David Cabrera, who had been sidelined since April 8 because to a riding accident, returned to Oaklawn Sunday and was crowned a champion.
Cabrera captured his first career Oaklawn riding title with 62 victories – one more than runner-up Francisco Arrieta – despite missing the final 13 racing days because of injury. Cabrera entered April 8 – Day 53 of the 66-day meeting – with a 62-49 lead over Arrieta. Eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana was third with 47 victories.
Arrieta, who was seeking his first career Oaklawn riding title, trailed 62-60 entering Sunday, the final day of the 2021-2022 meeting. Arrieta pulled within 62-61 after winning the fourth race aboard Decision Maker ($10.20) for trainer Tom Van Berg. But Arrieta was winless with his last four mounts, leaving Cabrera to accept the leading rider trophy from Oaklawn vice president of racing Jason Milligan in the Larry Snyder Winner’s Circle following the 10th and final race.
“To be honest, when that (accident) happened to me, we were doing really good,” Cabrera, 29, said moments before Sunday’s final race. “But thank God, I think we’re going to have a chance to do it again, so I was very grateful for that. I really didn’t think (62) was going to hold up. I thought it was a long shot. Even until this morning, I thought it was a long shot. But I’m happy. I’m very happy and that’s why I’m here, really.”
Cabrera, who has spent the last few weeks recovering at his home in Jones, Okla., and targeting a return to the saddle in late May at Lone Star Park, sustained head, neck and upper back injuries in an April 8 spill, which occurred in the first race when his mount, Mostly Awesome, clipped heels in the upper stretch and fell. Cabrera was unseated and tumbled hard to the ground. He said he has no memory of the accident.
“Actually, it’s the like the last five days that I’ve started to feel normal,” Cabrera said. “Before that, I was having trouble with my senses. I was still acting a little weird. Everything, I think, has come back to normal.”
In addition to equaling his single-season Oaklawn personal best for victories, Cabrera tied for first in stakes victories (four) and finished fourth in purse earnings ($3,375,263) at the meet. Cabrera’s victory aboard Rated R Superstar in the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) for older horses March 19 was the most lucrative of the jockey’s career to date. Cabrera also rode four winners three times (Feb. 19, Feb. 21 and March 31), another personal Oaklawn best.
Cabrera, in his local debut, rode 43 winners to finish second in the 2018 Oaklawn standings behind Santana and 62 winners in 2021 to again finish second to Santana. Santana finished third this season with 58 victories. He didn’t ride the final three days of the meeting after moving his tack to Churchill Downs.
“This is a dream,” Cabrera said. “This is a dream and I really thank my agent. He’s a very, very good agent. To me, having him is something very good. He’s my secret weapon.”
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen won 65 races to capture his 12th Oaklawn training title. Asmussen had shared the record for most career Oaklawn training titles with the late Hall of Famer Henry Forrest. Asmussen (820) is poised to surpass the late Bob Holthus (867) as the winningest trainer in Oaklawn history at the 2022-2023 meeting. Asmussen now ranks second.
Jockey Chel-C Bailey led all apprentice riders with 22 victories, good enough for a tie for 10th in the standings with veteran rider Martin Garcia. It was easily the her best meet at Oaklawn to date, having accumulated $936,123 in earnings. She will be riding this summer and fall at Horseshoe Indianapolis.
John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs topped all owners at the meeting in victories (19), purse earnings ($2,083,402) and stakes victories (five). Anthony set a single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings. M and M Racing of Mike and Mickala Sisk set the previous mark ($1,782,351) in 2019. Anthony also surpassed the late Sharon Hild at the meet to become Oaklawn’s all-time winningest owner. Anthony has 279 career Oaklawn victories, the first coming Feb. 16, 1972. Oaklawn is scheduled to race 68 days in 2022-2023 (Dec. 9-May 6)
Castillo Shines in Debut
On the final morning of the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, jockey Isaac Castillo was laying the groundwork for a return in 2022-2023.
Castillo worked three horses Sunday for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen (Presidential, Eastside Cool and Proud Union), then hustled to the barn of trainer Lindsay Schultz to breeze a fourth horse (Mercury Head).
Castillo was busy Sunday afternoon, too, capping a short, successful stint in his Oaklawn debut by riding three more winners – all for Asmussen – to finish 12th in the standings with 21 victories. His 106 mounts over the final 15 racing days netted $1,336,954 in purse money to rank 13th.
“The money and people here are great,” Castillo said after working Mercury Head. “Such nice people here, so it’s been good.”
