Miguel Mena missed riding at Kentucky Downs (as well as Keeneland and Churchill's spring meets and Ellis Park's summer meet) last year while recovering from injuries incurred in a mid-March spill at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Now he can't wait to return to the distinctive all-turf track in Franklin, Ky.
Mena suffered a crushed heel and ankle fracture when his mount tripped over a leader who fell without warning at the Fair Grounds. Mena was unable to have surgery that would have hastened the healing because he developed fracture blisters on his foot. Such blisters are huge and make surgery perilous because of the high risk of infection.
With the multiple fractures having to heel on their own, Mena didn't resume riding races until last October at Keeneland. He won 37 races at the Fair Grounds but really got clicking at Churchill Downs, where his 29 victories last spring trailed only perennial meet-leader Corey Lanerie. He's won 13 races so far at Ellis Park.
“I'm really looking forward to Kentucky Downs, especially after missing it last year,” Mena said. “Some big opportunities and big money. This year hopefully is my year and I can get a few wins.
“One a day would be nice,” he added cheerfully. “The money is unbelievable.”
Mena's four mounts on Saturday's opening card of the RUNHAPPY Meet at Kentucky Downs includes First Premio in the $750,000 Tourist Mile and Peace Achieved in the $500,000 Gainesway Farm Juvenile, both for trainer Mark Casse.
Mena says riding Kentucky Downs “is totally different” from other American tracks and their flat, oval configurations. “Up hills, up and down. But it's fun,” he said. “You basically let the horse do the work: Throw their head away; they know where they're going. They might bobble once or twice, but some horses enjoy it there, they get better. You stay out of their way, stay out of their mouth and kind of just guide them a little bit. For instance, if you go a mile, you have to go right and then a sharp left. But they know what they're doing.”
Mena said the atmosphere only gets better at Kentucky Downs.
“They're getting more people and more fans,” he said. “A lot of people around the country are looking forward to watching the races over there.
“I can't wait to be there Saturday.”
Some of the biggest names in racing are coming to ride at least part of the meet. Jose Ortiz, the 2018 Kentucky Downs riding champion in his second season there, again will miss opening day but be there for the final four days. Joel Rosario is expected for three days. After Del Mar closes, Drayden Van Dyke, Flavien Prat and Rafael Bejarano are expected from California. Aaron Gryder also is coming from the West Coast in the dual role of riding races and serving as a Kentucky Downs paddock analyst with Caton Bredar.
“The money brings the big boys,” Mena said. “But we're ready. We know the track, too. We just need to be there on the right day and get lucky. Certain riders like it better than others. But I'm comfortable with it. I like riding there, so hopefully I can have some success there this meet.”
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