Cup of Coffee: Sleepless

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Florent Geroux leaned on a wooden rail after breezing El Guapo for Dave Carroll Monday morning and was asked a simple question.

“How’d you sleep?”

“Not too good,” Geroux said.

That’s what happens when you lose a Grade 1 stakes in the stewards’ stand.

Geroux, based at Arlington Park for the summer, flew to Saratoga to ride I’m A Chatterbox for trainer Larry Jones in Sunday’s Coaching Club American Oaks. The 29-year-old jockey put I’m A Chatterbox on the lead, slowed down the pace, increased it when challenged by Curalina and hung on for a nose decision.

But, there was a problem and Geroux knew it before anybody. Well, maybe everybody but John Velazquez who rode the runner-up.

“No, no, I knew. When we crossed the wire, I asked Johnny if I got it. He said, ‘Yeah, you got it, but I need to claim foul. Sorry, buddy,’ ” Geroux said. “I was never like, ‘Oh, yeah, I win.’ I was like, ‘Yeehffff, this is going to be tough.’ I was getting myself prepared for it, I guess.”

Stewards posted the inquiry sign. Velazquez claimed foul. Fans watched the head-on of the 9-furlong stakes and saw what Geroux and Velazquez had felt.

I’m A Chatterbox flicked her left ear, drifted right, gradually but steadily, bumping Curalina, before going back to her left lead at the wire. Curalina was still charging as the duo hit the wire. The pan shot looked bad, the head-on looked worse. 

Geroux returned I’m A Chatterbox to the mouth of the winner’s circle, ready to face the bullet. He slowed her down in front of her groom, shook hands with Jones, unfurled the knot of the leather reins, kicked his feet out of the stirrups, unbuckled his chin strap, hopped off, patted her left flank three times and jogged to pick up the phone for the worst call of his professional career.

He talked to the stewards, tried to sound confident, definitive, hung up the phone and walked back to Jones. Hands on his hips, Geroux watched the blinking numbers on the infield toteboard, hoping for the best, but resigned to the worst.

“I knew. Yeah, I knew. I didn’t know how bad it was, I thought I drifted a little bit, just a little bit. You always hope you’ll stay up, it was a long wait. I did not get lucky, we lost,” Geroux said. “Some people say it’s fair, some people say it isn’t fair. The stewards did their job, I’ve won by disqualification and I’ve lost by disqualification. It won’t be the first time and it won’t be the last time, but I hope it’s the last time in a Grade 1.”

It’s a game of highs and lows, but there’s usually some time in between. Not this time. You win. You lose.

“It was a good story, kid comes here, wins by a nose, at Saratoga, in a Grade 1,” Geroux said. “And then it wasn’t. I never got to enjoy it, I would have been going crazy, but I knew. I’m glad I didn’t celebrate. If I did, it would have been some kind of disappointment. Wow.”

Geroux was trying not to dwell on the disappointment Monday morning. At least, he knew he didn’t do anything intentional or careless. Sure, maybe a push here or a pull here – he’ll never feelexonerated – but ultimately it was a moment gone wrong. A spilled drink, a fender bender, a minute over the meter.

“I was trying to keep my filly straight and keep her running as fast as she could, I was hitting her right-handed and she drifted a little bit by the wire,” Geroux said. “I don’t think it was tiredness, she just lost focus, maybe the cameras, the sign, the marks, if you watch the replay, you can see her flop her ears right before the wire, she lost her focus for a little bit, for like one second…and it cost us big.”

The French-born jockey has a Breeders’ Cup win on the back of his jockey card, he’s picking up better rides, earning business from the likes of Jones, Todd Pletcher and other Saturday-afternoon trainers.

Geroux would like to come to Saratoga for good, one day, when he’s ready. But, for now, he’s aiming to be back aboard I’m A Chatterbox for the Grade 1 Alabama August 22.

“It’s so disappointing, it’s not like I get opportunities to ride Grade 1 races every weekend. I felt like I had the best filly but she did not get lucky,” Geroux said. “Hopefully it will help me, hopefully it shows that I can compete at multiple tracks, in big races…don’t panic, ride your race, let the horse do his thing, put him in the right spot, the horse will do the rest. Sometimes you have to guide them in the right direction.”

That last part stung.