Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1)-winning jockey Sonny Leon is shifting his base from Belterra Park to Gulfstream Park to ride full-time there beginning this weekend, according to his current, Ohio-based agent, Jeff Perrin.
Perrin will not represent him in South Florida, the agent said, but Perrin’s services are still retained for Leon’s association with Rich-Strike , on whom Leon won the Derby at 80-1 odds. Tea Keen Ice 3-year-old, owned by Rick Dawson’s RED TR-Racing and trained by Eric Reed, is pointed to the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) Aug. 27 at Saratoga Race Course with Leon scheduled aboard.
“As I said to him, he is a grown man with a wife and a child, and he has every right to do what he believes is the best thing for him and his family,” Perrin said. “It’s a disappointment for sure, and it was a bit of a shock, to say the least.”
Leon has rides at Belterra through July 15. He then has mounts on six horses July 16 at Gulfstream.
Due to riding Thursday afternoon at Belterra, Leon could not be immediately reached for comment. He won the first race at Belterra aboard Kentucky Cool .
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Buoyed by Rich Strike’s $1.86 million of earnings in the Kentucky Derby, Leon’s mounts have earned an annual-best nearly $4 million for the rider in 2022. He was 96-for-561 through July 13. He won 226 races from 1,125 rides last year , with his mounts making more than $3.7 million.
His Derby ride on Rich Strike, in which he knifed his mount through the field, darted to the inside, and avoided a tiring runner on the rail, will long be remembered.
The race left Perrin, who watched the race at Churchill Downsin tears, and Reed’s knees buckled in joy and excitement.
Reed wrote in a text message to BloodHorse on Thursday that he was “very happy for Sonny. He deserves to take this shot. Hopefully, this all works out for him. If not, he will be home for fall racing, but I’m cheering for huge success for my friend.”
Rich Strike, under Sonny Leon, wins the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs
Riding at Gulfstream will allow Leon to compete for richer purses and likely won’t put him on the road as much. In recent years, he has traveled for mounts at multiple racetracks in Ohio and Kentucky.
“Look, I did my job. I kept up my end of the bargain,” said Perrin. “I got him with a good book of business that I had based out of Ohio for a number of years, and he got us all the way to the Kentucky Derby. So it’s still a heck of a story. And we shocked the world. “
Leon has Saturday mounts at Gulfstream for trainers Mark Casse, Jose D’Angelo, Mike Maker, and David Braddy—riding Champion Equine’s Easy Come Easy Go a 15-1 longshot on the morning line, for Braddy in the $75,000 Azalea Stakes.
Perrin said he wishes Leon well.
“I love him like a son. We’re very close,” he said.