Getting to Know Gerard Melancon, longtime Louisiana jockey.

Gerard Melancon has over 4,600 wins in a storied 33-year career that began in 1984, riding primarily within the Louisiana track circuit. His wins include major races such as the Super Derby, Delta Downs Jackpot, and the Vosburgh Stakes, among others. He’s earned several riding titles at Delta Downs, Evangeline Downs, and Louisiana Downs, in addition to being named a finalist for the prestigious George Woolf award in 2016. His son, Jansen Melancon, is also a jockey on the same circuit. Gerard was generous enough to give us his time as we conducted a phone interview with him. We at 5minutestopost hope you enjoy his insight.

{5minutestopost}: When did you know you wanted to become a jockey and why?

{GM}: Well I always had a pony when I was a kid growing up- I was a city boy actually. None of my family members were into horses but I always had a pony. I was awfully small, and I guess about in 7th grade I really got hooked when I was 12 years old and I was getting involved in horse racing with quarter horses. I was actually talking to a thoroughbred trainer that had 40-50 horses in training and I pretty much got tied on with him- his name was Manny Rubin. And he was one of the top trainers around Evangeline.

{5minutestopost}: How has the sport changed from when you started your riding career until now?

{GM}: Well the money has changed. Dramatically. I remember riding for $1,800 purses and galloping 15-20 horses a morning. I remember my first stakes race- the Ragin’ Cajun Stakes at Evangeline- the purse was like $13,000. Back in the old days, until the 90s, when you wanted to race for somebody they’d always give you a stake, whether it was $100 or $200 or maybe 20 to win. But it’s changed now. Some trainers and owners very seldom will buy you a victory. For me it’s become more of a business down here. 

{5minutestopost}: Who is the best horse you ever rode? 

{GM}: The best horse I ever rode was Bonapaw who just passed away a month ago at Old Friends in Lexington. 

{5minutestopost}: Do you have any favorite horses from over the years?

{GM}: He (Bonapaw) was a big horse. I won the Vosburgh at Belmont with him, the Count Fleet at Oaklawn, the Iowa Sprint, and a couple of stakes at Arlington. I got to go ride him in Dubai in the Golden Shaheen. So he kind of took me everywhere. Of course when you stay here and you get around, you’ll get top horses. I don’t travel outside anymore. I’m 50 years old and set in my ways. I’ve got a good agent that keeps me off the bad horses. 

{5minutestopost}: Do you use past performances to handicap races you are riding in? How is your riding strategy generally determined?

 {GM}: I’ll tell you this, my wife says the Daily Racing Form is my bible. I’m a big believer in the Beyers. I do my homework every night. With all the technology we have now I watch race replays of all my horses I’m riding and the horses I’m riding against. And sometimes I overthink myself, but the available technology can help me in finding what’s the best thing for me to do in how to ride my horse. It’s always about getting a good position and a good trip. I always know how fast we’re going and when they’re going too fast in front of me.

{5minutestopost}: You said that the Racing Form is the bible for you. I say the exact same thing. Even for some handicappers when we’re trying to bet, the Form is the bible.

{GM}: My main man I ride for is Tom Amoss. He’s a rags (Ragozin sheets) man. He’s pretty sharp. I’ve been around him a long time. Actually he was an assistant trainer for Frankie Brothers when I was riding a lot for Frankie. It used to be him (Tom) and Al Stone in the same barn. I guess you gotta be nice to little guys because I was always nice to them, since you never know what they’re gonna be one day. The main thing is making people like you and getting the right opportunities. That’s what I tell my son all the time there are good days and bad days in this game. You’re gonna lose more than you win, so you always gotta keep your head up because when you look around, somebody always got it worse than you.

{5minutestopost}: Do jockeys believe in track bias? Have you changed your riding tactics if you recognized a bias?

{GM}: Oh absolutely. I mean you can watch the first three or four races and have to change up if you see that speed’s stopping or speed’s carrying. If speed’s carrying you want to be up closer than you planned on. When they’re stopping (up front) you want to be near the back. The smart riders do (change up), but some riders have one tactic. 

{5minutestopost}: Say if the horse is normally a closer and that’s what the horse is used to, and there’s a pronounced speed bias. If you were to try to lay significantly closer (to the front), is that going to mess up with a horse’s psyche or take its element out of a race?

{GM}: A lot of trainers don’t like you to change a horse’ strategy. But when I see something like that I explain to the trainer I always have a plan and I don’t follow instructions very well. I have my mind made up, especially if I’ve ridden the horse before. But if I have a closer on a speed-biased track I’ll usually warm them up a little extra and try to get them as close as I can without using them.

{5minutestopost}: When riding in a race against your son, what is the dynamic like? Is it friendly competition? Or every man for himself?

{GM}: We get together every night. We have our own sauna and look at the Form together. I mean I always keep an extra eye out for him. I always know where he’s at. I have a total static memory of the horses I’m running against. That’s a big plus for me. We try to beat each other just like we try to beat everybody else. As a matter of fact, he beat me a head on a horse a couple weeks ago and I claimed foul on him. I’ve got a job. His horse came and got me a little bit, and it wasn’t bad enough to disqualify, but I have to show trainers and owners that I’m trying. My son and I never argue though. We have a good relationship.

{5minutestopost}: How many other people in your family are jockeys or are involved in racing?

{GM}: Zero. My wife’s dad was a trainer and he had 55 horses to train. But none of my family is into horses. Right now it’s only my cousin and I that are jockeys. 

{5minutestopost}: Most of your career has been spent riding in Louisiana. Have you ever considered moving to a more prominent circuit? 

{GM}: Well in my younger days when I was 17, 18, 19 I rode in Kentucky and I got messed up with dope and everything and I went into rehab when I was 23 years old and I haven’t had anything since. I thought about it (moving) over the years, but the money’s good here. I don’t have any bigger goals than staying home and keeping my bed seven days a week. One track (Delta Downs) is 50 minutes away and the other (Evangeline) is 20 minutes away.

{5minutestopost}: Who have been your biggest supporters and mentors along the way that helped to advance your career or make you a better jockey?

{GM}: My wife 100%. I have a great wife. She never lets my head go down. She keeps me up and I’ve got a good relationship and she’s a very strong lady and she put up with a lot. I had great agents. I had the late Jerry Harrison who was one my best agents I’ve had for 4 or 5 years. The agent I’m with now, Louis Coco, I’ve had him for the last 20 years of my career. He doesn’t ever give me negative things. He’s always positive. 

{5minutestopost}: Specifically, how has your agent played a role in your success? 

{GM}: You have to have somebody that believes in you and it takes a top agent, it really does. You have to have the right breaks. You have to win races. You have to have a good attitude. You can’t get people mad at you- and it goes a long way.

{5minutestopost}: What advice would you give to either someone considering a career as a jockey or to a jockey that is struggling to get mounts?  

{GM}: Pretty much what I just told you. Try to get a good agent. Work hard and meet the people. You have to get the right breaks but you really have to work hard. And I don’t work hard anymore like I did for 30 years. The last few years I haven’t been out there hustling mounts every morning. I just show up seldom to work a couple of them. But it’s not an everyday, every morning job for me anymore. My son is there everyday and I can feel that in him.

 

 

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