HENDERSON, Ky. (Saturday, July 1, 2017) — Jon Court is a six-time Ellis Park champion jockey and the only rider ever to win the meet title five years in a row. The winner of 4,035 North American races (which does not include his victory in the $1 million Japan Cup Dirt in 2003) and more than $100 million in purses, Court remains a force at age 56. The next time Court wins at Ellis Park, it will be his 600th victory at the track. His career record at Ellis is 599 wins, 477 seconds and 407 thirds out of 3,298 mounts, for purse earnings of $9,449,887.
Court recently discussed riding and the upcoming Ellis meet, which runs Saturday through Labor Day, with racing Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, plus this Monday and Tuesday and Sept. 4. There is no racing Saturday, Sept. 2 to allow for Kentucky Downs’ opener.
Last year you suffered a fractured rib and missed the first part of the Ellis meet but still wound up eighth in the standings with 16 wins. This year you come into Ellis off a pretty good meet at Churchill Downs.
You never know what will transpire from one meet to the next. I came off a really good Oaklawn (27 wins), came to Churchill and really had kind of slim pickings. But I was able to hold my own and get started, hold my own throughout the meet. Now we roll on into Ellis. That’s my circuit, and I’m looking forward to it — a lot of us are. I’ve been doing it a long time now. You take it how it comes, and I welcome that meet opening up.
You’re riding a fair amount for D. Wayne Lukas. If you teamed to win the Kentucky Derby next spring, you’d be a combined 139 years old, blowing past the record 127 combined age of Charlie Whittingham and Bill Shoemaker when Ferdinand won in 1986. How is it you keep going?
I don’t know if you get stigmatized or if it’s the stereotype of what 50 is. But I’ve been taking exceptional care of myself. I know what I have to do and what’s got to be done. Now it’s just a part of my life. I take that extra initiative to keep myself healthy, fit and in the game. I’m not trying to go out here and slaughter them. But I want to be a feared competitor in every opportunity I have to ride.
You’re a good sport when we tag @AARP when Tweeting about you.
My age doesn’t define me. Actually it exemplifies my experience and my fortitude to stay in the game and be as competitive as I am. Yes, I do get AARP literature in the mail, and I actually embrace that and just enjoy where life is taking me on a day-to-day basis.
At this point of your career, how much is brains and how much is physical skill? And how has that changed from, say, 30 years ago?
It’s always going to be physical. You have to have your physical skills up to par. You adjust as time goes on. Your body changes, and your mind does, too. I’m a lot more relaxed at this stage of my career and my life. At the same time, this is a competitive game, and it still eats at you (to get beat). I was telling a young rider today that it will eat at you in the early stages and throughout your career. Because if you have that competitive edge in you, it’s going to tinker with your mind. (But) you keep your physical body in shape, and your mind will fall into place where you put it.
Ellis Park, where you won the title in 1998 through 2002, was your gateway to what has been a very successful career in Kentucky, one that allowed you to ride in California for five years before returning in 2009, again winning the title. How do you feel about riding at Ellis Park?
I’ve always enjoyed Ellis Park. It has its own atmosphere. It’s good racing, good Kentucky racing and it’s a special place where we spend the summer. I look forward to the meet getting started. We always have a good time at Ellis Park.
Talk about the change in the jockey colony the past few years.
Ellis Park has kept pace, with the purses increasing over the years. It’s keeping the talent here. A lot of riders who would move on to other states, are staying home in the Blue Grass State, and have good reason to do so. The last several years, the depth of the talent at Ellis Park has increased. A lot of the top riders at Churchill are staying home and riding at Ellis.