Jockeys Rafael Bejarano and Julien Leparoux, currently among the top 12 riders in the nation by purses won this year, will move their tack to Southern California this winter, both riders’ agents said Nov. 9.
In past years, 25-year-old Bejarano has ridden at Churchill Downs and then traveled to Florida for Gulfstream Park’s winter meet. This year, the jockey spent his last day at Churchill Nov. 4 and left the country for a weeklong visit to his native Peru, agent Joe Ferrer said.
Ferrer arrived in California Nov. 8 to begin arranging business for his rider and said Bejarano, currently fifth in the nation by purses won with $14,108,317, will begin riding at Hollywood Park Nov. 21. He will return to Churchill Nov. 24 to ride Thanksgiving weekend stakes at the Louisville track, then will fly back to California to ride first call for trainer Bobby Frankel.
“The main factor was that Bobby asked us to come out and ride the majority of his horses,” Ferrer said. “We had the opportunity to go to California last year, but we thought the purses in Florida would get better. They didn’t, so we’re lucky we still have a good opportunity to ride for a major operation in a state with a great purse structure.
"There are some great riders here, but we plan to stay at least through the Santa Anita meet. Then (Bejarano) will need to make a decision; if he likes it, we might stay. It depends on our business. You have to go where your horses go.”
Leparoux, 24, traditionally spent the winter at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., to ride first call for fellow Frenchman Patrick Biancone. With Biancone serving a one-year suspension from training issued by Kentucky officials, the jockey and agent Steve Bass welcomed the opportunity to head westward. Leparoux is currently 11th in the nation with $11,102,926 in earnings.
“We possibly would have gone out last year, but Patrick asked us to stay one more year, which wasn’t all that bad,” Bass said. “I don’t think it hurt his career; he came right back and was leading rider at Keeneland and Churchill in the spring off a winter spent at Turfway. I do know that he’s very excited about going to California because that was pretty much where he started when he came here from France.”
While Leparoux will not ride for a specific outfit in California, Bass said he expects to obtain significant business in the state. “Julien is a very good rider, and people know it,” he said. “They’ve seen him ride and he’ll do well if he has the chance.”
The incoming riders join a colony that includes the nation’s leading jockey of 2007 (Garrett Gomez), West Coast regulars Alex Solis and Victor Espinoza, apprentice sensation Joe Talamo, Baze cousins Michael and Tyler, and the returning Patrick Valenzuela.