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LOUISVILLE - If the second time is going to be the charm for Shelby County resident Jon Court in the Kentucky Derby, then he’ll have to do something no jockey has ever done in the 139-year history of the race – win from the 17th postposition.
Horses that have started from the 17-hole are 0-for-the Run for the Roses.
Court will try to end that streak – and win the most prestigious Thoroughbred race in the country in the process – at around 6:24 p.m. Saturday evening when he’ll break Will Take Charge from the starting gate at Churchill Downs.
Court, 52, is 0-for-1 in his Derby starts.
His first trip, aboard Archarcharch, two years ago ended in both disappointment and devastation when the horse suffered a condylar fracture and finished 15th in the 1 1/4-mile race. Archarcharch, which was coming off a victory in the Arkansas Derby, was the co-fourth morning-line favorite going into that race.
Will Take Charge, which is owned by Willis Horton and trained by Hall-of-Famer D. Wayne Lukas, is a little more of a long shot at 20-1.
Much of the buzz along the backside at Churchill Downs this week has been about three horses – Orb, the morning-line favorite at 7-2, is a sentimental pick with Hall-of-Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who has never won the Derby; unbeaten Verrazano, the second choice at 4-1; and Goldencents, the third choice at 5-1.
University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is a partial owner – 5 percent, or about the equivalent of the horse’s tail – of Goldencents, and is trying to complete his own personal spring trifecta after he was elected into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame and won his second national championship in April.
To Lukas, a four-time Derby winner, though, it’s been much ado about nothing
“I don’t think we’ve got Secretariat in this bunch, or even a Seattle Slew,” Lukas, 77, said, invoking the names of the 1973 and ’77 Derby and eventual Triple Crown winners. “I think it’s pretty wide-open.”
Lukas, who previously won the Derby with Winning Colors in 1988, Thunder Gulch in 1995, Grindstone in 1996 and Charismatic in 1999, said Will Take Charge doesn’t remind him of any of his Derby winners but, “is more like Timber Country that won the Preakness [in 1995].”
Court has won 24 of his 207 starts so far this year, while also recording 22 second-place finishes and 29 thirds in earning $1,557,835.
Two of those triumphs came aboard Will Take Charge. The first was a photo-finish victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 21 at Oaklawn Park. The second was a narrow come-from-behind victory over stablemate Oxbow in the Grade II $600,000 Rebel Stakes on March 16.
“I started using Jon and we had good chemistry together,” Lukas said Wednesday. “I think sometimes when you get those rider-trainer relationships there seems to be a certain karma, you fit. You get a line of communication. Jon started riding real well for us. Of course, this is a home track for him anyway.”
Lukas, who took Court off of Oxbow earlier this year, didn’t take him off Will Take Charge because, “Jon didn’t do anything but ride very well.”
We’ll see if Court can continue to do that, and possibly end the jinx of the 17-hole, Saturday.