By Gary McMillen
Records are made to be broken. Yada, yada, yada. You never hear anybody say that records are made to be smashed.
It was right there in the book at Delta Downs outside of Vinton, Louisiana. 121. It was the record for number of wins by a jockey for the meet and two jockeys, Guy Smith and Tracy Hebert, shared the standard. But on the closing night of March 29, after winning both ends of the Daily Double, Gerard Melancon had the mount on Bandido in the seventh race, the Cocodrie Stakes. After a confident, pace-stalking trip off the rail, Melancon guided the 4-year-old gelding under the wire 3 1⁄2 lengths clear. Say hello to win number 146 and a meet record smashed.
You don’t win 146 races and set a record for purses totaling $2,815,690 just by showing up in the jock’ room. Melancon has a reputation for doing his homework (typically reading the past performances for more than an hour) as well as knowing the habits of the horse’s he rides.
“He had been giving us a lot of trouble at the gate,” Melancon remarked about Bandido. “So I told the assistant to be easy on him if he got nervous. Once we got away, I just kind of flattered him and let him be himself.”
Melancon had been a reliable top 10 rider at Fair Grounds for the past 18 years. The decision to move his tack to Delta Downs was an easy one. “Because of the slots, you can see the purses were going to be good here,” Melancon explained, “and there is nothing better than sleeping in your own bed.”
Close to home and with his family (wife Annette and two sons Jansen and Jonas) that he calls his number one fans, Melancon was comfortable and confident to get down to business. The Delta Downs meet started Oct. 19 and Melancon went a week before getting his first win. Not to worry.
“I wasn’t discouraged one minute,” Melancon said. “That’s where a great agent like Louis Coco comes in. Once we broke the ice it was crazy ever since.”
Coco picked them and Melancon rode them. When the big outfits like Steve Asmussen, Tom Amoss, and David Carrol shipped horses over from Fair Grounds, Melancon usually got the mount.
“Gerard has a kind of chemistry, a likability,” Coco said of his rider. “He is always upbeat and is able to sell himself.”
Nicknamed “G-Money” by racing fans in New Orleans, Melancon had to adjust to the tight turns and short stretch at Delta Downs.
“At a bull ring you have to make quick decisions,” Melancon said of piloting horses around the six-furlong track. “I always have some kind of plan mapped out but once the gate opens your plans can go out the window. As far as the far turn and the stretch, you don’t want to get caught late, falling asleep. At the same time you want to save a horse and keep from gutting him out if its not necessary.”
Delta Downs leading trainer Keith Bourgeois banged the boards with Melancon for the five-month (93 days) duration of the meet.
“Gerard brings experience,” Bourgeois said, “You don’t have to tell him what to do. He has ridden long enough to know where he belongs and how to win a race.”
Melancon has a reputation for judging pace. When Eddie Razo Jr. was injured, Amoss called upon Melancon to ride Liberty Bull March 16 in the 11⁄8-mile $600,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico.
“We broke from the farthest outside post,” Melancon said, “but I managed to get over and save some ground. I felt the pace was a little soft so we snugged up a little closer than what he usually likes. He finished strong, winning with his ears up.”
Melancon (fifth leading rider in the country in number of wins at the end of March) will ride at Evangeline Downs this summer. He will be closer to home. Somebody better check the record book.