Mena Wins 3, Geroux Finds Paydirt, on Ellis Park Opening Day

Ellis Park Opening Day, Race 7

HENDERSON, KY. (WFIE) - Two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Julien Leparoux rode at Ellis Park for the first time on Sunday’s opening card. Leparoux finished fourth in his Ellis debut in the first race, third in the sixth and then won the eighth on favored Apreciado in a $51,000 turf allowance race.

Leparoux, who won the apprentice Eclipse Award in 2006 and the Eclipse for North America’s outstanding jockey in 2009, will ride at Ellis next Sunday before going up to Saratoga Race Course to ride that elite meet in upstate New York.

“It was great to come. I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about (Ellis),” Leparoux said. “The track is in good condition, so that’s a good thing. I’m glad to be here today. You have kids who come up and shake my hand and such, so it’s good. We need those kids to love horse racing for the future. So it’s fun.”

With young sons Mitchell and Vinn, Leparoux said he would have strongly considered being based in Kentucky this summer if Ellis ran more than three days a week.

“I’d probably mostly be gone anyway (to ride out-of-town stakes on weekends) if I stayed here, so I’d end up being here maybe a day, where I can ride five days a week in New York,” he said. “But my family is in Kentucky, so it would be great for us (to stay). I’ll definitely think about it maybe next year to stay when my son starts school. They start early in August. I like to be around my family. I’m a family man. So if I have to stay to be with my family, I’d love to here, sure. The money is good and I think it will get better in the future. I think they have a good future ahead of them… The dirt track is very good, a lot of moisture, which is nice. Now I can’t wait to try the turf.”

Asked if he noticed the soybeans growing in the field, Leparoux said, “I did. That’s why they call it the Pea Patch, right?”

After his victory on Justice Racing Stables’ Mike Maker-trained Apreciado, the jockey concluded of his first day at Ellis Park: “It was good. We came here to win races. On the first day it’s always nice to win one. I thought that was my best shot of the day, so I was glad I could get it done.”

Mena wins three, as Johnny Unleashed unleashes huge crowd

Miguel Mena won three races on the card, capped by the Dixiana Farm’s 4-year-old filly Brie’s Lucky Charm taking the nightcap, a $50,000 maiden special race on turf. Mena, who missed last year’s meet while recovering from heel and ankle fractures resulting from a spill in mid-March at the Fair Grounds, also won the second race on Iron Horse Racing’s Randy Morse-trained El Venue and the fifth on the 2-year-old second-time starter Johnny Unleashed.

“It was a good day,” Mena said. “We came into today with a lot of live mounts for good people. We just happened to be lucky to start off this way. It’s very exciting. You see a lot people here. Something feels different about this place this year. I don’t know if it’s the money or the new horses coming in. But it feels good. A lot of people are happy to be here and looking forward to it.”

Johnny Unleashed drawing off to a 7 3/4-length victory over Money for Mischief brought raucous cheering on the rail, with scores of people swarming into the winner’s circle. Johnny Unleashed is trained by Owensboro’s Eric Foster, with the gelding co-owned by the trainer’s wife Brooklyn, Lonnie Reynolds and Chris Phelps and Joseph Mills.

“This was awesome, this winner’s circle,” Eric Foster said. “It’s all friends, friends of the owners, it was just exciting… We always get a big crowd. But with him having four owners, and popular owners, a lot of people were able to make it today. Everybody is from Owensboro.”

Johnny Unleashed — a son of Colonel John out of the More Than Ready mare Ready to Unleash — had run once before, finished second at Keeneland after leading most of the way. “I had expected him to run well,” Eric Foster said. “I was just trying to do my best to make sure I didn’t mess him up. He’s just natural, so let him go: Johnny Unleashed.”

Geroux gains first victory at Ellis Park

Jockey Florent Geroux, who like Leparoux grew up in France and now is a U.S. citizen, also won his first race at Ellis Park after riding here for two days to start off last year’s meet before going on to Saratoga. This summer Geroux will base in Kentucky while traveling most weekends to stakes races out of state.

Geroux guided Magic Cap Stables’ 4-5 favorite Cool Beans to a front-running 1 1/2-length victory over Holly Go Lightly in the sixth race, a $52,000 second-level allowance for fillies and mares. The Brad Cox-trained 4-year-old powered the mile on turf in 1:34.77.

Cool Beans, a daughter of the stallion Candy Ride and the mare Win McCool, last ran when second by a head in the Fair Grounds’ $75,000 Pago Hop Stakes on Dec. 29. Before that, she led until late in the race when third in Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Mrs. Revere and Keeneland’s Grade 3 Valley View. Sunday's victory made her 3-4-3 in 10 starts.

