Court wins 3: Sweeps allowance races, gets Van Berg 6th win in 11 starts

Jon Court won his third straight as Pinson captured the $42,000 feature. Coady Photography photos

HENDERSON, Ky. (Friday, August 4, 2017) — Jon Court, the six-time Ellis Park riding champion and only jockey to win the title five straight years, ultimately might not have enough firepower behind him to run down Corey Lanerie for the 2017 crown. But Court certainly is on the 2016 champ’s heels.

Court won three straight races Friday, the fifth on Frigidish to give trainer Jack Van Berg his sixth win in the Hall of Famer’s last 11 starts and fourth straight; the sixth with a pickup mount on favored Giant Payday in a $41,000 turf allowance race and then the $42,000 second-level allowance feature at a mile on dirt on 8-1 pacesetter Pinson, who out-finished favored Rhythm Park for a half-length score after a protracted stretch duel.

That gave Court 17 victories on the meet, five behind Lanerie but a clear second over third-place Didiel Osorio’s 13 wins. The 56-year-old Court now is 17 for 74 at the meet — good for 23 percent. His purse earnings are about $62,000 behind Lanerie’s meet-best $433,518.

Court said he had no idea how many wins he was behind Lanerie, but that the main thing is just trying to continue having a good and healthy meet.

“We’re doing good right now; gotta love it,” he said. “That would be awesome if I could catch him, won’t be the end of the world if I don’t. Just having a healthy and successful meet means everything to me. But that would be great. He’s got a powerful arsenal behind him.”

“The old boy certainly can ride still,” Ian Wilkes, the 52-year-old trainer of Giant Payday, said admiringly and with a laugh by phone from Saratoga.

The Randy Morse-trained Pinson, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Richard Bahde, now is 4-3-2 in 20 starts. He covered the mile in 1:36.37 and paid $18 to win as the fifth choice in the field of seven.

Giant Payday and Jon Court wore down 46-1 stablemate Mr Cub, both trained by Ian Wilkes.

The real giant payday was Mr Cub, who wearing blinkers for the first time nearly sprung the upset at 46-1 as Wilkes accounted for the $224 exacta. Chris Landeros is the regular rider of both Giant Payday and Mr Cub. But Landeros, Wilkes’ son in law, rode at Saratoga Thursday and his early-morning flight from Albany was canceled.

“Chris called me, said I was sitting on the winner,” Court said.

Wilkes said that Giant Payday will be pointed toward Kentucky Downs’ $350,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby at 1 5/16 miles. The 3-year-old, who beat older horses in the allowance race, ran in Turfway Park’s Grade 3 Spiral Stakes, finishing sixth in that Kentucky Derby prep over a synthetic surface.

“He’s done extremely well since his last race,” Wilkes said, referring to a second in an Ellis mile allowance race. “I let him lay too close to the pace. I thought he was a top horse and wanted to be closer to the pace. He didn’t like it, and got to quitting on me. So I had to take him back and let him make one run. He ran an awfully good race last time. I think this horse can be a mile-and-a-half horse, but I want him in the right frame of mind how he does it.”

Mr Cub ding-donged for the lead with Tyler U, and Giant Payday had to come home the last sixteenth-mile in six seconds flat to win, covering 1 1/16 miles in a sizzling 1:39.65 amid the field of 12.

“First time blinkers, so he was on the lead,” said Joe Rocco, rider of Mr Cub. “Strong, I guess is the word I would say. But fought on really game. As fast as we went, he really fought on hard.”

Meanwhile, Van Berg’s six wins tie him for third in the standings with Buff Bradley, trailing 2016 training leader Steve Asmussen by one and Brad Cox (10 for 21) by four.

“We’re rolling right now,” said Tom Van Berg, who has been helping out his Hall of Fame dad and makes the trek from Churchill Downs to Ellis for the races.

2-year-old spotlight: Robert LaPenta’s The X

The 2-year-old The X, with Brian Hernandez Jr. up, romped in debut after slow start.

Call it The X factor in the 2-year-old maiden race Friday. Robert LaPenta’s colt named The X broke slowly but finished with a rush to prevail by 3 1/2 lengths over even-money favorite Title Ready. Trained by Ben Colebrook, The X came home the final sixteenth in 5.73 seconds to finish 5 1/2 furlongs on turf in 1:03.73, paying $18.20 to win.

“They kind of warned me that he wasn’t going to break very fast, so I wasn’t really worried about it,” said winning jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. “I thought we’d just let him break, get his feet under him, have a good showing and run on late. He was pretty impressive. He hit a couple of spots there for a first timer that you didn’t really expect him to do, but he did it pretty professionally.”

Potential Danger, attempting to be the fourth straight winner for trainer Greg Foley, took the lead in mid-stretch but lost second by a head.

So how do they tattoo a horse? Find out!

Added to the free, family-friendly Saturday morning program this week will be the opportunity to watch a horse being tattooed. The public can come out by the starting gate at 7:30 a.m. Central, positioned right by the south end of the parking lot closest to the Ohio River levee, and find out firsthand what goes on in the mornings to get horses ready for the races in the afternoons. Others participating: Hong Kong jockey Keith Yeung, jockey Sophie Doyle, starter Scott Jordan and trainer Chris Davis, upon whose pony Snake Eyes kids can get a supervised ride around the barn. The two-hour program is a collaboration of the Kentucky HBPA and Ellis Park.

Sunday is Craft Day for kids as part of Ellis’ Junior Jockey Program. Kids can come by the winner’s circle and make horse-themed crafts starting at 1:30 p.m. Central. The event is free.