LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jon Court would set a record as the oldest jockey in the Kentucky Derby when he rides Long Range Toddy this weekend.
Court is 58, which is a lot of candles on the birthday cake for someone still participating in an incredibly dangerous sport.
Churchill Downs officials say the current record holder is Bobby Baird, who was 57 when he rode in the 1978 Derby.
Mike Smith, who is 53, will ride early favorite Omaha Beach in the Derby on Saturday.
Bill Shoemaker is the oldest jockey to win the Derby, at 54 aboard Ferdinand in 1986.
It takes a combination of skill and a healthy dollop of luck to persevere when most of the competition since riding your first winner in 1980 has long since retired.
“I’ve been blessed,” Court said. “I’ve been fortunate to have the gift to do, and the talent to be able to participate on a regular basis. I am taking care of myself. And I’ve been very blessed that I can compete at this level and at the top category with this type caliber horses.”
Long Range Toddy is a long shot at 30-1. The colt trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen is 4 for 8 in his career, with Court aboard for the last two races, both at Oaklawn: a victory in the Rebel Stakes and a sixth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby.
“I had been told that he was kind and intelligent,” Court said of Long Range Toddy. “That impressed me. After working him, I realized he had the talent it would take to be running at the caliber level he’s racing at.”
This will be Court’s fourth Derby mount. His best finish was eighth aboard Will Take Charge in 2013. Derby opportunities were a long time coming. Court’s first Derby ride came in 2011.
He never abandoned hope he would make the sport’s biggest race.
“I would say I was quietly confident,” he said.
Court, who was born in Gainesville, Florida, has lived the typical gypsy life of a jockey. He has been a regular on circuits in Colorado, Louisiana, Kentucky, Indiana, Arkansas, Alabama and California. He has more than 4,000 victories and two his biggest were consecutive wins in the Arkansas Derby with Line of David (2010) and Archarcharch (2011).
But it a different kind of horsepower that could have ended Court’s career. He suffered a fractured collarbone last year in a motorcycle accident.
As to the future, Court hopes to go out on his own terms rather than be forced out by injury.
“As long as it feels good and I’m doing well, I’ll keep going,” Court said. “I’d like to be able to enjoy this industry as much as I have loved it and be able to step down gracefully at my timing.”
And he’d love to leave with a Kentucky Derby trophy as a memento.
“That would be a beautiful thing,” Asmussen said. “Jon gave him such a dream trip in the Rebel. Hopefully, we can recapture some of that magic Saturday.”