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Guidry Training at FG; St. Julien Continues on Comeback Trail
Louisiana native Mark Guidry, who spent the majority of his jockey career as the dominant year-round dean of Chicago riders, embarked on his new career as a trainer three years ago – but will be stabling his barn at Fair Grounds for the first time this winter.
“The Gid” saddled Rodney Verret’s Lyd River to register a two-length win when he led that horse over as his first starter of the season in Saturday’s eighth race under a cleverly rated front-running ride by fellow Louisianan Kerwin Clark, and one would hope that Guidry has continued success as a trainer locally throughout the season.
“I’ve saddled a few winners here since I began my training career,” said Guidry, “but I shipped in with those. This is the first time I’ve been stabled here at Fair Grounds.
“I’m going to give it my best shot (as a trainer) this winter at Fair Grounds,” said Guidry, “but if I don’t do any good, I’m going to have to give it up. It costs a lot of money to train horses, and I can’t afford to keep going unless I start having some real success. Training horses is a lot of work. It has been a learning process for me and I’m still learning new things all the time. I spent 33 years as a rider and I learned new things all those years, but I can’t afford to spend 33 years learning to be a good trainer. I have to see some results soon for all the work I’ve been putting into it.”
As a jockey, Guidry was a legendary figure to Chicagoans for many years, but in the twilight of his riding career he took a major step up in class to ride during the winter at Gulfstream Park with success and also spent one meeting at Santa Anita to win the 2005 Grade I Santa Anita Derby with Buzzards Bay. He retired in November of 2007 with 5,043 wins as a jockey, but his biggest win came in February of 2006 when he became the 57th winner of the George Woolf Award, presented annually to a jockey who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct on and off the racetrack.
It was his actions as a human being following Hurricane Katrina the previous fall that probably cinched Guidry’s selection as that year’s Woolf winner. In the first hours after Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, Guidry, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, that never forgot his roots, made an impassioned plea to other jockeys as well everyone associated with Thoroughbred racing to help the victims, setting an example with an immediate and significant cash donation as well as a pledge of his purse earnings for upcoming stakes.
With his tack still hanging at Arlington Park, he kept the drive going with continuous televised pleas for public support, rallying his peers and their families with further contributions of time and money toward those most severely affected by Katrina.
Aided by friends and family, Guidry drove an 18-wheeler loaded with canned goods and clothing from Chicago to Lafayette with the intention of distributing its goods, only to have to off-load and leave the distribution part to his family due to the approaching Hurricane Rita.
“I had to drive to Baton Rouge right after we off-loaded to fly back to Chicago to ride Perfect Drift in the Hawthorne Gold Cup,” Guidry said. “The New Orleans airport was already closed down, and I had to make a decision in a hurry to get out or get stuck there.
“I knew all the donations would get distributed to the proper places,” Guidry said, “because I left my mother and sisters in charge. They told me not to worry about those things, that they’d take care of everything, and they did.
“We had half a truckload of dresses for kids that we distributed to the churches and half a truckload of canned goods and now I have a lot of ‘thank you’ letters from a lot of people. Some of those letters brought tears to my eyes and still do when I reread them,” said Guidry. “They pull your heart out.”
Other Woolf Award winners with Cajun backgrounds, incidentally, include Ray Sibille (2007), like Guidry now training a string at Fair Grounds; Robby Albarado (2004), a seven-time Fair Grounds jockey champion who will be returning this season; Craig Perret (1998); Kent Desormeaux (1993), soon to be riding at Fair Grounds; and Eddie Delahoussaye (1981).
“I think a lot of that has to do with the way we were raised,” said Guidry. “We were taught to respect others, to treat others the way you want to be treated. That kind of stuff is pounded into you growing up but the individual has to open up his heart and make the right choices. I’ve made some mistakes in my life, but I’ve always tried to learn from my mistakes and do the right thing.”
JOCKEY MARLON ST. JULIEN ON COMEBACK TRAIL AT FAIR GROUNDS – There were a lot of warm hugs in the jockeys’ quarters after Marlon St. Julien won his first race at Fair Grounds in nearly a decade in Saturday’s fifth race. The 38-year-old St. Julien and veteran Texas-bred gelding Charles Edwin raced three-wide around the turn in a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint before closing steadily to get up by a half-length.
Although St. Julien has had a handful of mounts in New Orleans the past few seasons, Saturday marked his first win at Fair Grounds since the 2001-2002 meet, when he won 10 races.
“Almost six years ago I left Kentucky and came back home to Louisiana,” St. Julien explained. “I went through a divorce and I had a drug problem. I’m not ashamed to say that; I overcame it, thank God. I piddled around and then I was riding at Evangeline and Delta but it finally got in my head that I needed to be back to where I was before.”
Following a successful meet at Louisiana Downs this summer, St. Julien ventured back to the Bluegrass State, where he had once been a prominent rider and in 2000 became the first African-American to ride in the Kentucky Derby in 79 years.
“Going to Shreveport this summer helped boost my confidence,” St. Julien said. “I was winning and I went to Keeneland and I went to Churchill. People had to gain trust in me again and I think there’s a handful of people that still want to see if Marlon’s back.”
St. Julien credited his parents and his children for helping to get his life back on track.
“My dad, especially, helped get me focused on what I had to do,” he said. “Being around home made me realize there’s a lot more things than just women and drugs. I know for a fact that I can ride and I’m blessed with talent. My family helped open my eyes.”
As St. Julien started to show a renewed interest in riding outside of his native Cajun country some of his old friends like Robby Albarado and Shane Sellers helped to urge him on.
“I stayed with Robby when I went to Kentucky and we had a lot of one-on-one conferences,” St. Julien said. “If I keep working I think I’ll get my career back on track the way it should be.”