Hawthorne Racecourse (2/26/11)
Contact: Ron Uchman
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
He’s young, good looking, a strong rider with great potential, he has a French accent (of course that’s only when he’s speaking English. When he’s speaking French, his accent is virtually undetectable), and he likes to cook. Sorry ladies, he’s already taken.
Florent Geroux seems to have found a new home. This well-bred rider, the son of Dominique Geroux, a famous French jockey during the 1970s and 1980s, decided that he loves this circuit. Although he was born in the west of France, in Argentan, a town with a rich history dating back to pre-Middle Ages and more temperate weather, he doesn’t find the extreme weather conditions in northern Illinois to be a problem.
Geroux attended the prestigious French horse-racing academy, Afasec, starting at the age of 13, and earned his bug (diplome du jockey) at the age of 17. His career started off with a bang and he won 70 races and earned the “Best Apprentice” distinction early on.
As Geroux explained, “Things are far different in France. Winning that many races is quite a feat. They don’t have long meets like they do it the United States and you have to travel a lot to get mounts. But, I was the leading apprentice there and pretty well established.
“About 95 percent of the races I rode in France were on turf. The rest were on synthetic tracks. I didn’t ride on dirt until I got to the United States. However, I think that I have won more races on dirt than on any other surface.
“I came to the US in 2007 for the first time, for only about two months, just for the experience. I rode a couple of horses in races but mostly worked in the morning. I was at Hollywood Park, working for Patrick Biancone. He brought me into the country, did all the necessary paperwork so that I would be legal.”
Geroux stayed in the US for a couple of months, went to Ireland for Biancone for about three months and won a couple of races, and then headed back to France for a little bit, and then came back to the United States.
“When I first came back to the US, I went to Saratoga. I was mostly working in the morning, doing my best to learn the language. I didn’t speak very good English at that time, I learned a bit in school, but I wanted to be able to communicate when I was ready to ride full time. I didn’t want to get out there and not even be able to speak to the trainer after the race.
“Late in 2007 I started riding at Keeneland. Unfortunately, soon after the meet started, one of my mounts clipped heels and I was thrown. I suffered two fractured vertebrae and a broken arm. I was out for five months.
“I went to Arlington in 2008 when I started riding again. It took a while to get started since I wasn’t known and my agent hadn’t been an agent before and we didn’t get that much business.” (2008 record: 206 starters, 17 winners, $350,638 purses).
But, things have picked up well since then. In 2009, Geroux rode 553 races, winning 54 times and his mounts earned $1,209,408. Last year, he won 68 races from 524 starts and amassed $1,310,948. He’s already off to a great start in 2011. He finished in the top 10 riders at Arlington Park in the summer of 2010 and he finished fourth during Hawthorne Race Course’s fall/winter meet, guiding his mounts to the Winner’s Circle 33 times.
“I’ve been riding some good horses for trainers such as Wayne Catalano, Danny Miller, and Doug Matthews and I’m starting to get more mounts from different barns.
“I like riding in the US. It seems to be a bit easier. The field sizes are manageable. I rode in a maiden race in Ireland that had 25 horses. In Europe, the tracks have different configurations. We go straight, we go right, we go left, up hills, down hills, sometimes all in the same race. In the US, you always go left. The tracks, surfaces, and conditions might be different but you always go left.
“This is a great circuit, maybe one of the best. I can have a real home. I don’t feel like a gypsy. Here, you have a dirt track, a synthetic surface, and two different turf courses. We see the same horses a lot and get to watch how they progress. It’s common for trainers to use the same jockey for most of their horses. I really like it here.”
When asked about his strengths as a rider, Geroux had this to say. “I have good hands. It might be coincidence but I’ve won a lot of races on 3-year-olds and I’ve done well with longshots.”
With agent Doug Bredar, the former Racing Secretary at tracks such as Churchill Downs and Gulfstream Park, in his corner, Geroux’s career continues to progress.
“We’ve been doing very well,” professed Bredar. “Knowing the trainers as well as I did from my years in the racing office helped at first and it was nice to know that I could count on them. But, Florent is a very talented rider and as more people get to know him and how well he rides, I’m confident that business will pick up even more. I was proud when he got his first graded stakes victory on Dade Babe in the Pucker Up at Arlington. I expect there will be many more.”
So do we.