It was Sunday’s second race, and Torres looked to be the winner aboard Happy Fella with a 16th of a mile to go. But Bold Shot was closing quickly from last under Court, nailing Torres on the final stride to prevail by a nose and for a $32.40 win mutuel.
Bold Shot was the third of four straight mounts that the 54-year-old Court has won at Churchill Downs – all at attractive odds
The streak started with the Vicki Oliver-trained Frivolous capturing Saturday night’s $200,000, Grade II Fleur de Lis Handicap at odds of 32-1, with Court then taking the nightcap by a head with 8-1 Hat of Jacks. He swept his two mounts Sunday, on 15-1 Bold Shot and 10-1 Honey Lake, who won the featured $62,800, 1 1/2-mile grass allowance race by three-quarters of length under a masterful front-running ride.
“I’m fortunate that I ride for some of my favorite people, and sometimes that’s where the magic happens, regardless of what the numbers say,” Court said. “I’ve been just Steady Jon. Like that old horse, you see the stars come and go, and that old hard-knocking horse who carries the barn is still there – reliable. That’s been my claim to fame, reliability.”
Court’s 15 victories heading into Thursday rank eighth at Churchill’s spring meet. It comes after a strong fall meet, capped by Frivolous winning the Grade II Falls City at 19-1, to end a 2014 season where Court missed almost five months from a Derby Day spill that left him with a mangled right hand.
But thanks to renowned surgeon Joseph Kutz’s efforts to reconstruct the hand and Court’s diligent rehabilitation, the jockey is back and continues to buck the odds. In fact, his $20.40 average win payoff easily tops the meet leaders this spring.
“You only get better with age, and he’s proving it,” said the 46-year-old Torres, whose 18 wins are fifth in the standings. “My hat’s off to him. In this business, if you’re able to ride 10 years, you’re doing great. He’s been riding 30-something years, and I’m close to riding 30.
“As long as he doesn’t act his age, he’s fine.”
Court, winner of 3,894 races dating to 1980, also is fine with the AARP jokes.
“They talk about senior citizen and stuff,” said Court, a father of four. “My kids have been doing it forever. When I take them to a movie, they say, ‘He gets the senior citizen discount.’ The lady never questions it. Bam! I get two bucks off.”
Court says he feels so good at 54 that on non-racing days he often goes to Highpointe training center near LaGrange, Ky. to work preparing 2-year-old horses with his in-laws (he’s married to trainer Jinks Fires’ daughter Krystal), as well as his son Justin.
“I’ll continue to ride as long as I can,” he said. “I want to finish up gracefully. But at the same time, (I) hope I can continue to ride where I desire to ride, where I’m not forced out, such as by Father Time or the changes in the industry.”
The Twitter feed Racing Stats & Info (@GaryDougherty) calls Frivolous’ Fleur de Lis the second-biggest upset in a graded stakes this year, trailing only 42-1 Si Sage in Santa Anita’s Last Tycoon in April.
Frivolous, a daughter of 2003 Belmont winner Empire Maker, started 2015 with a sixth-place finish at Keeneland, though losing by only a few lengths. But in the Grade I La Troienne on Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Oaks card, she was never in the hunt and wound up ninth, losing by 20 lengths.
“She just kind of ran flat there for a couple of races,” Court said. “Then Saturday, she was correct and standing alert in the paddock, not sweating. It was beautiful. The last time she came over, she was nervous and sweaty.”
The Fleur de Lis was extra huge for Frivolous, because the victory gave her an automatic berth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff Oct. 30 at Keeneland – the Olivers’ home base – with her entry fees paid under the Breeders’ Cup’s “Win and You’re In” challenge series.
“I’m not sure what happened on Oaks Day … and the next day she came up with a little temperature,” said Oliver, who trains alongside her husband Philip. “I thought she was going to run a race Oaks Day like she did (Saturday) night. It couldn’t have worked out any better. It’s really nice to get a ‘Win and You’re In’ this early in the year. Because you’re able to map out getting there a little bit easier as well.”
Frivolous, owned by Vicki Oliver’s father, G. Watts Humphrey, could race next in the Delaware Handicap on July 18 or Saratoga’s Aug. 29 Personal Ensign, both worth $750,000.
“Jon most likely will be riding her wherever we send her,” Oliver said. “We’ve had a lot of luck with Jon. The first time he ever rode for us was in a stakes at Ellis Park (the 2011 Ellis Park Turf on 9-1 Abuela). He won, and we’ve been riding him ever since.”