When Positive Response crossed the wire first in the $100,000 California Derby on Saturday, it marked a big win for the combination of trainer William E. Morey and jockey Julien Couton. For Morey, it was a satisfying victory. The up and coming trainer, and three partners, purchased Positive Response for $75,000 and brought him in from Canada. Morey thought he would “fit well on the Tapeta surface” and wanted a horse he thought could win the California Derby. Mission accomplished. However, one could argue that it was an even bigger win for the 29 year-old Couton, who has been trying to break into the top of the jockey standings since arriving in 2009.
The jockey has been on a hot streak since… well… since Positive Responses’ last victory. The rider from Aizenay, a commune in western France, won his first ever stakes race on December 11th when he was in the saddle of Positive Response for the Gold Rush Stakes.
As luck would have it, he picked up the mount when jockey Frank Alvarado, who had ridden Response in his first two local races, decided to ride stakes winner Luckarack. The latter finished 7th and Couton was on his way. The Gold Rush Stakes was the first time Couton had ever been on the back of Positive Response. He celebrated in the winners circle by pumping both fists in the air.
“When Frank chose Luckarack, I put Julien on,” Morey said. “Julien has been riding very well for me and working horses for me in the morning. We make a good team.”
Couton liked winning a stakes race so much, he did it again the next week when he guided Catsalot to a win in the $75,000 Pacific Heights Stakes. In the month since, Couton has been winning races and picking up new business along the way. Last week, he won 11 races including a career high four wins in one day, last Sunday. His streak has put him tied for the jockey lead with perennial bay area king pin Russell Baze, three weeks into the new meet. Baze has the most wins of any jockey in the history of horse racing and has only lost a Golden Gate Fields riding title a few times in the past 25 years. The latest being in 2006 when Martin Garcia won, before moving down south.
“I think its really good for the area to have a jockey race,” Couton said. “I have a lot of confidence right now. We’re picking up new barns and we just take it day by day.”
It remains to be seen if Couton can keep up with the 52-year-old Baze, but one thing is for sure. He wouldn’t mind a few more scenes like Saturday, when yet again, he was in the winners circle, pumping both fists in the air.