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Hovdey: For Blanc, No. 1,000 was glaze on the crème brulée

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Benoit & Associates
Brice Blanc boots home his 1,000th winner aboard Union Strike in the Santa Paula Stakes at Santa Anita.

There have been 136 professional golfers good enough and lucky enough to have won a single major tournament, which hardly sounds like an exclusive club.

There also have been scores upon scores of professional jockeys to reach the milestone of 1,000 winners, which might not seem like a lot in the broader scheme of things.

And yet don’t try telling Sergio Garcia that winning his first major tournament last weekend in the Masters isn’t an achievement of life-altering significance, despite the fact that he now has the same number of majors as Mark Brooks, Todd Hamilton, and Shaun Micheel.

And do not think for a moment that Brice Blanc, the stylish French veteran, is anything less than appropriately proud of reaching the 1,000-win plateau at Santa Anita Park last Sunday in the Santa Paula Stakes, about half an hour after Garcia put away Justin Rose in their playoff for the Masters.

A thousand of anything rings the right kind of bell. A hundred seems mundane, while a million has an air of fantasy. A thousand is serious, but not daunting – the town of Thousand Oaks, the play “A Thousand Clowns,” the secret sauce that is Thousand Island dressing.

The word itself traces back to the Dutch (“duizend”) and Old High German (“dusant”). In French, the word for thousand is “mille,” and the word for “million” is “million,” which is why everyone should learn French.

“After I won 998, those last two seemed like the hardest two races I’ve ever won in my life,” said Blanc. “I considered it a real accomplishment, especially at a time when there are not the same amount of opportunities out there to get on live horses. And not just for me, but for everybody.”

The 1,000-win club admits members of all ages and circumstance. In the past year, a several names have joined the ranks.

Mario Gutierrez, a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, celebrated victory No. 1,000 in February. New York champ Jose Ortiz hit 1,000 last July and has added more than 200 winners since. Florent Geroux, a three-time Breeders’ Cup winner, reached 1,000 wins in North America in late December and shows no signs of stopping.

Other riders added to the list recently include Midwestern mainstay Israel Ocampo, former Eclipse Award-winning apprentice Jose Montano, and Canada’s Justin Stein, whose total includes a victory in the 2012 Queen’s Plate.

At 44, Blanc is senior to the riders mentioned above, which in some ways makes the moment that much sweeter. He has been riding in the U.S. since 1993 and was a California regular for nearly a decade before he began taking his tack on the road in search of better opportunities, including a couple of stints in Kentucky. Blanc has settled into a California routine for the past few years, keeping a bag packed in case a local trainer calls for a road trip.

Based on the quality of his work, Blanc would seem to have earned at least a small piece of the French new wave sweeping through the ranks of North American jockeys. Frenchmen Geroux, Flavien Prat, and Julien Leparoux currently occupy three of the top 10 spots in the national purse rankings.

“I think it has a lot to do with the ability of French riders to adapt to any type of situation and any kind of pace,” Blanc said when asked about the phenomenon. “French racing calls for strong finishes and riders with very good hands, and the style of riding I think makes it easier to make the transition to American racing. It usually does not take long for a French jockey to look like an American jockey.”

Through last Sunday, Blanc has won six races this year from 74 mounts. Such numbers fly in the face of a career that includes victories in such first-class events as the Lady’s Secret, Matriarch, San Juan Capistrano, American Oaks, First Lady, Fair Grounds Handicap, Del Mar Debutante, Arlington Handicap, Gamely, Beverly Hills, Sunset, Yellow Ribbon, Santa Barbara, Ramona Handicap, Del Mar Oaks, San Pasqual, and San Marcos, to name a few.

Blanc’s career earnings of $56 million rests alongside such familiar names as Fernando Toro, Ron Warren, and Jamie Theriot.

Blanc stays fit with a regimen of running, yoga, and riding work each morning, and he treats himself to a single home-cooked meal prepared with French culinary flair. But a rider can’t eat his stats, which is why Blanc hopes his victory aboard the talented Union Strike could lead to a fruitful campaign. The daughter of Union Rags won the Del Mar Debutante last year and was making her 3-year-old debut for owner and trainer Mick Ruis in the 6 1/2-furlong Santa Paula.

“She had been working like a Grade 1 horse,” said Blanc, who has wisely attached himself to the emerging Ruis stable, both morning and afternoon. “There were some very nice fillies in the race, but none with her kind of experience, and it showed.”

Whether or not Union Strike can join Blanc’s list of memorable mounts – including Happyanunoit, Famous Digger, Pasinetti, and Flamboyant – remains to be seen. For now, he took a couple of days to savor the 1,000-winner milestone.

“I was pretty tired after the weekend,” Blanc said. “But then the next day, my girlfriend and I went to a nice little French restaurant close to home. Now it’s back to work with some good chances this weekend.”

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Photo Credits:   Vassar Photography (Northern CA)  |  Benoit Photo (Southern CA)  |  Michael J. Marten (Southern CA)

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