Santana Jr. Back at Oaklawn

December 14, 2022

Coady Photography

Off and Running

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—The trademark smile remains, but jockey Ricardo Santana’s return to Oaklawn comes with some notable changes since the 2021-2022 meeting began last December. 

Now 30, Santana said he’s no longer driven to win titles in Hot Springs, is riding again for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and has a new agent, Jimmy Riccio.

Santana’s 671 victories at Oaklawn – seventh-highest career total in history – and eight local riding titles were all with Ruben Munoz, the agent/second father who brought the jockey from his native Panama to the United States in 2009.

Munoz said last spring he was taking a break and that Matt Muzikar, the agent for nationally prominent jockey Tyler Gaffalione, would have Santana’s book in Kentucky. The move left Santana’s status for the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting in doubt. 

“Not sure,” Santana said Sept. 1 at Kentucky Downs, when asked if he was returning to Oaklawn. “Want to. That’s my hometown.”

Five days later, Riccio announced he would begin representing Santana at the Churchill Downs September meeting. Riccio was seeking an A-list rider after losing 2017 Eclipse Award winner Jose Ortiz roughly a month earlier.

The Santana/Riccio partnership has produced, to date, 29 victories, including five stakes, at four tracks (Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Zia Park and Turfway Park).

“I’m really happy working right now with Riccio,” Santana said after getting on horses Monday morning at Oaklawn. “He’s a really great guy. We’re doing pretty good. We’ve won a few stakes already. I’m really excited working with the guy.”

Monday marked Santana’s first day at Oaklawn in preparation for the 2022-2023 meeting that began Dec. 9. Santana missed the opening three days because of a suspension related to a careless riding infraction last April at Oaklawn and to ride in the Clasico del Caribe last Sunday in Venezuela, a trip scrubbed at the 11th hour because of administrative paperwork, the jockey said.

Santana is named on 15 horses over next three racing days at Oaklawn, where he has dominated the standings the last decade. Four of the horses are for Asmussen. Santana had been a go-to rider for the 12-time Oaklawn training champion before he began going in other directions in the fall of 2021. Asmussen used 2021 Eclipse Award winner Joel Rosario extensively during the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, but is now turning again to Santana. Santana, for example, regained the mount on Echo Zulu and guided the Eclipse Award winner to a victory in the $275,000 Dogwood Stakes (G3) Sept. 24 at Churchill Downs and a runner-up finish in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) Nov. 5 at Keeneland.

Santana and Asmussen have teamed for 320 victories at Oaklawn, a collaboration that fueled the jockey’s first local riding title in 2013. Santana was also Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021. He was second in 2019 and third last season. Cristian Torres, another former Munoz client, tops the early Oaklawn rider standings with seven victories. 

“To be honest, I really don’t worry much about the title because I’ve won eight already here,” Santana said. “I’m looking forward to getting good horses, more than the title. I’m riding back for Steve. He’s given me a lot of good opportunities. I’ve got a few nice babies for him that I’ll be riding. I’m looking forward to getting on good horses for the future.”

Among Santana’s 671 victories at Oaklawn, 46 have been stakes. He is Oaklawn’s all-time leader in purse earnings for a jockey ($36,173,766) and set the single-season mark ($5,643,023) in 2021. Santana began riding at Oaklawn in 2011.

Riccio also represents New York-based rider Kendrick Carmouche. 

Isaac Castillo racked up five wins May 29, 2022, at Monmouth Park. (Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO)

Off and Running

Jockey Isaac Castillo recorded two victories opening weekend, picking up right where he left off during the final month of the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting.

Previously based at Tampa Bay Downs, Castillo and his agent, Dylan Fazio, shifted to Oaklawn last April after nationally prominent riders Joel Rosario and Florent Geroux moved their tack to Keeneland and Ramon Vazquez relocated to Southern California.

The decision was a financial windfall for Fazio and Castillo, 24, a native of Panama. In his Oaklawn debut, Castillo rode 21 winners over the final 15 days of the meeting to finish 12th in the standings. Castillo had seven multi-win days, highlighted by his first local triple, closing day. His 106 mounts netted $1,336,954 in purse money to rank 13th.

Castillo was particularly effective with Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Castillo rode 54 horses for Asmussen, recording 16 victories and collecting $1,057,988 in purse money. Prior to Oaklawn, Castillo had ridden just one horse for Asmussen, that coming in 2018.

