HENDERSON, Ky. — For those who say family and business don’t mix, meet jockey Chris Landeros and his agent, Brodie Wilkes.
With his brother-in-law lining up his mounts, Landeros is off to one of his best starts at a meet since he moved his tack from the southwest to Kentucky in 2014. Landeros has won 11 of 31 starts at the RUNHAPPY Meet at Ellis Park. The wins tie him with Florent Geroux for second, three behind Brian Hernandez. Landeros’ 35-percent strike rate and 61 percent in the money top the standings among regulars.
Landeros is married to Wilkes’ sister, Shelby. Their parents are trainer Ian Wilkes and Tracey Wilkes, who is heavily involved with her husband’s stable. Brodie was serving as one of his dad’s assistants, including overseeing the Ellis Park division last summer, with an eye on some day training on his own. Ian had another idea in the interim.
“I thought Chris just needed to settle down,” the elder Wilkes said. “He’d switched agents a few times, and that starts to hurt you sometimes. And Brodie also, he needed to learn the other aspects of the game. Learn the condition book. Understand where other people are going with horses. And get to talk to people. Understand how to communicate. That’s why I pushed hard for him to do it, whether it’s something he does all his life or a short time. But I think he’s picked it up quite quickly.”
Brodie asked his brother-in-law over dinner one night last fall about working for him. Landeros admits being hesitant at first, including wanting to be sure Brodie was looking long-term. Also: “Because family, you don’t want to mix the two,” he said. “But then again, I ride for Ian, who’s my father-in-law. Ian and I have a really good work relationship where we can separate the two, business and family time.
“The thing about Brodie and I is that we are not only family but really good friends. He puts me in my place when I need it, and I help him along the way when he needs it. We’ve got a good relationship as far as work goes, and friendship on the side. We’re kind of growing together, and it’s been fun.”
Shelby says any change is a gamble but that she’s not surprised at the resulting success.
“I know Brodie works hard, and I know Chris is the kind of person who isn’t going to allow him to slack,” she said. “If Brodie had decided that Chris is too much, then he’d have just moved on. But, no, he stuck with it.”
The 33-year-old Landeros already has won more races (52 through Saturday) this year than all of last year (40), with its COVID restrictions and cancelations.
It was Brodie who suggested that Landeros, who had ridden at Gulfstream Park the prior few winters, stay in Kentucky to ride at Turfway Park. That helped them get into barns such as Mark Casse, Rodolphe Brisset and Wesley Ward. Though he doesn’t race in Kentucky much of the year, New York-based Jonathan Thomas proved the source of many victories at Turfway Park. Landeros also has been riding for Chad Brown since spring.
“I know Chris loves Florida,” Brodie said. “He’s competitive, riding against the best jockeys in the country over the winter there. But there’s just not a lot of Kentucky guys there to build your spring up.”
“I didn’t have the best year last year, not only because of COVID but my own business. I needed to take a step back and rebuild,” Landeros said. “This year has been very promising. We got into some outfits that last year I couldn’t get in.”
Landeros said the guidance coming from a close friend made it easier to take to heart.
“Because Brodie truly wants the best for me,” he said. “Sometimes you get tunnel vision. He sees another avenue that could be better for me later on. You’ll get some guys who want to be your agent, and they just see dollar signs for that meet. Brodie, it wasn’t about the dollar signs in the moment. It was building for the future.”
Landeros said “the sky is the limit” for Wilkes as an agent, that Brodie is learning in his own way how to be more aggressive. He says his brother-in-law also has taught him patience.
“I have all the patience in the world on a horse,” Landeros said. “But off a horse, I have no patience for anything. I’m learning. I’m adjusting.”
Wilkes calls Landeros “definitely one of the strongest jockeys out there.” That can include being strong-willed.
“He’s so aggressive and wants things to happen now, now, now,” Wilkes said. “I understand he wants to win. I look at it that we’re trying to build business. It’s going to take time… The way we’re riding, who we’re riding for, it shows that we’re getting the opportunities. And he makes the most of what he’s getting.”
Win or lose, the family gets together whenever schedules permit, with the Landeroses’ young sons Beckham and Rory delighting in their grandparents and vice versa.
Shelby Landeros said she never had any concerns about her husband teaming with her brother.
“No,” she said. “I was just happy I finally had his agent’s number.”