Although jockey Florent Geroux is coming off the biggest win of his career, taking the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic aboard Gun Runner on Nov. 4, he remains motivated to win big at the Fair Grounds, his base track, he said.
Florent, who is from Normandy, France, has won the past two jockeys' titles at the Fair Grounds. He won 98 races in the 2016-17 meet — an impressive 37 more than second-place Robby Albarado. In the 2015-16 season at the track, Geroux had 87 wins, 21 more than second-place Mitchell Murrell.
“That is astounding,” said local trainer Larry Jones, “when you consider that he is not always here. He rides at other tracks some weekends.”
The Fair Gounds season opens in earnest on Thanksgiving Day, but Geroux will be at Churchill Downs until Feb. 29, he said.
“I get good horses,” he said. “I'm looking forward to another good year, at the Fair Grounds and overall.”
Geroux won 217 races in 2016 at tracks all across the country, raking in a career-best $17,690,013 in purse earnings. This year, he has 159 wins with $13.58 million in purse earnings and is seventh in the jockeys' standings nationally.
His rides aboard Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Runner the past two seasons have vaulted an accomplished rider to higher heights. In 2016, Geroux and Gun Runner took the Fair Grounds by storm. He won the Risen Star Stakes then romped to a 4½-length victory in the Louisiana Derby. He then finished third in the Kentucky Derby.
The win in the Breeders' Cup Classic, considered the most prestigious race in the world, has Gun Runner poised to be chosen Horse of the Year. Geroux is thrilled.
“He is going to get it,” said Geroux, who last December won his 1,000th race. “It's huge. It's big for Gun Runner and big for me. There are jockey's in the Hall of Fame who have never ridden the Horse of the Year.”
Things weren't always so rosy for Geroux, 31, the son of former French jockey and trainer Dominique Geroux. Geroux came to the United States in January 2007 to work with Patrick Biancone, a French trainer. However, on opening day, he fell and two vertebrae were fractured and his wrist broken.
Things began to improve a lot in 2010, when he began working with agent Doug Bedar. Switching from Kentucky to Chicago, Geroux began getting regular mounts and won the jockey titles at Hawthorne in 2011.
“He'd struggled,” Bedar said. “His English was limited, and it was a major stumbling block to not understand trainers' instructions and not be able to tell trainers 'this is what happened' or 'that is what happened' in races.”
Geroux, however, in Chicago met Kasey Spindler, the daughter of Louis Spindler, who ironically had raced at the Fair Grounds. Bedar said Kasey, whom Geroux eventually married, helped him with English, and he also got getter at it being around racetracks.
In Chicago, Geroux received a big break when Midwest Thoroughbreds allowed him aboard their horses. A New Orleanian, Wayne Catalano, also played a big part in Geroux's career, Bedar said. Catalano, who was one of the leading trainers at in Chicago, took a liking to Geroux.
“When he began riding for Midwest Thoroughbreds, he got an opportunity to ride sprints, route races, turf, dirt, slop, fast tracks — everything, “ Bredar said. “And, Wayne is a former successful jockey, and he helped him with some of the nuances of American racing,” Bedar said.
In 2014, he got his first Grade I victory, winnning the Breeders' Cup Sprng on Work All Week, a Chicago-based horse. Geroux took off in 2015. He rode The Pizza Man to victory in the Arlington Million then won the Breeders' Cup Sprint aboard Mongolian Saturday and the Juvenile Fillies Turf on Catch a Glimpse.
“People began to know me more,” Geroux said. “They had more faith in me. When you win big races, more people trust that you can win them for them. I came to the Fair Grounds because the trainers I ride for are here, and I get good percentages.”
Geroux rode one of Fair Grounds-based trainer Larry Jones' fillies, I'm a Chatterbox, to a sweep of the big fillies stakes races in 2015 at the Fair Grounds — the Silverbulletday, Rachel Alexandra and the Fair Grounds Oaks. He also won the Cotillion aboard her.
“I'm a Chatterbox was a very rank filly,” Jones said. “She had some ideas of her own about not wanting to do what the jockey wanted her to do.
“But Florent has very good hands, and that's something I don't know how to explain. He could convince her to come do what he wanted without trying to overpower her.
“The biggest thing is that he is very versatile. He is not a one-dimensional rider. She ran three different races with him and won all three.”
Part of that versatility is Florent's ability as a jockey on turf. That is the surface for most European races, which also are often longer. That takes patience, Jones and Bedar said.
Geroux said this part of his career, between age 30 and 40, is very important. This season at the Fair Grounds, he will ride for noted trainers Asmussen, Jones, Catalano, Mike Stidham, Brad Cox and Tom Amoss.
“When you're a jockey, you always want to win the Kentucky Derby once in your career when you come to this country,” he said. “I'm just hoping for a good year and to be very consistent, just riding some good horses and winning big races.”