Torres Carries Strong Momentum into the New Year

December 28, 2022

Cristian Torres. (Coady Photography)

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—Perhaps the most eye-popping metric regarding jockey Cristian Torres during the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting that began Dec. 9 is that his purse earnings are already approaching season-ending totals in 2021 ($1,034,104 in his local debut) and 2021-2022 ($920,548).  

A scintillating start has Torres, 25, topping the standings in victories (11) and purse earnings ($749,345) after just six days of racing. Torres also has a meet-high three stakes victories, two coming in front-running fashion after he and trainer Robertino Diodoro decided to employ a catch-me-if-you can strategy.

Torres continues to make all the right moves. The career spark was ignited roughly seven months ago after a phone conversation between an agentless Torres and Billy Castle, who represented another Oaklawn regular, Ramon Vazquez. Castle said he couldn’t work for both riders (he wanted to concentrate solely on Vazquez, maybe six weeks into his now ultra-successful move from the Midwest to Southern California) and advised Torres to choose Cody Autrey, the well-connected trainer turned racing manager turned jockey agent. Castle and Autrey are also good friends. 

“He had a lot of talent, a lot of raw ability,” Castle said of Torres. “But he needed, what I consider, management. Like a Ramon Vazquez. There’s so much talent in the world. It reminds me of “The Voice,” “American Idol.” There’s a lot of people out there with a lot of ability, but they don’t get the chance. In regard to Cristian, you don’t have a Robertino Diodoro, you don’t have a Karl Broberg, etc. These are powerhouse leading trainers that can make any rider. But you take a kid like Cristian, he needed that support. He needed that opportunity and he’s taking advantage of it now.”

Is he ever.

Torres secured his first career riding title at the recently completed Remington Park meeting with 71 victories, 12 more than runner-up Stewart Elliott. Torres also led all riders in purse earnings ($1,742,742) and maintained a robust 25 percent win rate. That momentum has snowballed at Oaklawn, where Torres continues to ride first call for Diodoro and Broberg, two of the winningest trainers in North American history.

“I’m grateful to every trainer and owner that gave me an opportunity,” Torres said. “Remington was a great, great, great meet. Never had a meet like that. We started off on the right foot here, but Remington was unbelievable. I’m just grateful and blessed to be here.”

Torres literally limped to the finish line at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, missing the final 19 racing days after suffering hairline fractures of his tailbone and right ankle in a March 27 spill. 

Torres needed a new agent for his comeback after Ruben Munoz, best known for his work with eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr., said he was taking a break and giving Santana’s book, post-Oaklawn, to Matt Muzikar in Kentucky. Munoz had brought Torres from south Florida to Oaklawn shortly after the 2021 meeting began.

Torres selected Joe Santos, whose successful multiple rider/multiple jurisdiction agent business model is headlined by four-time Remington Park champion David Cabrera and Reylu Gutierrez, a rising star who tops the standings this season at Fair Grounds. Cabrera also shared the 2021-2022 Oaklawn riding title with Francisco Arrieta. 

Ticketed to return in late May at Prairie Meadows, Torres never rode a race at the Iowa track. 

“I was at Prairie Meadows for two weeks working horses,” Torres said. “Honestly, I didn’t feel like it was the place for me to be. I was coming off an injury and I didn’t feel very comfortable where I was at.”

Torres resurfaced at Lone Star Park in suburban Dallas with a new agent, Autrey, and resumed riding May 27, a decision that has changed the jockey’s career trajectory. 

“I felt it was great opportunity and I took it,” said Torres, who rode 19 winners in his abbreviated stint at Lone Star. “I felt like I couldn’t let it pass by.”

Diodoro was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2020 and has a meet-high eight victories this season. All eight were ridden by Torres. Broberg, Remington Park’s 2022 training champion, has two victories this season at Oaklawn. Torres rode both, including Flash of Mischief in the inaugural $150,000 Ring the Bell Stakes Dec. 10. Flash of Mischief represented Torres’ first career Breeders’ Cup mount in the $2 million Sprint (G1) Nov. 5 at Keeneland.

About an hour after the Ring the Bell, Torres and Diodoro teamed to win the $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes with Lovely Ride. The Mistletoe was the fourth victory on the card for Torres, equaling a career high, and led to his unanimous selection as Jockey of the Week from the Jockey’s Guild, an organization that represents more than 1,000 active and permanently disabled riders across the country. Diodoro and Torres struck again in the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes Dec. 17 with Bal Harbour. 

“Unbelievable,” Diodoro said. “Very lucky to have him. He reminds me of Francisco (Arrieta). They’re both similar – young, hardworking, no issues behind the scenes, work ethic and very grateful. When they win a race or get a live mount, it’s not they’re entitled to it. They’re very grateful for it. Cristian is so patient. I think that’s the key with any good rider. But lot times they have to learn that, where this guy is only 25 years old. Another thing I’ve noticed is nothing rattles him.”

Originally from Puerto Rico, Torres launched his riding career in April 2019 at Gulfstream Park and won 122 races overall that year to finish 76th nationally. He won 120 races overall the following year to finish 43rd. Torres was fourth in voting for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion apprentice jockey of 2019 and finished fifth for 2020. 

Torres won 22 races to finish seventh in the 2021 Oaklawn standings and added 19 victories at his injury-shortened 2021-2022 meeting to finish 15th. Now, he’s No. 1 and armed with a 33 percent strike rate (11 for 33). Meanwhile, Vazquez (393 career Oaklawn victories, including 44 in 2021-2022) has captured three riding titles at Los Alamitos and one at Santa Anita since relocating to Southern California last April.

“Cody’s been a very successful trainer,” Castle said. “Knows the industry well, knows the condition book well. Very bright and I just thought it would be a very good marriage. I thought Cody would be a very good person for Cristian, vice versa, and I just wanted to focus every capacity on Ramon.”

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