Ricardo Santana Jr. back in a familiar place
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – After the first 18 days of racing at Oaklawn, a familiar name had risen to the top of the driver standings.
A win on Jan. 16 tied eight-time local champion Ricardo Santana Jr. with Francisco Arrieta. Each had 20 wins. Santana topped all stock runners in the competition ($1,207,239), won a 21% clip, which tied the best among top 10 jockeys, and reached a career milestone when he topped $100 million on the global stock market earlier this month, according to statistics service Equineline.
Interpreting Santana’s numbers in the 2021-22 Oaklawn meeting that started Dec. 3 is more complex as he’s no longer Hall of Fame coach Steve Asmussen’s go-to runner after losing that coveted spot. last fall.
Santana’s 20 wins had come for 10 coaches – Asmussen (6), John Ortiz (2), Ron Moquett (2), Brad Cox (2), Rene Amescua (2), Mike Maker (2), Tom Amoss (1 ), Hall of Famers Jerry Hollendorfer (1), Melton Wilson (1) and Bret Calhoun (1). Santana’s numbers were straightforward to open the 2021 Oaklawn meeting, with 19 of his top 20 winners for Asmussen. Santana’s other victory came for Moquett.
A first conclusion? Different landscape, same rule.
“I thank all the coaches for this opportunity,” Santana said Jan. 14. “Thanks to Moquett. He was the one who brought me here to Arkansas when I was 17. Thanks to Mr. Steve, this is the main barn. He gave me a lot of good times. gave me a lot of great opportunities. I’m really lucky to be part of the Oaklawn team. Everywhere I go, everyone knows me because of Oaklawn. I’m really blessed with all the success I’ve had at 29. I pray to God to keep me safe, and we will keep fighting to achieve our dreams.”
Santana was heading into a career year in 2021 after breaking his single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings ($5,642,523) en route to an eighth local riding title (all since joining Asmussen in 2013). Santana then had a breakout meeting in Saratoga last summer, setting personal bests for wins (35), stock market earnings ($4,122,471) and in-game wins (5). All five stake wins were in Tier 1 events. Four were for Asmussen, including Echo Zulu in the $300,000 Spinaway for 2-Year-Old Fillies on September 5. United States and Canada), according to Equibase, the official race data collection organization.
But the momentum stopped, literally, after Santana rolled Echo Zulu to victory in the $400,000 Frizette Stakes (G1) on October 3 at Belmont Park. The jockey went into a mystifying fit and didn’t win a race for over a month. Santana was 0 of 81 at Keeneland’s fall meeting (Asmussen was 1 of 57) and lost the mount to Echo Zulu for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) on Nov. 5 in Del Mar.
Coupled with another personal bodily blow, the October 31 death of his close friend, jockey Miguel Mena, Santana had just 42 mounts at the Churchill Downs fall meeting. He won two races as Asmussen went in other directions and finished with a season-high 20 wins.
Joel Rosario rode Echo Zulu for the Breeders’ Cup and guided the undefeated filly to victory, earning an Eclipse award. Rosario, the favorite to land an Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding jockey in 2021, rode for Asmussen at the Churchill Downs fall meeting and joined the Oaklawn Equestrian Colony on January 14. He’s already ridden a lot for Asmussen in Hot Springs, bringing home two winners for the 11-time Oaklawn Practice Champion.
“I thought his confidence would be a little shaken,” Moquett said, referring to Santana. “I think in the beginning, for sure it was. I think what attracted him was a bit the Breeders’ Cup. But that’s how it goes. That’s how this business is. I’ve seen since he came back here, I’ve seen old Ricardo start to emerge again.
Highlights for Santana at Oaklawn in 2021-22 include guiding Hollis to a track record 5½ furlongs (1:02.17) in a $102,000 allowance run on Dec. 10 for Ortiz; winning two races aboard the Cox-trained trainer, including the $150,000 Pippin Stakes for fillies and older mares on January 8; and surpassing $100 million in career awards the next day, according to Equineline.
The Equineline figure is based on global mounts, including purse money that Santana generated in Canada, his native Panama, Puerto Rico and Turkey.
Santana hit $100 million in North American career earnings last weekend at Oaklawn, according to Equibase, the official racing data collection organization. Equibase’s total ($100,129,502) is based on mounts in the US and Canada and ranked 64and in North American history entering Saturday. Santana had 1,661 North American career wins on Saturday, according to Equibase.
Santana said he was still riding for Mena, who was killed after being hit by a vehicle while crossing Interstate 64 in Louisville, Ky. He was 34. Santana uses Mena’s helmet covers (“MM” is sewn on the back under a peace symbol) as a tribute to the popular Churchill Downs jockey, who won over 2,000 races in his career.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but it really affected me when one of my best friends, Miguel, passed away,” Santana said. “I even spoke to my agent (Ruben Munoz) and told him I didn’t want to do much in Churchill. I was with him 24/7. I even dined with him every time we came from Keeneland. I have always loved him as my brother. It hit me very hard. Like it was my business, 24/7. When I did something wrong, he was the first to call me. I was quite sorry. (Jockey) Florent Geroux is my other best friend. He is always by my side. These are the people who motivate me to continue. Thank God, now I feel like I’m back. I feel like my confidence is back.”
Santana recorded a winning opening day at Oaklawn. The following day, Santana won the $150,000 Clasico Confraternidad Stakes (G1) in Puerto Rico. His late season rebound produced a career high of $16,976,612 on the stock market, according to Equibase. Santana’s previous high was $16,713,988 in 2019.
Santana rode his first career winner in the United States on September 21, 2009, at Delaware Park. Santana started riding at Oaklawn in 2011 and was its top jockey in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021.
Santana is Oaklawn’s career leader in purse earnings ($33,321,365) and ranks No. 8 all-time in wins (633). The coach represented his 45and Oaklawn career bets the win.
Among Santana’s early supporters was Moquett, who rode the jockey as an apprentice and helped direct him to Oaklawn.
“I thought he needed someone to take care of him and stuff,” Moquett said. “I thought when he got to Oaklawn the whole community would take him. And he has all kinds of natural abilities. If he could focus, he could be anything. Luckily he came here one year and showed up the next year (2013), he was here with Asmussen, and the rest is history.
Through last Sunday, Santana and Asmussen had teamed up for 313 wins at Oaklawn, according to Equineline, with purse earnings of $20,657,057.
Racing resumed Saturday in Oaklawn after Friday’s card was canceled due to freezing temperatures.
By Robert Yates/Oaklawn Park
Photo: Ricardo Santana Jr. (Coady Photography)