“Hats Off to the Horses” has kicked off the New Year in style with its first hat up for bid that honors Pennsylvania-bred 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Alphabet Soup!
We’re celebrating our eighth consecutive year of “Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby”, an annual Derby hat fundraiser that benefits the retired racehorses of Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement in KY, and and we are delighted this season to have jockey Jon Court, his wife Krystal and their daughter Aubrey joining our “Hats Off” team to model hats for us!
This month Krystal modeled the spectacular “Alphabet Soup” chapeau that you can read about by visiting the Alphabet Soup hat webpage.
Krystal’s husband, Jon, is one of horse racing’s leading riders.
Born in Gainesville, Florida, November 23, 1960, Jon began his riding career in 1980 at Centennial Park in Colorado and had his first win at the age of 19 aboard a horse named Nevada’s Hope. After a dozen years riding in Louisiana, Jon moved on to the Indiana and Kentucky racing circuits and was dominant at Hoosier Park between 1996 to 1998 with leading rider honors at Oaklawn in 2000. Jon’s achievements have included 2 Lone Star Derby victories, a 2003 Japan Cup Dirt win aboard Fleetstreet Dancer, back-to-back Arkansas Derby wins with Line of David and Archarcharch, a feature in the first season of Animal Plant’s reality documentary, Jockeys, and a Derby mount in the 2011 Run for the Roses riding Archarcharch for his father-in-law, Jinks Fires.
Court has also served as secretary of the Jockeys’ Guild twice and earned the 2007 George Woolf Award. On September 17, 2016 Jon suffered a rib and vertebrae injury at Churchill Downs when he was just 6 wins short of 4,000 career wins. Yet he was back in the saddle by October and on December 3rd at the age of 56 claimed his 4,000th win at Turfway Park aboard the 3-year-old Florida-bred filly, City Without Pity.
Jon and Krystal were married in Arkansas and live in Shelbyville, Kentucky with their family. Krystal, the daughter of Oaklawn-based trainer Jinks Fires, has spent her entire life around horses and the race track.
Jon and Krystal’s 13-year-old daughter Aubrey joined us for the photo shoot, modeling a custom made hair ornament created to match the “Alphabet Soup” chapeau.
I recently got the chance to interview all three of them following their photo shoot at Old Friends.
Jon, Krystal and Aubrey, welcome to my Hats and Horses blog!
We are thrilled to have you join our “Hats Off” team for our 8th straight year with the “Hats Off to the Horses” Derby hat auction fundraiser for the retired racehorses of Old Friends. I’m so glad I got the chance to catch up with you and ask you a few questions for this Q&A!
Sally: Jon and Krystal, for those who are meeting you two here for the first time, where were each of you born and where did you grow up?
Jon: I was born in Gainesville, FL, and I grew up on a farm in Seminole County, FL.
Krystal: I was born in Memphis, TN, because that was the closest hospital to Rivervale, Arkansas where my family lives.
Sally: For each of you, what is your earliest memory of a horse?
Jon: I watched a race, most likely the Kentucky Derby, when I was probably 3 or 4 years old on television and was hooked.
Krystal: My family has been in the racing business all my life, so I was on a horse as soon as I could sit up and hold on.
Sally: Did you both ride when you were little?
Jon: I started at 10 to ride by myself without an adult’s help.
Krystal: I always rode my Dad’s pony around the barn and would ride around my Grandparent’s farm in the summer.
Sally: Jon, when did you first realize that you wanted to be a jockey?
Jon: I always said I would be a jockey from an early age after watching a horse race.
Sally: Was there anyone who especially inspired or helped you along the way?
Jon: I had a variety of people who inspired me along the way.
Sally: I understand that you did a lot of your early riding in Louisiana. Later, you won the Arkansas Derby with Line of David and then Archarcharch, and then got your first Derby mount in 2011 aboard Archarcharch.
Jon: I started riding in 1980 at Centennial race track in Littleton, Colorado, then went on to Louisiana.
Sally: You have ridden some incredibly talented racehorses to victory over the years. Do you have any special favorites?
Jon: Archarcharch, Wise Dan, Leroidesanimaux, and Fleetstreet Dancer.
