We recently sat down for a little one-on-one time with the very busy Julien Leparoux. Leparoux is not only riding for Michael Matz in this weekend’s big races, he’s the sponsored jockey of beer maker Stella Artois and an active supporter of the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
Stella Artois recently became the official beer sponsor of Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby.
“They’re sponsoring the Kentucky Derby this year, their first year, so for them it’s very special,” said Leparoux of the Stella Artois sponsorship. “They are very excited about the weekend, the week. It’s nice to have a new sponsor in the game and they really enjoy the races so far.”
Leparoux was one of several jockeys-turned-bartenders at the recent Jocktails charity event which sought to raise funds and awareness for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
“I try to promote it [Stella Artois] outside the racetrack, so yesterday I did a charity event for the disabled jockeys,” said Leparoux from under his Stella Artois baseball cap.
Leparoux will take the Michael Matz trained filly And Why Not to the starting gate for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks and will be in the irons as Union Rags attempts to give Matz his second Kentucky Derby win.
And Why Not comes into the Kentucky Oaks off a seventh place finish in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks. The race was the Street Cry filly’s first start of the year. Earlier this week, And Why Not turned in a bullet work, going four furlongs in a sharp :46.40 in her only work over the Churchill Downs track.
“And Why Not, she loves the track,” said Leparoux. “She’s been walking very good over it. Last time she ran very bad at Gulfstream, but she probably didn’t really like that track too much and it was her first race back. First race for the year, so hopefully we can erase that race last time and she’ll run better this time. I can tell she loves the track, so we’ll come running at the end.”
In Leparoux’s short seven-year riding career, he has amassed a resume of accomplishments one might expect to find from a thirty-year veteran rider including five Breeders’ Cup wins, numerous Grade 1 stakes victories, and countless riding titles. However, the Kentucky Derby is one victory that continues to elude the Eclipse Award winning jockey. Saturday he’ll be aboard Union Rags, the second choice on the morning line, as the colt breaks from post position four in the Kentucky Derby.
“I think it’ll be fine,” said Leparoux of his post position. “On the outside we’ve got two speed horses [Take Charge Indy, post 3, and Bodemeister, post 6], the main two speed horses, outside of us. I think we’ll be okay. We just have to break good and see how we come out from the gate.”
Leparoux, who rode Dialed In, the post time favorite, to an eighth place finish in last year’s Kentucky Derby, hopes Union Rags will be his ticket to a Derby victory.
“He’s definitely my best mount that I’ve had for the Derby, so it’s the best shot I have,” said Leparoux. When asked if he thought his chances with Union Rags were better than with Dialed In last year, Leparoux responded affirmatively. “I hope we can get the win and we definitely have a great shot and we just need some luck and that’s it.”
After the Derby, Leparoux will move his tack and his home to New York. Leparoux has resided in Kentucky and has been a staple at the Keeneland and Churchill Downs meets since emigrating from France seven years ago.
“Just for the business, I have to go there and I’m very excited about the move to New York, but I definitely will miss Kentucky too.”
Leparoux’s become a jockey that everyday fans seek out when visiting the track, so he’ll be missed by the Lexington and Louisville locals.
“I’ll definitely be back and forth,” said Leparoux. “Back for stakes races, probably mainly in Keeneland and just at Churchill for the week of the Derby. Hopefully I can be back as much as I can. I love Kentucky.”
One might think Leparoux would relax after a hectic Derby weekend, but he’ll be back with a charity event Derby night before he takes time for himself.
“After the Derby we have a charity event for the disabled jockeys,” said Leparoux. “I’m going to go to that and then win or lose, I’m just going to enjoy myself and be with my family. I’ve got my fiancée, my mom came from France, my future mother-in-law came from California, so spending time with them is good."
Photo: Courtesy JulienLeparoux.com