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Leparoux lands Derby favorite, and a bride to be

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POSTED February 21, 2012 12:21 a.m.

Julien Leparoux is on a winning streak, on and off the racetrack.

Over the past 10 days, the French jockey landed the ride aboard early Kentucky Derby favorite Union Rags, revealed he’ll be racing in New York shortly and flew cross-country to win the El Camino Real Derby in California aboard Daddy Nose Best.

And by the way, he also announced his engagement just before Valentine’s Day to Shea Mitchell, the daughter of California-based trainer Mike Mitchell. The wedding is set for December.

“I’m engaged to the most wonderful man,” Mitchell posted on her Twitter feed Feb. 12.

In his public reply, Leparoux tweeted: “You are the best my love, I’m a very lucky man.”

Not to be outdone, Union Rags got a word in, too, via Twitter, of course.

“This fellow Julien is a mighty fine rider, but if I was human, I’d have my eye on his fiance! I wish them the best,” read a tweet posted on (at)TheUnionRags.

With three victories and a narrow loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Union Rags is set to make his 3-year-old debut in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Sunday.

Union Rags remains No. 1 in The Associated Press’ latest Run to the Roses Top 10 list of Derby contenders going into a race that features a slew of Derby hopefuls, including Algorithms, who remains No. 2 this week.

Javier Castellano had been the rider for both colts, but chose to stay with Algorithms, trained by Todd Pletcher. Castellano rides several other Derby contenders for Pletcher; Union Rags is trained by Michael Matz.

On Sunday, Union Rags worked a half-mile in 48.64 seconds at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla.

“He’s ready to go,” Matz said. “Other than running in a race, he’s as ready as he could possibly be.”

So is Leparoux, who has been based in Kentucky since his first full riding season in 2006. He’s leaving, agent Steve Bass says, because New York has “the better racing dates and better purses.”

On Monday, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert pulled off a double in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, winning the 11-horse first division with 6-1 choice Castaway and the 10-horse second division with 3-5 favorite Secret Circle. The twin wins give Baffert more Derby hopefuls to go along with No. 4-ranked Liaison and impressive allowance winner Fed Biz.

Over the weekend, there were a pair of photo finishes in California: Daddy Nose Best beat Lucky Chappy by a nose in the 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday, and Baffert’s Drill held off American Act by a nose in the seven-furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita on Sunday, a race contested by four horses.

After the San Vicente, Baffert said he’s not sure if Drill will remain on the Derby trail.

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