Back at MTR

CHESTER – It has been a while since Rex A. Stokes III rode regularly at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort. He twice led the Mountaineer jockey standings in 2006 (296 wins) and 2007 (263).

Since then, Stokes has done most of his riding in his home state of Louisiana, at Evangeline Downs and Delta Downs.

“But my wife, Sarah – her family’s in western Pennsylvania, about 45 minutes from Mountaineer,” Stokes said. “We decided to return here this year. I see lots of new faces in the jocks’ room. So far, it’s been good.”

Stokes is originally from New Iberia, near the Gulf Coast in the heart of Cajun country. He’s been riding in pari-mutuel races for 15 seasons and will turn 31 on Aug. 22. Through May 31, Stokes had registered 1,835 victories from 11,162 career mounts.

In 2014, Stokes has accumulated 27 wins from 158 mounts at Mountaineer. It puts him in fifth position among riders at the Hancock Country track, trailing Christian Pilares (66 wins), Deshawn Parker (63), Luis Raul Rivera (59) and Eddie Martin Jr. (47).

Career victories for Stokes at Mountaineer now total 1,164. On the 2007 West Virginia Derby undercard, he set a local standard that may never be matched, winning four black-type races on a single day.

The first came in a photo aboard Country Diva in the West Virginia Secretary of State Stakes. The second came via a course record effort aboard Beautiful Venue in the West Virginia Senate President’s Breeders’ Cup on the turf.

Next came a victory with Cowboy Hardware in the Harvey Arneault Memorial Breeders’ Cup. And Stokes completed his four-spot with a 7-length score aboard M B Sea in the West Virginia Governor’s Stakes.

“I also finished second in another stakes that day,” said Stokes. He was the runner-up with La Wildcat in the Mountaineer Juvenile Fillies. All told, Stokes has 23 career stakes triumphs. Fifteen of them have occurred at Mountaineer.

His “favorite horse of all time,” Stokes said, is Lady Grace. During a period that extended from June 4, 2005, through July 18, 2006, Stokes won seven Mountaineer races with her. A trio of the victories were in stakes: the Firecracker and West Virginia President’s Breeders Cup in 2005; and the Decoration Day Handicap the following year.

Lady Grace was a grass specialist – her sire, With Approval, swept the Canadian Triple Crown in 1989, and was second in both the Arlington Million and the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 1990. Loren G. Cox was Lady Grace’s owner and trainer. She’s regarded as one of the best racemares ever based at Mountaineer.

The most prominent victory on Stokes’ resume came in 2005 at Hawthorne Race Course near Chicago. This was with Spruce Run the Grade 3, $150,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial. At odds of 14-1 in the field of nine, Spruce Run “split horses late,” according to the race chart, “and was just up (by a neck)” at the wire.

Linda Rice trained Spruce Run for a New Jersey-based outfit, the Golden Dome Stable partnership. Nineteen days prior to the ‘Carey, Stokes had booted the 7-year-old horse to a two-length score in Mountaineer’s Labor Day Stakes.

Those were good days, and Stokes has retained some important ties to them. His current agent at Mountaineer, Justin Poole, is the grandson of the late Jack Poole Sr., who handled Stokes’ book during his leading rider tenure.

Frank Allison, who has been at Mountaineer since 1977, was Stokes’ jockey room valet during his past years in these parts – and is back in that position now. Familiar figures tend to make present-day transitions easier. Stokes is in the right place.