Apprentice Leparoux Wins Churchill Riding Title

by Claire Novak
At age 23, Julien Leparoux became the second apprentice in Churchill Downs' 131-year history to earn a leading rider title when he finished the 2006 spring meet with 87 winners on July 16.

Leparoux rode the Steven Margolis-trained Giantscape to victory in the fifth race on Churchill's closing card, then won the $70,000-added Heavenly Cause Handicap with Eurowest Bloodstock's Take the Ribon to finish his unprecedented sweep of Kentucky's 2006 spring/summer riding titles (Turfway Park/Keeneland Race Course/Churchill).

"He's so level-headed and mature, he handles pressure very well," said Leparoux's agent, Steve Bass. "This morning when I called him to go over his mounts, I said, 'However this works out, you've had a fabulous meet. If you win it's awesome, but if you get beat, you've still done more than anybody could expect.' "

Leparoux came to Churchill after sharing the spring title at Keeneland with 24-year-old Rafael Bejarano. He was the first apprentice in the history of the Lexington track to earn or share a riding title. The young jockey demolished Travis Hightower's 1982 record for wins by an apprentice (33) just 20 days into Churchill's spring meet, then continued his hotly-contested battle for top honors with Bejarano, who ultimately finished second with 81 wins. According to Bass, only one other apprentice rider – in the 1940s – earned a riding title at Churchill.

Son of an assistant trainer, Leparoux came to the United States in 2003 to work for fellow Frenchman Patrick Biancone. He earned his first career victory at Saratoga Race Course aboard Easter Guardian on August 16, 2005, then followed Biancone's stable to Kentucky and set a new record at Turfway Park's 2006 winter/spring meet, recording 167 wins for the season.

Leparoux currently leads the nation in wins (273), with a 26% winning clip and a 56% in-the-money rate. He ranks ninth by earnings, with $6,243,045 in purses. At Churchill, he narrowly missed equaling the 90-win record set by Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day in 1991. The young rider will spend the summer at Saratoga before returning to Kentucky for Keeneland's fall meet.