It’s a milestone $30M in purses at Oaklawn for jockey Santana Jr. with Fantasy victory

April 6, 2021

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—Perennial local riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. became Oaklawn’s first $30 million man with his victory in Saturday’s $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies.

Santana, who has topped the Oaklawn standings seven times, eclipsed $30 million in career purse earnings in Hot Springs when Pauline’s Pearl captured the major Kentucky Oaks prep by a length over Ava’s Grace.

Santana completed Saturday – Oaklawn was dark Sunday because of Easter – with $30,058,548 in purse earnings. Pauline’s Pearl capped a four-win day for Santana, 28, who had earlier captured the $200,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters aboard Abrogate. All four wins were for his major client, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

“Every day is the best day for me when I go home safe,” Santana said following Saturday’s 12th and final race. “We were blessed to win the two stakes today and I’m really blessed to go home safe.”

Santana became Oaklawn’s career leader in purse earnings Feb. 17, 2020, when he won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds aboard the Asmussen-trained Silver Prospector. The victory pushed Santana’s total to nearly $24.2 million, surpassing the still-active Hall of Famer Calvin Borel (roughly $24 million). Borel was Oaklawn’s leading rider in 1995 and 2001.

A day before Silver Prospector’s victory, Santana recorded his 500th career Oaklawn victory aboard Icecap for Asmussen. Santana now has 595 victories (295 were for Asmussen) and is poised to become just the ninth rider in Oaklawn history to reach 600. He is named on eight horses when racing resumes Thursday and eight horses Friday.

Santana also has a chance to break his single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings. He enters Thursday with $3,383,895, slightly less than $1 million behind his record $4,317,757 in 2019. Thursday is Day 36 of the 51-day meeting.

“Grateful to all the horsemen that have supported us, especially Steve, obviously,” Santana’s longtime agent, Ruben Munoz, said Tuesday morning. “Just very flattered and grateful and surprised more than anything.”

Santana began riding at Oaklawn in 2011 and was leading rider in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020. Santana has a meet-high 49 victories this year – 16 more than runner-up Francisco Arrieta – and also leads all riders in purse earnings.

The Fantasy was Santana’s 43rd career Oaklawn stakes victory.

Just a Fantasy

Pauline’s Pearl continued her ascent in the 3-year-old filly division with a victory in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) Saturday at Oaklawn.

A homebred for Stonestreet Stables LLC (Barbara Banke) and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Pauline’s Pearl earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 89, a career best, for her one-length victory over Ava’s Grace to secure a spot in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) April 30 at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Oaks is the nation’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies.

The royally bred Pauline’s Pearl, by Tapit out of Grade 1 winner Hot Dixie Chick (a half-sister to 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming), was exiting a troubled second-place finish in her stakes debut, the $300,000 Honeybee (G3) March 6 at Oaklawn. Her Beyer figures, a numerical representation of performance, have improved throughout her five-race career, rising from 61 in her debut sprinting Dec. 19 at Fair Grounds, to 70, 74, 81 in the Honeybee and now 89. The last four starts for Pauline’s Pearl have come at 1 1/16 miles.

“Just a tremendous pedigree,” Asmussen said. “Her mother, we had won a Grade 1 with, the Spinaway. Grade-1 winning mare for Stonestreet and the class shows.”

Pauline’s Pearl ($3.80) represented Asmussen’s record 94th career Oaklawn stakes victory and record fourth in the Fantasy. She was the 4-5 favorite after going off 18-1 in the Honeybee.

Pauline’s Pearl was reunited with jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. for the Fantasy. Santana had ridden Pauline’s Pearl in her career debut, but was aboard stablemate Willful Woman in the Honeybee (Will’s Secret was a three-quarter length winner).

“She’s a nice filly,” Santana said. “We’ve expected a lot from her since Day 1. I rode that filly short the first time at Fair Grounds and she ran good. We always expected to run her long. The last four races she’s run long, she’s improved every time.”

