Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Jockey Jon Court rode his first Oaklawn stakes winner at the age of 24, his 10th at 42, his 20th at 51 and his 30th at 56.

If it’s still a race against Father Time, Court is winning.

Now 60, Court turned back the clock – again – Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark., when he guided Will’s Secret to a 5 ¼-length victory in the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 mile.

The Martha Washington was Court’s 689th career Oaklawn victory, 34th career Oaklawn stakes victory and first stakes victory as a sexagenarian. He turned 60 Nov. 26.

“At 60, it’s amazing,” Court said moments after winning at Oaklawn in a fifth decade. “I’m just very, very fortunate and thankful to the higher powers. Taking care of my health, I was able to do that.”

A year after launching his riding career, Court won 10 races as an apprentice at the 1981 Oaklawn meeting and recorded his first career stakes victory in Hot Springs aboard Earl’s Good Time in the $50,000 American Beauty Handicap Feb. 22, 1985. Court was Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2000 and has been a fixture in the standings for much of the past two decades, although he was winless in 2020 after missing most of the meet because of a collapsed lung and cracked ribs sustained in an accident going to the gate before a race in February. Court also was sidelined several months after the Oaklawn meet with a wrist injury.

The Martha Washington was Court’s first victory with Becky Esch, the jockey’s new agent. Esch said when Court’s former agent Steve Krajcir called last fall to inquire if she would be interested in taking another rider for the 2021 meet, she initially believed it was Kelsi Harr, Oaklawn’s leading apprentice last year.

“I thought he was talking about her,” said Esch, the longtime agent of Walter De La Cruz. “When he told me that he was talking about Jon, I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ He’s a household name around here.”

Krajcir again represents Harr at Oaklawn, along with De La Cruz’s brother, Fernando.

Will’s Secret, a homebred for Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark., represented Court’s final victory in 2020 and first this year. Trained by Dallas Stewart, Will’s Secret broke her maiden in a 1 1/16-mile off-the-turf maiden specials weights race Dec. 20 at Fair Grounds. In her stakes and 3-year-old debut, Will’s Secret ($18) recorded the most lopsided Martha Washington victory since Rachel Alexandra began her Horse of the Year campaign with an eight-length romp in 2009.

“She’s push button,” Court said. “She’ll give you the speed when you need it and she’ll sit off it. She continues to deliver every time you ask her. Any time in the race, she’s pretty much push button.”

Court said the Martha Washington, Oaklawn’s first of three Kentucky Oaks points races, had added significance because it was for Horton, best known for campaigning Eclipse Award winners Will Take Charge (the sire of Will’s Secret) and Take Charge Brandi.

Court won the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and the $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) aboard Will Take Charge in 2013 at Oaklawn, victories at 12-1 and 28-1, respectively, that helped the colt secure a 3-year-old championship. Court won the 2015 Martha Washington aboard odds-on favorite Take Charge Brandi, who was the country’s champion 2-year-old filly of 2014. Court and Horton also teamed to win the first division of the 2019 Rebel with Long Range Toddy, who, at odds of 8-1, upset future Eclipse Award winner Improbable.

“These silks mean a lot to me,” Court said. “Six years ago, I won this race for the Hortons, and here we are back again. The odds weren’t quite as favoring, but it was a pretty awesome experience to win. You know me, I’m known for pulling off long shots. It’s just what I do.”

According to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, Court entered Sunday with 4,194 career North American victories to rank 63rd in history. Court ranked 52nd in North American history in career purse earnings ($108,191,731).

Retirement? No way, the jockey said. After all, Court’s still in session.

“I feel great,” Court said. “That (retirement) is always brought to my attention. I’ll do like Scott Stevens says: I am retired. I’m winning races doing it now. I’m really having fun doing it.”

Will’s Secret earned 10 points toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks with her Martha Washington victory. She ranks ninth on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard, according to Churchill Downs.

Oaklawn’s Kentucky Oaks series continues with the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 6 and the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 3. Stewart said next-race plans are pending for Will’s Secret, who has been based at Fair Grounds.

“She’s a real nice filly,” Stewart said. “She’s got a nice future ahead of her.”

Stewart and Horton teamed to win the 2006 Kentucky Oaks with Lemons Forever.

By senior