“She was by far the class of the race. She’s been running against stakes company the past three times and in pretty salty graded stakes at Keeneland and Churchill,” Geroux said. “She’s a very sharp filly. She always breaks very athletic from the gate. From there, I just tried to ease her down. I had a little company on the backside on my outside, the filly Rahway, but she was a joy to ride.”

Geroux said of the meet: “I’ll try to be here the most I can, just because there are a lot of Kentucky trainers who are running a lot of horses here at Ellis Park, since the purses are good and the track is safe. People don’t hesitate leaving good horses here and running at Ellis during the meet. I’m happy to be here and ship out on the weekends when I can to stakes races all over the country.

Newcomer David Cohen wins on first day riding at track

David Cohen, Oaklawn Park’s leading rider who is riding at Ellis Park for the first time, in his first two races had a second in the second race aboard the Jason Barkley-trained Veritas and then won the third race on M and M Racing’s $5,000 claimer Pocket Personality, who is trained by Robertino Diodoro. Cohen rode a lot of winners at Oaklawn for Diodoro, who also new to Ellis this summer.

“Anywhere you go, you’ve got to do good early,” Cohen said. “I’m happy just to come to a new place and get rolling right away. Robertino Diodoro has been a great supporter of mine since I came back off injury, and M and M Racing as well. So it’s great. It makes it that much special to get the win for them.”

Cohen, who previously was based in the summer in New York, and fiancee Ashleigh Porter of Louisville have a home in Shelby County. “This is where my house is,” the jockey said. “We’re getting married in September. Obviously with the increase in the purse structure, it made it that much more of a reason to come.”

Cohen missed the first part of the Churchill Downs spring meet to ride at Oaklawn’s extended meet and got off to a slow start there. But he said he’s very happy how things have been going on his new circuit.

“Any time you come to a new place, it’s going to be a little more difficult to get rolling, as opposed to going back to New York,” he said. “We finished out Oaklawn the right way, but we did jeopardize coming here (to Kentucky) and missing the first weeks. But with that in mind, we’re happy just to be here, riding and be safe and the winner’s will come.”

Galloping out ….

Rockingham Ranch’s Surrender Now, the 1-2 favorite trained by California-based Peter Miller, won the $53,000 open allowance race for fillies and mares, rolling to a front-running turf victory by three lengths over May Lily. Ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., Surrender Now sprinted the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:01.14, paying $3 to win. The 4-year-old daughter of Morning Line now is 5-1-1 in 11 starts.

Declan Cannon took the earliest lead in the jockey standings by taking the first race on the Frazza Cassimeris Racing’s George Leonard-trained Lady Blue. Said Cannon: “When you start any meet, it’s nice to get the first one out of the way, and then you can just kind of relax into it. The track’s in really good shape. I’m really happy with how the track is, so that’s a bonus.”

Trainer Dale Romans debuted a promising youngster as Blue Devil Racing Stable’s Night Time led all the way under Channing Hill for a 4 1/2-length victory over Most Sandisfactory in the seventh race for 2-year-old colts, covering five-eighths of a mile in 58.22 seconds.

“Dale told me he really liked him,” Hill said. “This guy, he broke sharp, was green, just kept running from the quarter pole. Still a little green, so he should have a lot of upside to him. This is the great thing about Ellis: You get some really good 2-year-olds coming out of here.”

What they said about opening day

Ken Mimmack, head of project development for Ellis Entertainment LLC, the Laguna Development Corporation subsidiary that is the new owner of Ellis Park: “The atmosphere here is fantastic. This is our first opportunity to be here for an opening day, and we are so excited. We get to see the crowd, and see the way Henderson has come to support this meet. Couldn’t be happier. We’re excited to be part of Kentucky racing, and that’s why we’re here.”

Ellis Park general manager Jeff Hall: “It’s electric, one of the best opening days I’d say in many, many years. The excitement around here with what LDC and Saratoga (the previous owner who is managing this meet) have done in the past couple of months, everybody is totally excited about it. The fan support is unbelievable. This is just the start of it. We have the very best jockey colony we’ve ever had here. We’ve got close to 500 horses already on the grounds and we’re looking for probably another 150-200 horses here. It doesn’t get any better.”

Racing secretary Dan Bork: “Opening day we have our usual summer heat here, and the crowd turned out to be great. It’s a hat giveaway day and the racing is going to be excellent this year. No question about it, we’re going to have our strongest meet ever. The jockey colony is the strongest in history. The money we’re giving away is going to be drawing some of the best races we’ve ever had here. I look forward to seeing a lot of superstars running and a lot of potential superstars. We’ve got a strong 2-year-old program with a lot of maiden races. You can expect to see a lot of up-and-coming stars for the next couple of years.

“Everybody does look forward to opening day, whether it’s horse racing, baseball, anything. So yeah, it does set the tone. We’re looking forward to the summer. It’s only 29 days and it will be lots of fun.”

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