Ricardo Santana Jr. is an up-and-coming rider from Panama that’s making a name for himself at America’s top racing venues. He got his start at Delaware Park in 2009, and by 2012, he was the venue’s leading rider. In 2013, Santana won his first of four straight riding titles at Oaklawn, and he’s there again this winter.
2016 was his best year to date, as he had nearly double the amount of wins as his next-highest competitor at Oaklawn (80 to Ramon Vasquez’s 42) and notched his first ever Grade I, the Arkansas Derby, with Creator. Santana also won a pair of graded stakes aboard Terra Promessa, who like Creator, is trained by Steve Asmussen.
Santana frequently rides for Asmussen, especially at Oaklawn, but their relationship was tested when Asmussen replaced Santana as the jockey of Creator with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the Belmont Stakes.
“I liked his chances in the [Kentucky] Derby, it’s just that the trip didn’t work out,” Asmussen told reporters regarding Creator. “Belmont Park is a unique place so we couldn’t do any better for somebody who knows the racetrack better than Irad.”
Creator would go on to win the Belmont Stakes, but Santana’s morale was not shaken. He would venture to Saratoga and rode the full meet. The 24-year-old jockey had a bit of trouble landing high-quality mounts on a frequent basis, but he was proud of his accomplishments.
“I learn a lot here riding with [John Velazquez], the Ortiz brothers, [Javier] Castellano, [Joel] Rosario and I’m really happy to be here,” Santana told the Saratogian during the summer. “Right now, Saratoga is the top track. Everybody wants to be here. All of the best horses are here. I’m really blessed to be here and really happy.”
Santana rode 14 winners (ninth-best) from 192 starters at “the Spa,” many of which were not favorites. On three occasions, Santana guided home a horse in excess of 20-1 to victory. He also compiled 41 places and shows at the meet.
Santana will be looking to improve on those numbers, and the young rider will also be looking to make his mark in the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup series in 2017.
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