Ricardo Santana Jr. normally has the Oaklawn riding title sewn up by Arkansas Derby Day. But, this is not a normal year at Oaklawn since the meeting has been extended three weeks to May 4 (Kentucky Derby Day), a window of 11 racing days that will decide whether Santana secures his seventh consecutive Oaklawn riding title or David Cohen captures his first.
Entering Thursday, the 48th day of the scheduled 57-day season, Santana and Cohen were tied atop the standings with 59 victories.
“Usually, I'm way in the lead,” Ruben Munoz, Santana's longtime agent, said. “I'll worry about that May 4, but I like my chances. I just think we've won the real significant races that I really wanted to win. This meet, we've been able to do extremely well in them.”
Santana entered Thursday with a meet-high $3,725,754 in purse earnings – he set a single-season record $4,240,304 last year – and had a meet-high five stakes victories.
Three of Santana's stakes victories this year have been for his major client, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, including last Friday's $500,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies with Lady Apple and last Saturday's $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses with Mitole.
“We don't have the volume like the other rider, when it comes to some type of races that I really don't thrive in,” Munoz said. “But our horses have shown up on the big days.”
Cohen figures to have more scoring opportunities down the stretch because Santana is scheduled to miss at least two racing days because of commitments at Churchill Downs. Santana is the regular rider of Lady Apple, who is scheduled to make her next start in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) May 3, and has committed to ride UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait in the Kentucky Derby, Munoz said.
Cohen “will be riding straight through to the end of the Oaklawn Park,” his agent, Bill Castle, said in a text, before the jockey begins riding at Churchill Downs May 9.
Cohen, in his Oaklawn debut, won 37 races to finish third in last year's standings. Santana rode 69 winners last year at Oaklawn.
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