Local owners win $273K Lassie Futurity at Delta Downs

Jason Richards & Mike Leblanc (Coady Photography)

Jason Richards was a standout baseball player in the 90s at Bridge City High School. So good, in fact, he went on to play on the collegiate level at Rice University. Richards, who now lives in Tyler with his wife and three children, also has a good eye for quarter horses. 

With veteran jockey Danny Lavergne in the saddle for trainer Frank Cavazos, 2-year-old filly Jessa Louisiana Zoom led from start to finish to win the $273,977 Louisiana Lassie Futurity on May 15 at Delta Downs in a time of 16.628 over 330 yards for a speed index of 93.

Purchased for $22,000 by Richards and co-owner Mike Leblanc, a Silsbee native who now lives in Orange, Jessa Louisiana Zoom improved to a  perfect 2-for-2 with earnings of $146,888. She won her debut race on April 24 at Delta, which turned out to be the fastest qualifying time for the Lassie trials.

“Mike and I were blessed to own a horse named Louisana Corona who was a multiple stakes winner and qualified to the All American Derby,” said Richards. “So when we opened the LQHBA (Louisiana Quarter Horse Breeders Association) sale catalog and saw the filly Jessa Louisiana Zoom from the exact same family, we knew we had to have her. She wasn't one of those horses that would catch your eye when you saw her, but what she did have was a pedigree full of champions. Mike and I have always selected our horses with a pedigree first mentality and it’s a strategy that has paid off.”

Richards had a filly qualify for the Lassie some 12 years ago, but failed to win in the finals. His first stakes win didn’t happen until he and Leblanc purchased a horse named Louisana Corona, who, in 2013, qualified for the richest and most prestigious quarter horse race in North America — Grade 1, $2,809,784 All American Derby at Ruidoso Downs. The horse had a troubled trip and finished eighth, but went on to finish her career with consecutive stakes wins.

Jessa Louisiana Zoom gave Richards and Leblanc their first futurity win as owners.

“After we bought the filly, we sent her home with our good friend Danny Lavergne who had recently retired as a jockey to start Lavergne Equine Academy,” said Richards. “Danny’s dream had always been to start a business breaking horses (training a horse to take a rider) for the track. Jessa Louisiana Zoom was in the first trailer load of horses he ever brought home to his academy to break.”

After a few months with Lavergne, Richards said it became apparent the filly was special. His dad, Roddy, would go to the farm every morning to watch Lavergne work with the filly.

“Dad kept calling me telling me how the filly worked,” said Richards. “He told me she travels lighter and better than any horse he had ever seen.”

When it came time for Jessa Louisiana Zoom to leave Lavergne’s farm and move on to the barn of trainer Frank Cavazos, they had no idea who was going to ride this filly.

“A few days later, Danny called and told us he could not pass up the chance to ride ‘Zoom and that retirement would have to wait a little longer.”

Richards grew up around horses as his dad and current partner Leblanc owned race horses that ran at Delta Downs.

“My dad would always sneak me into the track because back then you had to be 18 years old just to enter the track,” laughed Richards. “As I remember it, my dad would sneak me in and Mike would monetarily convince the security guard to let me stay. So I guess you can say owning racehorses is in my blood and Delta Downs is where it all started.”

As for what’s next for Jessa Louisiana Zoom that answer will have to wait like Lavergne’s retirement.

“We really haven’t decided,” said Richards. “Her health is the top priority and we will evaluate that first. If she is feeling great we will meet with our team to discuss either paying a late supplement fee to have her compete in the All American Futurity trials or supplement her to the Lee Berwick trials.”