Previously based at Tampa Bay Downs, Castillo and his agent, Dylan Fazio, shifted to Oaklawn in early April after nationally prominent riders Joel Rosario and Florent Geroux moved their tack to Keeneland and Ramon Vazquez relocated to Southern California. Castillo, 24, was encouraged to ride at Oaklawn by Dan Ward, who oversees Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s Hot Springs string. Castillo became the go-to rider for another Hall of Famer, Asmussen, after the jockey made his Oaklawn debut April 7.
Castillo rode 54 horses for Asmussen, recording 16 victories and collecting $1,057,988 in purse money. Asmussen finished with 65 victories to top the Oaklawn standings for a record 12th time. Prior to Oaklawn, Castillo had ridden just one horse for Asmussen, that coming in 2018.
“Picked up a couple of horses for him,” Castillo said. “After the second or third win, he kept giving me the opportunity.”
Castillo had seven multi-win days at Oaklawn, highlighted by his first triple Sunday. He won the third race aboard favored Happymac ($5.20), seventh race aboard Dr Jack ($7.60) and the eighth race aboard Beachwalker ($21.20).
“Riding for Steve is like – some dreams you can do,” Castillo said.
Fueled by his late-season success, Castillo said he’s scheduled to return for the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting that begins Dec. 9.
“Yeah, that’s the plan right now,” Castillo said. “Try to keep going and working hard this summer.”
A Panama native, Castillo’s first mount in the United States came in 2016, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. He rode his first winner in 2017. Castillo will be based this summer at Monmouth Park, where he will ride first call for Hollendorfer.
Elvin was in the Building
Jockey Elvin Gonzalez rode five winners over the final three days of racing to finish ninth in the standings with 25 victories. Gonzalez finished 12th in purse earnings ($1,416,287).
Gonzalez easily bettered his 2021 totals, when he rode 16 winners and collected $666,457 in purse earnings in his Oaklawn debut. Gonzalez’s 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting was highlighted by his first local riding triple and first local stakes victory April 9. Gonzalez had previously wintered in New Mexico before becoming an Oaklawn regular.
“I think we’re definitely moving forward,” said Gonzalez’s agent, Bobby Dean. “I mean, it’s just one of those deals where you have to be here. You’ve got to keep coming. It’s a tough road, but with the way the money is, you would be silly not to come.”
Gonzalez recorded his first Oaklawn stakes victory aboard Punchy Girl in the $150,000 Rainbow Miss for trainer Jason Barkley, among the jockey’s biggest supporters.
“I love Elvin,” Barkley said following the Rainbow Miss. “He’s here every morning and tries hard on everything. If you have instructions, he’ll ride them to the T. If you don’t give him instructions, he rides a good race.”
Gonzalez will be based this summer at Prairie Meadows, where he topped all riders in purse earnings ($2,205,871) and was second in victories (86) last year. Dean also will represent Glenn Corbett at Prairie Meadows and Martin Garcia in Kentucky. Garcia won 22 races this season at Oaklawn to tie for 10th in the standings.
Original Intent ($15) became the third two-time winner of the 1 ¾-mile Trail’s End marathon, traditionally the final race of the Oaklawn meet, with a half-length victory Sunday. Oaklawn had recently raised the purse of the Trail’s End, for 3-year-olds and up that had started for a claiming price of $10,000 or less in 2021-2022, from $75,000 to a record $125,000. Original Intent’s winning time over a fast track was 2:59.98. The 7-year-old gelding also won the Trail’s End in 2021. The Trail’s End was inaugurated in 1972. Martin Garcia rode Original Intent for trainer Bentley Combs and owner Ten Strike Racing (Marshall Gramm). It was the most lucrative career victory for Combs, who started his first horse and recorded his first career victory in 2017. Combs graduated from the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program in the College of Business (future trainers Will VanMeter, Jason Barkley and Lindsay Schultz were there at the same time). Combs won three races at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting. VanMeter, now retired, saddled his first career winner March 14, 2014, at Oaklawn. Barkley won four races this season at Oaklawn, including the $150,000 Rainbow Miss April 9, his first career stakes victory in Hot Springs. Schultz saddled her first career winner Jan. 8 at Oaklawn. … Schultz will be based this summer at Monmouth Park after saddling her first four career winners at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting. Schultz went out on her own last fall after previously working as an assistant under Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. … There were 691 claims totaling $13,917,000 during the 66-day meeting that ended Sunday.
By Robert Yates/Oaklawn Park Barn Notes
Photo: Coady Photography