Many jockeys come to the United States from other countries. While most of these riders hail from Latin America, Julien Leparoux began his career on the turf courses of France. Known for his patient riding ability, Leparoux now rides almost exclusively in the United States where he competes in premier races like the Triple Crown series.
Leparoux’s Start in Horse Racing
Getting a start in the horse racing business in France isn’t all that different from the way it is done in the United States. Jockeys typically begin their careers working as stable hands or exercise riders. This was the case for Julien Leparoux. He did have the advantage of being born into a racing family, however. His father, Robert, was also a jockey that became a trainer after his riding career was over. Robert was able to bring young Julien up through the ranks of the racing business by starting him at the very bottom.
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Julien’s first racing job can be dated to the 1990’s and it wasn’t very glamorous. He was a stable hand for his father’s string of horses at the Chantilly Racecourse in France. The young boy wasn’t treated any differently because he was the son of the boss. He did his share of cleaning stalls and grooming horses before he ever was allowed to sit on one as a rider.
There can be no doubt that having a jockey as a father helped when it came time for Julien to learn how to ride. His lessons helped to make him what many call a finesse rider. Leparoux is finely attuned to the nuances of the horses he rides, and he has a very gentle manner with his hands. Trainers appreciate a jockey that does not “get in the horse’s mouth” by pulling too tight on the reins during a race. Julien knows how to coax the best effort from his horses without fighting with them.
Even though he received basic training from his father, it wasn’t until Julien arrived in the United States that he obtained a license to exercise horses on the track. This happened in 2003 when Julien emigrated to the US in order to work for Patrick Biancone, a trainer who also hails from France. After two years of exercising horses for Biancone, Leparoux was ready to take the next step and become an apprentice jockey. He rode his first race in 2005.
Leparoux Starts at the Top
Most apprentice riders choose to begin their racing career on a soft racing circuit. The competition is often less daunting for a new rider at smaller tracks. It is easier for the rider to gain mounts and ride enough races to hone their skills and make a living. Julien Leparoux did not take this path. He chose to begin his racing career in what might be the toughest jockey colony in America—Saratoga.
In the summer of 2005, Leparoux made the journey to New York where he would match skills against Hall of Fame riders. His success was almost instant. He won his first race in July not long after the meet began, and by the time Saratoga came to a close in September the apprentice had racked up 28 wins during the short racing session. No apprentice had ever won that many races during a Saratoga meet. He followed this up by taking the riding title at Turfway Park the following year. After Turfway, Leparoux became the leading rider at the legendary Churchill Downs in the spring and summer of 2006. He remained in Kentucky and also conquered a riding title at Keeneland.
As a matter of fact, Leparoux won more races than any other jockey in America in 2006. He finished the year with 403 wins and earnings of more than $12 million. No apprentice had every made such a beginning to their career in the history of horse racing.
Leparoux Sets a Record at Churchill Downs
Every so often the racing gods smile down on a jockey and something special happens. It happened for Leparoux on November 11, 2008. On that day, Leparoux won seven races at Churchill Downs. The previous record of 6 was set by Hall of Fame rider Pat Day in 1984. It is incredibly difficult to win a single horse race, let alone seven of them. The news of Leparoux’s accomplishment spread his fame throughout the United States, and many trainers began to call upon him to ride their best horses.
2009 would become a career-best year for the jockey. He scored impressive wins in the Breeders’ Cup, becoming just the second jockey in history to win three championship events in the same year. This led to an opportunity to ride in the Kentucky Derby in 2012 aboard a horse that was considered the favorite. Union Rags was expected to win the race, but could only muster a 7th place finish with Leparoux in the irons. It was disappointing, but the jockey remained positive and has since went on to be a regular fixture in the Triple Crown events each year.
Leparoux now makes his home in Kentucky and competes on the Kentucky circuit for most of the year. He regularly travels to other race tracks in order to ride in important stakes races. Each year, the Frenchman looks for another opportunity to saddle up on a horse that has an opportunity to win the Triple Crown.
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