Larry Melancon, who began riding Quarter Horses when he was 9 years old and got his jockey’s license to ride Thoroughbreds at age 16 in 1971, is retiring from the saddle.
On July 4, five weeks shy of his 55th birthday, Melancon will ride for the last time at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. His final mount will be War Clan, who is in the barn of one of the jockey’s longtime clients, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
“I had no idea that this would last this long,” Melancon said July 2. “I got to ride some good horses and those were the ones that kept you going and getting up in the mornings.”
Melancon first came to Churchill Downs in 1974 and has won at least one race every meet since except for the three he did not ride – Fall 1974, Spring 1979, and Fall 1993 when he was sidelined by fractured ribs.
In all, Melancon has ridden 941 winners at Churchill Downs, third all time behind only Pat Day (2,482) and Calvin Borel (1,019). His 46 stakes wins at Churchill Downs rank fourth all time. For his career, Melancon has 2,857 victories with more than $60.6 million in purses.
Melancon, who has three winners this meet, rode in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) four times, the first time in 1976.
“I was on Amano, and he was third at the head of the stretch,” Melancon said of the James Padgett-trained runner who finished fourth in the field of eight. “The horse that ran third, Elocutionist, I told them they ought to go on to the Preakness (gr. I) because (Hall of Fame trainer) LeRoy (Jolley) was going to send Honest Pleasure after Bold Forbes, and that’s what he did and Elocutionist ran by both of them.”
That was Melancon’s best Kentucky Derby finish as he wound up 14th on Bachelor Beau in 1986, 10th on Smilin Singin Sam in 1994, and 16th on Keats in 2001.
Melancon considers his biggest Churchill Downs victory the 2001 Stephen Foster Handicap, then a grade II event, on Guided Tour.
“He beat Captain Steve that day,” Melancon said.
Melancon, who has only had 15 mounts this meet, plans on staying in the racing business. As for his immediate future, Melancon said, “I don’t know yet. I’m going to take a little time off and visit my grandson.”