Santana Jr. Set to Return Friday
Four-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. is scheduled to return to the saddle Friday after missing the first five days of the meeting because of five race-related suspensions stemming from the 2016 season.
Santana was facing a 21-day suspension from stewards this year at Oaklawn, but the penalty was reduced to 15 days after the jockey reached a settlement with the Arkansas Racing Commission last summer.
“I think he’ll be more mindful,” Santana’s agent, Ruben Munoz, said. “I think the important thing is it’s OK to be aggressive without putting people in danger. There’s one thing being aggressive and another thing being reckless. I don’t think he was reckless, I really don’t.”
Santana, 24, is named on six horses Friday, including two for trainer and longtime supporter Ron Moquett of Hot Springs and another for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, the jockey’s biggest client. He hasn’t ridden since a fourth-place finish aboard Dynamo in the $300,000 Clasico Internacional del Caribe Stakes (G1) Dec. 11 at Camarero in Puerto Rico.
According to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, Santana finished with a career-high $8,160,051 in purse earnings in 2016. Other high-water marks for him included his first Grade 1 victory – the Asmussen-trained Creator rallied from last in the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn – becoming only the second jockey in recorded Oaklawn history to capture four consecutive riding titles and riding regularly for the first time last summer at historic Saratoga in upstate New York. Santana rode 14 winners at Saratoga to finish ninth in the standings.
“I can’t believe how good I did there,” Santana said. “I learned a lot. I was really happy with myself. Everybody was happy with me.”
Munoz said choosing to ride at Saratoga instead of remaining at Ellis Park was the next logical step in Santana’s career. The move not only benefited him professionally, Munoz said, but personally, too, since he was mentored by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and retired Hall of Fame jockey Ramon Dominguez. Munoz said he also lived with Santana during the Saratoga meeting.
“I think partly what happened here, he needed to have some different exposure than what he was used to,” Munoz said. “He needed some type of change, to be around the best. Having Johnny and Ramon Dominguez there regularly with him, I knew could only help.”
Munoz said Santana will ride regularly again at Saratoga in 2017. The plan at this time, Munoz said, is for Santana to ride at Churchill Downs during Kentucky Derby week, then head to New York for the Belmont Park spring/summer meeting. The rider has been a fixture the last few years in Kentucky, tying for the riding title at the 2014 Churchill Downs September meeting.
“Right now, it’s going to be Saratoga every year,” said Munoz, who grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. “I love Saratoga. I love being there. He was working every day. We were busy every day. The reception was great, and he was able to get people’s attention.”
Regarding Santana’s future circuit, Munoz said: If it’s “up to me,” it will be “New York and Hot Springs.”
Santana was Oaklawn’s runaway riding leader last year, winning 80 races and setting a single-season record for purse earnings ($4,064,073). He also won two other stakes races for Asmussen, the $200,000 Honeybee (G3) and $400,000 Fantasy (G3) aboard Terra Promessa.
Santana, who is originally from Panama, has 290 career victories at Oaklawn since 2011 – two years after he begin riding in the United States. Only Hall of Famer Pat Day’s 12 consecutive riding titles (1983-1994) are longer than Santana’s streak in recorded Oaklawn history.
“I don’t want to be in a hurry,” Santana said. “I don’t want to push myself. Whatever happens, happens.”
Santana has 788 victories and $30,408,640 in purse earnings in his career, according to Equibase.
Trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said he’s using Friday’s eighth race, an entry-level allowance/optional claimer at a mile, as Torrent’s prep for the $125,000 Martha Washington Stakes Feb. 11. The 1-mile Martha Washington is Oaklawn’s first major two-turn race for 3-year-old fillies.
By 2010 champion older male Blame, Torrent is coming off a runner-up finish in the $100,000 Trapeze Stakes Dec. 11 at Remington Park.
“If she does everything like she’s supposed to and comes back like she should, hopefully this is a tune up,” Moquett said, referring to the Martha Washington. Torrent made her first two career starts at Saratoga and raced at Keeneland before breaking her maiden by six lengths Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
“She’s starting to know her job and like it,” Moquett said.
Torrent is out of Tidal Pool, who won Oaklawn’s $100,000 Red Bud Stakes in 2011, and races for her breeder, Little Rock, Ark.-based Westrock Stables, LLC (Joe and Scott Ford). Westrock also campaigned Tidal Pool, who was trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
The surface was rated muddy for workouts Thursday morning. … Arkansas-bred stakes winner Mallard’s Bro worked 3 furlongs in :37.80 before the first renovation break Thursday morning for trainer Al Cates, who plans to run in a state-bred allowance sprint Sunday. The race is also expected to attract Weast Hill, unbeaten in five career starts at Oaklawn, including three stakes. … Multiple stakes winner Recount returned to the work tab after the renovation break Thursday morning for trainer Jimmy DiVito, covering 3 furlongs in :37.20. Recount ran sixth in last year’s $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) at Oaklawn and won the $80,000 Bet on Sunshine Stakes Nov. 19 at Churchill Downs in his last start. … Petrov, runner-up in Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, returned to the track Thursday morning, according to co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett, who said the colt is a “probable” for the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 20. … Smarty Jones winner Uncontested is scheduled to return to the track Friday morning. … Tiz Bronco Billy is scheduled to make his 4-year-old debut in Saturday’s seventh race for trainer Paul Holthus of Hot Springs. Holthus said the Oklahoma-bred gelding is named for trainer “Bronco” Billy Gowan, who saddled Ride On Curlin to runner-up finishes in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn and the Preakness in 2014. Gowan has a small string this year at Oaklawn.