Pauline’s Pearl collected 100 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points for her Fantasy victory and ranks No. 4 on the leaderboard with 120, according to Churchill Downs. The 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks is limited to 14 starters, with starting preference given to horses with the highest point totals earned in designated races like the Fantasy. Will’s Secret is No. 8 with 80 points. She also won Oaklawn’s $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 30.

Last year’s Fantasy winner, Swiss Skydiver, finished second in the rescheduled Kentucky Oaks (COVID-19) en route to an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly. Fantasy third Shedaresthedevil won the Kentucky Oaks for co-owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs.

Santana, Asmussen and Stonestreet teamed to win the 2016 Fantasy with Terra Promessa, who finished 10th in the Kentucky Oaks.

Asmussen won Oaklawn’s $60,000 Prima Donna Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters in 2010 with Hot Dixie Chick.

Amazing, Grace

Lightly raced Ava’s Grace ran herself into the Kentucky Oaks picture with a runner-up finish in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) Saturday at Oaklawn for trainer Robertino Diodoro.

Ava’s Grace was beaten a length by Pauline’s Pearl after leading throughout most of the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy under Ramon Vazquez. Ava’s Grace, who was making her fourth career start, was coming off a third-place finish in an entry-level allowance sprint March 4 at Oaklawn in her 3-year-old debut. The Fantasy was her first start around two turns.

“It was not as early as I wanted it to, but at the same time it was something that we had on the list from January, not necessarily that race,” Diodoro said Monday morning. “It was something that we eventually wanted to try, even from last year. When we turned her out last year, we said when we bring her back, we thought she was going to be a better two-turn horse. I definitely think we found our element with her, just the way she ran, the way she galloped out, the way she came back.”

Ava’s Grace earned 40 points toward starting eligibility for the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) April 30 at Churchill Downs. The 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks is limited to 14 starters, with starting preference given to horses with highest point totals earned in designated races like the Fantasy. Ava’s Grace is No. 12 on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard compiled by Churchill Downs. Three horses not ranked (Soothsay, Mnasek and Adventuring) have more points, but aren’t nominated to the Kentucky Oaks and would have to be supplemented. A fourth horse, No. 9 Wholebodemeister, hasn’t had a published workout since Feb. 20.

“I think she deserves a shot,” Diodoro said. “I would say that’s the tentative plan. She ran hard and we want to make sure she trains back, but she’s come back good so far. We’ll give her an extra day or two before we get back to the track because she ran so hard.”

Diodoro said his Grade 2 winner, Keepmeinmind, emerged in good order from his fifth-place finish in the $800,000 Blue Grass Stakes (G2) Saturday at Keeneland, but is off the Kentucky Derby trail.

“We’re going to regroup and come up with a plan in the next week,” Diodoro said. “He came back good yesterday. Give him an extra day or two, start training. Trains back good, we’ll come back with a plan within the next week.”

Diodoro said Keepmeinmind, based this year in Hot Springs, would be a candidate for the $300,000 Oaklawn Invitational May 1. Keepmeinmind finished sixth in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 13 at Oaklawn in his 3-year-old debut.

Finish Lines

Post positions were to be drawn Tuesday for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles, $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses at 6 furlongs, $400,000 Oaklawn Mile for older horses and the $250,000 Carousel Stakes for older female at 6 furlongs. All four stakes races are Saturday. … Two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl returned to Oaklawn Sunday and went to the track Monday morning in advance of the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares April 17 at Oaklawn. Monomoy Girl, in her 2021 debut, won the $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 28 at Oaklawn. Also returning to Oaklawn for trainer Brad Cox, after previously being based at Fair Grounds, were millionaire Owendale and 2020 Louisiana Derby winner Wells Bayou. Both went to the track Monday morning. … Letruska worked a half-mile in :48.80 Sunday morning at Oaklawn for trainer Fausto Gutierrez in preparation for the Apple Blossom. Letruska finished second in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 13 at Oaklawn in her last start.

Oaklawn Barn Notes

Photo: Pauline’s Pearls wins the Fantasy Stakes. (Coady)

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