Santana Reaches Million Dollar Mark at Meet
Three-time defending riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. is again Oaklawn’s “Million Dollar Man.” The rider, Oaklawn’s runaway leader this year, became the first jockey at the meet to surpass $1 million in purse earnings when he won three races Sunday.
Santana, 23, reached the seven-figure mark for the fourth consecutive meeting, and on the 24th day of racing this season. He has 31 victories overall – 14 more than runner-up Corey Nakatani – and $1,058,746 in purse earnings. Nakatani is also second in purse earnings ($718,822).
“In hindsight, many horses that I thought would run extremely well didn’t, so we were disappointed,” said Santana’s agent, Ruben Munoz. “But looking at the numbers, we’ve picked up the slack following a slow beginning.”
Santana has at least one victory the last nine racing days (16 during that span) to take a commanding lead in the standings as the meet nears its halfway point. He has ridden at least one winner for 12 trainers at the meet, including nine for six-time Oaklawn champion Steve Asmussen and eight for Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, this year’s leader.
In addition to leading all riders in victories at Oaklawn in 2013 (70), 2014 (59) and 2015 (53), Santana also topped the standings in purse earnings each year. His mounts earned $2,061,440 in 2013, $2,552,303 in 2014 and $2,100,185 last year.
Santana begins the week with 241 victories and $8,507,755 in purse earnings in his Oaklawn career. He began riding in Hot Springs in 2011. He became the first jockey since Hall of Famer Pat Day to win three consecutive Oaklawn riding titles last year. Day won 12 consecutive titles (1983-1994).
Saturday marked the five-year anniversary of Santana’s first of 15 Oaklawn stakes victories to date – Salty Wave in the $60,000 Spring Fever for older filly and mare sprinters.
Jon Court, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2000, reached a local milestone when he won Sunday’s ninth race aboard Sadie Be Mine.
According to figures from Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, Sadie Be Mine represented Court’s 600th Oaklawn victory. Court, 55, rode his first winner in Hot Springs in 1981.
Court is Oaklawn’s co-fourth-leading rider this year with 14 victories from 87 starts. He has purse earnings of $657,098.
Court won the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18 aboard Discreetness for his father-in-law, trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs.
Through 24 days of racing, Court has already surpassed his victory total and nearing his total purse earnings from the 2015 meet, when he finished with 12 and $689,562, respectively. Court had 172 mounts at last year’s meet.
Court recorded his biggest Oaklawn victories to date in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) in 2010 aboard Line of David and in 2011 aboard the Fires-trained Archarcharch.
Court rode his first winner in 1980, according to Equibase, and has 3,947 overall. His mounts have earned $97,073,826.
Far Right Returns
Multiple stakes winner Far Right is scheduled to have his final prep for the $350,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) March 19 in Thursday’s eighth race at Oaklawn, an allowance/optional claimer for older horses at 1 1/16 miles.
Far Right finished a fast-closing second in his 4-year-old debut, an allowance/optional claimer at a mile Jan. 28 at Oaklawn.
Trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said he believes it’s better to run Far Right Thursday instead of training up to the Razorback.
“Didn’t need the race,” Moquett said. “Honestly, he was getting so ripe that I was going to have to work him a couple of times. I thought, ‘You know what? A race would be easier than messing around with the track trying to work.’ He was so ripe, I wanted to do something.”
Far Right is scheduled to break from post 5 under three-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. and carry 116 pounds. He is the 7-5 program favorite in the projected seven-horse field, which also features Grade 3 winner Texas Air.
Far Right was the top locally based 3-year-old at the 2015 Oaklawn meeting, winning the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) before running second to American Pharoah in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1).
The Razorback is the final major local prep for the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 16, which is Far Right’s major spring objective, Moquett said.
“It kind of worked out timing-wise perfectly,” Moquett said of Thursday’s race. “I think it’s easier sometimes to run them than it is to work them up to a race.”
Probable post time for the eighth race is 4:42 p.m. (Central).
Trainer Mark Casse said Wednesday morning that he hasn’t decided if Grade 1 winner Noble Bird will make his next start in the $350,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) March 19 at Oaklawn following his sixth-place finish in his 5-year-old debut Sunday, a 1-mile allowance/optional claimer.
Noble Bird, as the 6-5 favorite, was beaten 12 ¼ lengths in his first start since finishing ninth in the $1.25 million Whitney (G1) Aug. 8 at Saratoga because of a hip injury.
“I was a little disappointed,” Casse said. “He’s his own worst enemy. He broke a little slow and was five-wide on both turns. He did this to us last year.”
Noble Bird finished a well-beaten sixth as the favorite in his 2015 debut, an entry-level allowance sprint at Oaklawn, before winning three of his next four starts, including the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) June 13 at Churchill Downs.
The Razorback is the final major local prep for the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses April 16, which Casse said is the major spring objective for Noble Bird.
Casse said Theogony is pointing for the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares March 19 at Oaklawn. Theogony ran second in the $100,000 Pippin Stakes Jan. 17 at Oaklawn.
Casse said Siding Spring remains probable for the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds March 19 at Oaklawn. Siding Spring ran fifth in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 15 at Oaklawn.
Conquest Windycity, an entry-level allowance winner at a mile Friday at Oaklawn, is probably headed to the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) March 26 at Fair Grounds, Casse said. As a maiden, he ran fourth in the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes (G3) Sept. 12 at Churchill Downs.