After the first 18 days of racing at Oaklawn, a household name had climbed to the top of the rider standings.
A win on Sunday brought eight-time local champion Ricardo Santana Jr. in a tie for first place with Francisco Arrieta. Each had 20 wins. Santana surpassed all riders in purse earnings at the meet ($1,207,239), won at a 21 percent clip, equaling the best among jockeys in the top 10, and hit a career milestone when he hit $100 million earlier this month. in global stock market revenues, according to the Equineline statistical service.
Interpreting Santana’s numbers at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting that began Dec. 3 is more complicated because he is no longer the go-to rider for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen after losing that coveted spot last fall.
Santana’s 20 wins had come for 10 trainers – Asmussen (6), John Ortiz (2), Ron Moquett (2), Brad Cox (2), Rene Amescua (2), Mike Maker (2), Tom Amoss (1), Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer (1), Melton Wilson (1) and Bret Calhoun (1). Santana’s numbers were easy to open the Oaklawn meeting in 2021, with 19 of his first 20 winners for Asmussen. Santana’s other win came for Moquet.
An early conclusion? Different landscape, same ruler.
“I thank all the trainers for the opportunity,” Santana said on January 14. “Thanks to Moquett. He was the one who brought me here to Arkansas when I was 17 years old. Thanks to Mr. Steve, that’s the main barn. He’s given me a lot of great moments. He’s given me a lot of great opportunities. I’m real blessed to be part of the Oaklawn team Wherever I go everyone knows me because of Oaklawn I am truly blessed with all the success I had when I was 29 I pray to God to protect me, and we will continue to fight to make our dreams come true.”
Santana was headed for a career year in 2021 after breaking his Oaklawn one-season stock earnings record ($5,642,523) en route to an eighth local driving title (all since he reunited with Asmussen in 2013). Santana then had a breakthrough Saratoga meeting last summer, setting personal bests for wins (35), stock wins ($4,122,471) and betting wins (5). All five ring wins were in Class 1 events. Four were for Asmussen, including Echo Zulu in the $300,000 Spinaway for 2-year-old fillies on September 5.
Santana was also on board for Stellar Tap’s Aug. 7 win at Saratoga, making Asmussen the all-time winning trainer in North America (United States and Canada), according to Equibase, the official data collection organization.
But the momentum stopped, literally, after Santana drove echo Zulu to victory in the $400,000 Frizette Stakes (G1) October 3 at Belmont Park. The jockey went into an enigmatic slump and didn’t win a race for over a month. Santana was 0 to 81 at Keeneland’s fall meeting (Asmussen was 1 to 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 blow, the death of his close friend, jockey Miguel Mena, on October 31, Santana had only 42 mounts at the Churchill Downs fall gathering. He won two races as Asmussen went in other directions, finishing with a meet-high 20 wins.
Joel Rosario picked up the mount on Echo Zulu for the Breeders’ Cup and led the undefeated filly to victory, securing an Eclipse Award. Rosario, the favorite to take home an Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding jockey of 2021, rode for Asmussen at the Churchill Downs fall rally and joined Oaklawn’s riding colony on Jan. 14. He has already ridden extensively for Asmussen at Hot Springs, bringing home two winners for the 11-time Oaklawn training champion.
“I thought his confidence would be shaken a little bit,” Moquett said, referring to Santana. “At first I definitely think it was. I think the thing that got him kind of was the Breeders’ Cup. But that’s how it goes. Such is this company. I’ve seen since he’s been back here, I’ve seen the old Ricardo reappear.”
Santana’s 2021-2022 Oaklawn highlights include guiding Hollis to a track record 5 1/2-furlong (1:02.17) in a $102,000 money race on December 10 for Ortiz; winning two races aboard the Cox-trained Coach, including the $150,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares Jan. 8; and more than $100 million in career wallet earnings the next day, according to Equineline.
The Equineline figure is based on worldwide amounts, including scholarship money Santana has generated in Canada, his native Panama, Puerto Rico and Turkey.
Santana hit $100 million in North American stock market revenue last weekend in Oaklawn, according to Equibase, Racing’s official data collection organization. Equibase’s total ($100,129,502) is based on mountains in the United States and Canada and ranks 64th in North American history as of Saturday. Santana had 1,661 North American career wins coming in on Saturday, according to Equibase.
Santana said he continues to drive for Mena, who was killed after allegedly being hit by a vehicle while walking on Interstate 64 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was 34. Santana uses Mena’s helmet covers (“MM” is stitched on the back under a peace symbol) as a tribute to the popular Churchill Downs jockey, who won more than 2000 races in his career.
“A lot of people don’t know, but that hit me when one of my best friends, Miguel, died,” Santana said. “I even spoke to my agent (Ruben Munoz) and said I didn’t want to drive much on Churchill. I was with him 24/7. I even ate out with him every time we came from Keeneland. I’ve always loved him like my brother. That hit me very hard. Like he was my company, 24/7. If I did something wrong, he was the first to call me. I was quite heartbroken. (Jockey) Florent Geroux, that’s my other best friend. He is always on my side. Those are the people who motivate me to keep going. Thank God, now I feel I’m back. I feel my confidence is back.”
Santana registered one winners opening day in Oaklawn. The next day, Santana won the $150,000 Clasico Confraternidad Stakes (G1) in Puerto Rico. His season-end recovery produced a career-high $16,976,612 in stock market earnings, 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, in Delaware Park. Santana started riding Oaklawn in 2011 and was the lead jockey in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021.
Santana is Oaklawn’s career leader in purse earnings ($33,321,365) and is ranked 8th all-time in wins (633). Coach represented his 45th win over Oaklawn Stakes.
One of Santana’s early supporters was Moquett, who rode the jockey as an apprentice and helped send 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 in. And he has all kinds of natural abilities. If he could focus, he could be anything. Luckily he came here one year and the next year (2013), he was here with Asmussen, and the rest is history.”
As of last Sunday, Santana and Asmussen had combined 313 wins in Oaklawn, according to Equineline, for $20,657,057.
Racing resumed Saturday at Oaklawn after Friday’s card was canceled due to freezing temperatures.