“We didn’t expect that at all,” Fazio said of Castillo’s eye-catching Oaklawn debut. 

Fazio said Castillo was encouraged to test the Oaklawn waters by Dan Ward, the longtime assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Hollendorfer has been a major supporter of Castillo, with Ward overseeing the trainer’s Oaklawn and Monmouth Park divisions. Castillo said on closing day of last season’s Oaklawn meet that he and Fazio planned to return in 2022-2023.

“It was a bold move and it obviously paid off,” Fazio said on the eve of the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting. “We felt like we needed a change and with riders here leaving Oaklawn last year, we knew the doors were wide open for us to break through. We knew Dan would support us and we felt like we could build off of that. So, we decided to make the jump and it was obviously the right move and we could somehow build off of that and make it a career stepping point to get the next level.”

After the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting ended in early May, Castillo was battling Paco Lopez for leading rider at Monmouth Park when he suffered a neck injury during a spill there July 3. The accident came one day after Castillo rode a career-best six winners on the Monmouth Park card. Castillo didn’t resume riding until Sept. 10.

“I’m 100 percent,” Castillo said.  

Fazio said Castillo began getting on horses at Oaklawn roughly a month before the meeting began Dec. 9. Castillo struck opening day aboard Flap Jack ($14.60) for trainer Martin Villafranco and teamed again with Villafranco to win last Saturday’s 10th race aboard Mrs. Beans ($10.60). 

“We’re trying to ride for everyone, really,” Fazio said. “We want to keep the options open and be able to have an opportunity to do business with everyone here.”

Fazio said the hope is Castillo will make Oaklawn and Monmouth Park his yearly riding circuit. 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 and has 277 victories overall. 

Finish Lines

After matching his single-day career high with four victories Saturday at Oaklawn, jockey Cristian Torres added three more Sunday. Torres won the first race aboard favored Blow Sum Smoke ($3.20) for trainer Karl Broberg and teamed with trainer Robertino Diodoro to sweep the late daily double. Torres won the eighth race aboard My Sixth Sense ($13.60) and the ninth race aboard Albizu ($11.20). Broberg and Diodoro are major clients of Torres, who has a meet-best seven victories through the first three days of racing at Oaklawn and had a comfortable lead in the Remington Park standings, 70-57 over Stewart Elliott, entering the final four days of its meeting. Remington closes Saturday. Torres, who has never won a riding title, opted to remain at Oaklawn in its two overlapping dates (Friday and Saturday) this week with Remington. … 

Sunday’s double pushed Diodoro’s career North American total to 2,980, which ranks 37th in history, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Diodoro was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2020 and has 283 career victories in Hot Springs. … 

Jockey Francisco Arrieta and trainer Chris Hartman teamed for two victories Sunday – favored Westheimer Street ($5.80) in the fourth race and Klassy Bridgette ($6.40) in the seventh race. Both victories were in maiden special weight company. Westheimer Street is by dominant Arkansas stallion Street Strategy. Klassy Bridgette became the first Oaklawn winner for her sire, unbeaten Grade 1 winner Army Mule. … 

Horses are now on the grounds for trainer Matt Shirer, who is scheduled to send out his first starter of the meet, Good Penny, in Friday’s fourth race for major client Ten Strike Racing. … 

Millionaire multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Lone Rock is scheduled to arrive in Hot Springs during the first week in January, Diodoro said Monday morning. Diodoro said the marathon specialist is training in Florida for his 2023 debut, which is scheduled to come later in the Oaklawn meeting. Diodoro said he’s targeting the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes for older horses April 2, a 1 ½-mile race Lone Rock won last season. Lone Rock also won the inaugural $200,000 Tinsel Stakes at 1 1/8 miles last December at Oaklawn. …

Mrs. Beans collected a $4,000 bonus from the Arkansas Thoroughbred Breeders’ & Horsemen’s Association for beating open company in Saturday’s 10th race, a $104,000 allowance sprint. Mrs. Beans, a 4-year-old gelded son of Oaklawn stakes winners Cyber Secret and All About Allie, races for trainer Martin Villafranco and four-time Oaklawn leading owner Danny Caldwell.Registered Arkansas-breds, excluding stakes, also can earn bonuses of $2,000 for a second-place finish and $1,000 for a third-place finish against open company. … 

Through Sunday, Day 3 of the scheduled 68-day meeting, 16 claims totaled $352,500.

Another great piece by Jonathan! twitter.com/jonathanstetti...

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