Secretariat.
“I'm excited,” Desormeaux said, “because this time around I'm representing Chicago. I'm one of the hometown guys this year, so I'd love to win it for Chicago.”
When asked if he felt that being a part of the Arlington colony all summer would give him an edge Saturday, he didn't waste any time answering, “Yes. Absolutely. There is no question about it, and I hope that my extra familiarity with the course will work to our favor.”
Though Desormeaux owns the most International Festival of Racing successes of any rider in the local colony, jockey James Graham is no stranger to Arlington's biggest stage, having ridden Hot Cha Cha to a runner-up performance in the 2010 Beverly D.
“This is always a day I look forward to, and I love both of my horses on Saturday,” Graham said, referencing his mounts aboard Ausus in the Beverly D. and Najjaar in the American St. Leger. “They both worked great for this, and the filly [Ausus] ran just a couple ticks off the track record last time. If she can duplicate that race, we can win.”
Francisco Torres, another familiar face on the Chicago racing circuit as leading rider at Arlington in 2012, had similar feelings about being a part of Chicago's biggest day of racing.
“Whenever you get the opportunity to ride for connections like Team Block,” he offered, noting his mount aboard Ioya Bigtime in the American St. Leger, “especially in that kind of race, it's a big thing. I worked him the other morning, and he went some kind of good, so he's going into the race 110%. I think everyone looks at this day kind of like Chicago's own Kentucky Derby, and I'm just happy to get to be a part of it. It's a great weekend, and I just hope for good weather and a good race.”
French-born jockey Florent Geroux, who has made Chicago his home and has consistently been in the top three in this summer's jockey standings, is slated to ride a pair of horses Saturday, with the call aboard Code of Conduct in the American St. Leger and astride Bethel in the Secretariat.
“You know, it's just always good to be in it, and I'm really excited,” he said. “Code of Conduct is interesting, because he ran so good going 1 1/8 miles last time out, and it feels like he'll go longer after he won with something left in the tank. It's tough to know how they'll handle the distance, because we never run it, but I think he can get it,” he said of the St. Leger's 1 11/16-mile marathon trip.
“As for Bethel, I rode him a few times earlier this year, and he went out East and ran pretty good recently. He might be a longshot, but remember that [trainer Gennadi Dorochenko] won the Louisiana Derby at 109-1 last year. A lot of riders come in from out of town for this day, and they don't know the course like we do, so I'm happy to be in it and have the chance to win one of the big ones.”
Jockey Julio Felix, a winner of more than 2,600 races, agreed that days like Arlington's International Festival of Racing are the goal for many riders, and he will compete Saturday aboard Golden Jason in the Secretariat. “Races like this are a big thing for any rider, and that's always what I'm working for. You never know when a good 2-year-old will take you somewhere, or when a horse you're riding will get really good and wind up in a race like this,” Felix said, “all you can do is work hard every day and hope that one of these horses gets you into one of the big races.
“I always root for the local guys in these races,” Felix continued, smiling a bit before adding, “and I want to be that guy winning them.”
Also representing the local colony on Illinois' biggest racing day of the year are: E. T. Baird (Nates Mineshaft in the Million and Amen Kitten in the Secretariat); Eddie Castro (Temeraine in the Million and Suntracer in the St. Leger); and Quincy Hamilton (named on Ojos de Hielo in the St. Leger).
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