Jansen Melancon discovered that he wanted to become a jockey while taking a job galloping horses after high school. The son of veteran jockey Gerard Melancon, Jansen has amassed over 500 wins in his career, mostly on the Louisiana circuit. Jansen has provided 5 Minutes To Post some great insight into a jockey’s thought process and race strategy along with challenges they might face during their career. We thank Jansen for taking the time to interview with us and hope you learn something!
5 MTP: What challenges did you face when you started your career?
JM: When I started with the bug, I rode all over the east coast. And I held my own because I rode for a lot of people from New Orleans. But I kind of struggled with it. I jumped around a bunch and couldn’t find a spot to really get going. When I lost the bug, I moved back down to Louisiana and it kicked off at Louisiana Downs. With the bug that year I won 50 races and the following year (without it) I won 150+ races. Some people do really good with the bug and some people don’t.
5 MTP: Is there any specific advice has your father given you that has helped fuel your success as a jockey today?
JM: Yes. He’s given me a bunch. One of the first rules that he always told me on the track was: “You circle one, you circle two, you split three or more.” The fastest way around there is on the fence- you can cost yourself so much going wide. Another thing he told me which made me a really good turf rider: 3/16 of a mile on the turf is like a quarter mile compared to the dirt. Jockeys think that they gotta get themselves in position so early going into the turn, and they don’t realize that just the last eighth of a mile is such a big difference on the grass. You have to have a lot of patience on the grass.
5 MTP: How do you normally prepare for an upcoming race?
JM: Well, the first thing I look at in the race is which three favorites that I have to beat- if I’m not one of them. And then I look at who has the most speed in the race. And then I want to see- in the past five performances- how my horse runs best? If it comes from the back or runs better on outside or inside. We study all that two or three nights before we even ride. We look at mostly what we’re gonna be riding coming up. We pretty much know all the horses that we’ve been riding all meet. But the night before is when we actually get down and look to see what we think the outcome is gonna be taking off from the gate.
5 MTP: How much trash-talking goes on behind the scenes in the jocks’ room or on the racetrack, and do you participate in it?
JM: Yeah. I’ve had quite a few moments. Stuff happens out there. People get run over- you’ve got a lot of horse and sometimes that horse gets run over. Sometimes horses are getting out and getting in. Sometimes they run you over on purpose knowing they don’t want to let you through because you’re on the favorite- which is one thing that we have to do to win races. You always have to know who’s where and what not. But it happens quite often. Sometimes we can get physical in there but we try to avoid it so nobody gets in trouble and gets arrested. We’ve definitely all had moments and then after that and after we walk out and we’re friends again. Normally jockeys are respectful until they get back in the jocks room so the public can’t see- since that would be bad publicity for us.
5 MTP: Some jockeys are known for being great speed riders while others are more comfortable coming from off the pace. Is there a certain riding style that you prefer or are you as versatile as possible?
JM: So many riders don’t have a clue how fast they’re going and a lot of times when you try to fight for the lead sometimes you just gotta take back and make a run. I have no problem coming from dead last and no problem being up front. I like both of ‘em. There’s neither that I would prefer. I just like to have a lot of horse in that last eighth of a mile to the wire.
5 MTP: In 2015, your riding statistics were solid, as they are this year. In 2016, however, your winning percentage was lower than what you normally achieve. What do you believe is the main reason or reasons for the dip in success last year? And what steps were taken that allowed you to rebound that year?
JM: Well. In 2015 we just found out my girlfriend was pregnant with my little boy. And we had a very good year that year. Then my little boy was born on November 30. About three months later in February I went down and broke my foot in six different places. I was off for those three months and then started back up at Evangeline. When you’re out for three months people go on without you (and get another rider) and it’s hard to get back and obtain everything that you’ve built up. Since I started back up I’ve been building and building back up to where I am now. It just takes time. You just gotta wait for the next opportunity to get back in there. At the end of 2016 I picked up my new agent, Kirk LeBlanc- he was actually a rider that I rode with and one rider that I actually looked up to. He was a very good rider as well and he started being an agent. He picked me up and we’ve kicked it off since then. We’ve been doing really well. My win percentage is around 16 to 17 percent. He’s one of my favorite agents I’ve ever had by far. He’s been where I been, he’s rode, and he knows what to expect, we get along great and its awesome- I’m very happy with him.
5 MTP: Your dad said he’s content to stay in Louisiana as he’s getting older. But you’re only 30- do you feel content in place as well or do you have any plans or dreams to move elsewhere?
JM: Well, with the right opportunity. Say a trainer with a good head of horses asks me to go somewhere where he does really well, I wouldn’t mind going up to Kentucky, Florida, California, or somewhere else. If I’m promised this and that- for sure I’ll go. But as of right now, I just bought a new house right down the road from my parents and had their first grandchild. As of right now I’m gonna stay home with my family. There has to be a really good opportunity for me to leave.
5 MTP: Given the dangerous risks involved in being a jockey, would you want your son Emmitt to follow in your footsteps to become a jockey someday just as you did with your father? Does he enjoy being around the racetrack and horses as much as you do?
JM: To tell you the truth, he’s not even 2 years old yet and he already has his own horse. There’s no telling. He’s already rode her a couple of times- we just got her the other day. He doesn’t quite understand exactly what he’s doing yet- but he gives her treats and everything. He likes it. But honestly what keeps him happy- that’s what I aim for. I’ll support him in anything in any kind of way.