Sally: Have there been any races in particular that were especially memorable?
Jon: The Japan Cup Dirt in 2003 on Fleetstreet Dancer for the Leathermans was a memorable experience.
Sally: What goals or dreams do you have as a jockey for the future?
Jon: Jockeys always chase the Derby dream and the Triple Crown series along with the Breeders’ Cup and so on.
Sally: Is training racehorses something you could ever imagine yourself doing?
Jon: Yes, I could see myself training one day.
Sally: Being a jockey means early mornings and a lot of travel. What would be the perfect day to you?
Jon: Sleeping in and having breakfast with my girls.
Sally: Krystal, you’ve had a long history with horses as well. Your dad, Jinks Fires, is an accomplished trainer and it sounds like you’ve spent pretty much your whole life around horses and the track. Were you ever involved in your dad’s training work?
Krystal: Not really, I have walked a lot of horses for him, after they came back from the track.
Sally: I read somewhere that you worked as a concierge in the suites for Churchill Downs; do you still work there?
Krystal: I work as the Jockey Club Suites Concierge when Churchill Downs is racing.
Sally: Krystal, you and Jon sound super busy with careers and family, what is your idea of the perfect day?
Krystal: My ideal of a perfect day is any day that I get to laugh and spend time with my family.
Sally: You two were married in Hot Springs, Arkansas. What year was that?
Sally: How did the two of you meet?
Krystal: At my father’s barn at Oaklawn Park, while I was walking a horse for my dad, in 1996.
Sally: Where are you living now?
J&K: Shelbyville, Kentucky.
Sally: How many kids do you have besides Aubrey who looked so lovely modeling with you at Old Friends?
Krystal: Jon has 3 older children and my niece lives with us now. Josey is 14, so her and Aubrey are more like sisters then cousins.
J&K: We have owned a couple of race horses, but none now. We have a sweet, female miniature Schnauzer named Pepper.
Sally: Our first hat up on the block for the January auction is the “Alphabet Soup” chapeau which is one of the hats that you modeled at Old Friends. Had either of you ever met Alphabet Soup before the photo shoot? How did the photo shoot go?… It looked like a lot of fun!
Jon: Never met Alphabet Soup. However, I was aware of him and was thoroughly impressed with him after the photo shoot.
Aubrey: It was really fun to do the photo shoot on my birthday and Alphabet Soup is a beautiful horse.
Sally: Did you get a chance to meet Little Silver Charm or any of the other horses while you were there at Dream Chase farm?
Aubrey: Unfortunately, not.
Sally: Do you ride?
Aubrey: Yes, almost every chance I get, but not racehorses.
Sally: How do you like being a hat model?
Aubrey: I loved it!
Jon: I occasionally wear a hat, more during the winter.
Krystal: I love wearing hats, especially to big races, during the colder months and to protect my face in the summer.
Aubrey: I consider myself a hat person most times, and my favorite place to wear a hat is in public!
Sally: I am sure that people are going to be inspired by your support of Old Friends. Why do you think it’s important for us to support these retired Thoroughbred athletes, and do you have any suggestions for how people can get involved and participate in helping the retired racehorses?
Jon and Krystal: These beautiful equine athletes have given there all for us and deserve a wonderful retirement. We have found that if people know there is a need, they will help as much as possible. So you only need to spread the word and people’s natural generosity will do the rest. We believe they do an excellent job at Old Friends and we really appreciate all their efforts.
Sally: Krystal, Jon and Aubrey, thanks again for helping us with our Eighth Annual “Hats Off to the Horses” auction series with the “Alphabet Soup” chapeau. We are really fortunate to have you on board this year as part of our “Hats Off” team!
And to my readers, please enjoy this “behind-the-scenes” video from the “Alphabet Soup” photo shoot with Jon, Krystal and Aubrey Court at Old Friends, a special treat from our friends Matt and Wendy Wooley of EquiSport Photos!
Happy New Year everybody!
About the auction:
The “Alphabet Soup” auction hat is currently up for bid on EBay. Bidding ends Wednesday, January 11th at 8 PM EST.
Note about Photography: All images that are shown here without credits have been provided with permission from the Court family.