Cristian Torres gives Last Samurai a kiss after the duo’s win in the G3 Razorback Handicap (Coady Photography)
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— After becoming the fastest jockey in Oaklawn history to reach $1 million in purse earnings at a meet, Cristian Torres is now the fastest to reach $3 million.
Torres surpassed $3 million in purse earnings when he finished third aboard Pearcy Road in the 12th and final race Feb. 25, Day 33 of the scheduled 68-day meeting. Ricardo Santana Jr. had previously been the fastest jockey to reach $3 million in purse earnings at an Oaklawn meet, reaching the mark on Day 35 in 2021.
Torres entered Friday atop the 2022-2023 Oaklawn standings in victories (49), stakes victories (five) and purse earnings ($3,112,278). Torres rode a career-high five winners Feb. 20. That came two days after recording his first career graded stakes victory, and most lucrative to date, in the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses aboard millionaire Last Samurai for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Last Samurai, who wasn’t on the jockey’s radar earlier this year, represented Torres’ first career victory for Lukas.
“It’s a dream come true, and especially to win it for Mr. Wayne Lukas,” Torres said. “I grew up watching all the big races that he has won. Just to win a race like this for him, it’s like everybody’s dream.”
Torres, 25, made his Oaklawn debut in 2021 and his career took off last summer when he began riding first call for Robertino Diodoro and Karl Broberg, two of the winningest trainers in North American history. Torres captured his first career riding title in December at Remington Park and has continued to build momentum at Oaklawn. Diodoro entered Friday with a meet-high 36 victories this season at Oaklawn, with 29 ridden by Torres. They teamed for two victories Thursday (Biogenic Babe and Yacht Rock).
“Any young rider that comes to Oaklawn or Santa Anita or New York is not going to have a lot of success unless they have a major stable behind them. He does,” Lukas said. “He came in here and he had Robertino, who runs those horses where they belong. They’re ready to run. He puts them in the right races, so now he (Torres) goes over there and he’s riding in multiple races where he’s the favorite. Most young riders aren’t riding the 5-2 shots. They’re riding the 52-1 shots. Then, he catches my attention because he’s riding well, and I reach in and give him a chance and he makes the most of it and wins the race.”
Last Samurai represented Torres’ fifth career mount for Lukas. The trainer said Torres would have the return call on Last Samurai for his next scheduled start, the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) March 18 Oaklawn.
“We’ll put him right back on in the Essex and now he’s got that one,” Lukas said.
The Essex would be Last Samurai’s third start at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting after he was beaten a neck by Bal Harbour in the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes Dec. 17. Torres rode Bal Harbour for Diodoro in the Tinsel and the gelding was pointing to the Razorback before being sidelined with a leg injury in January. That unexpected development led Torres to Last Samurai.
“He was going to be going this way, but unfortunately he had a little setback,” Torres said, referring to Bal Harbour. “He opened the door for another trainer, a great trainer like Wayne Lukas, and it worked out perfectly.”
Torres, whose agent is retired trainer Cody Autrey, surpassed $1 million in purse earnings Jan. 7, Day 11 of the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting. Florent Geroux had previously been the fastest jockey to reach $1 million in purse earnings at Oaklawn, hitting seven figures on Day 12 of the 2021-2022 meeting.
Santana has led all jockeys in purse earnings at every Oaklawn meeting since 2013, highlighted by a single-season record $5,643,023 in 2021. Santana is an eight-time Oaklawn riding champion.
Torres entered Friday with 90 career Oaklawn victories. He won 22 races in 2021 and 19 in an injury-shortened 2021-2022 season. A native of Puerto Rico, Torres rode his first career winner in 2019.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen recorded his 840th career Oaklawn victory in Thursday’s first race with Back Beat ($6.20). Only the late Bob Holthus (867) has more career training victories at Oaklawn than Asmussen, who has already collected a record 12 local training titles. … Eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. rode three winners Thursday. Santana won the first race aboard Back Beat, fifth race aboard Deputy Connect ($10.20) for trainer Brad Cox and the sixth race aboard favored Royal Spa ($3.80) for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. Royal Spa, who was making her 2023 debut in the entry-level allowance sprint, is a candidate for the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles April at Oaklawn 1, Brisset said. The triple pushed Santana’s career Oaklawn total to 708 (No. 7 all time). … Isaac Castillo rode two winners Thursday. Castillo won the seventh race aboard Go Go Go ($16) for trainer Martin Villafranco and four-time Oaklawn leading owner Danny Caldwell and the eighth race aboard Dealing Justice ($17.20) in a $105,000 allowance sprint for older fillies and mares. Dealing Justice represented the fourth career victory and third at Oaklawn for trainer Riley Mott, 31, who went out on his own Nov. 1 after assisting his father, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, for eight years. Dealing Justice marked Riley Mott’s first victory for Oaklawn owner Louis Cella. Mott, on behalf of Cella, purchased Dealing Justice ($135,000) and Mystic Night ($120,000) at Keeneland’s November Horses of Racing Age Sale. Mystic Night finished fourth in a stakes-level allowance for older horses last Saturday at Oaklawn. Cella, as a Thoroughbred owner, won a race earlier in the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting with Sinner’s Sin, who is trained by Ron Moquett of Hot Springs. Sinner’s Sin is entered in Sunday’s fourth race at Oaklawn. … “Oaklawn Raceday,” featuring David Longinotti, director of Oaklawn Anywhere, and Equibase representative Jeff Taylor, can be heard Saturdays 11 a.m.-11:30 a.m. (Central) during the 2022-2023 meeting on Little Rock, Ark., radio station KABZ-FM 103.7 and www.1037thebuzz.com. Hot Springs native and NBC horse racing analyst Randy Moss is this week’s special guest.