Jockeys to Watch at Oaklawn’s 2020 Meet

Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. and trainer Steve Asmussen have paired up to dominate the Oaklawn Park standings in their respective categories over the past decade. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. opens Friday, Jan. 24, offering 57 days of racing with purses averaging $600,000 a day. As Oaklawn captures national racing attention, here are top jockeys to watch.

Coady Photography

Ricardo Santana Jr.

Ricardo Santana Jr. could be described as Oaklawn’s jockey of the decade, winning six consecutive riding titles from 2013-2018. In April 2019, he recorded his 1,000th career victory. In May, with two days left in the meet, he was ahead in the standings by three races when he left to ride in the Kentucky Oaks and Derby. Over these two days, he won three Grade 1 races at Churchill Downs. Back at Oaklawn, Santana ended up two wins short of the title, but he was the clear leader in purse earnings with $4.3 million, setting a single-season record at Oaklawn and almost doubling all other jockeys.  

Santana’s main client is Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who won the Oaklawn training title for the 10th time in 2019. The Santana/Asmussen combination is a popular angle to play at Oaklawn. 

After the Oaklawn meet, Santana finished in the top ten both at Churchill and Saratoga and closed out the year ranked 8th by earnings and 27th by wins in North America. He won his first Breeders Cup race, the Sprint, on Mitole, notching the pair’s sixth victory of the year.

Coady Photography

David Cohen

David Cohen edged out Santana for the 2019 leading rider title with 75 wins to Santana’s 73. Cohen rides first call for M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk), Oaklawn’s 2018 and 2019 leading owners. Last year, M and M set single-season records for victories (61) and purse earnings ($1.7 million). Expect a spirited rematch between Cohen and Santana.

Cohen was’s Comeback Jockey of the Year in 2018 after finishing with 114 victories. He had been away from racing for three years after a leg injury and the deaths of his father and sister. Cohen returned to the irons in late 2017 and rode six races. In 2018, he finished third in the standings at Oaklawn.

Celebrating win 2,000. (BENOIT photo)

Joe Talamo

Lured in part by Arkansas purses, Joe Talamo, who turned 30 on Jan. 12, is starting the new decade making changes in his professional life, coming from the California circuit to challenge the Oaklawn jockey colony. After Oaklawn, he plans to spend the rest of the year in Kentucky and then return to Arkansas.

Born in Louisiana to a trainer, he became the first apprentice jockey to top the standings at Fair Grounds in 2007. He then moved his tack to California and finished the year winning the Eclipse Award as the champion apprentice jockey.

At 19, he won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint aboard California Flag. In his career, he has also won the Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita Handicap and Wood Memorial.

He was featured on Animal Planet’s reality TV series “Jockeys,” which documented the beginning of his relationship with Elizabeth, the daughter of trainer Ron Ellis. The two married in 2015 and have two sons, Vincent, who is 3, and Dominic, who is 1 ½.

In December, Talamo earned his 2,000th career win.

Also notable

Oaklawn fans will also have their eyes on Ramon Vazquez, who perennially finishes in Oaklawn’s top three, Eclipse winner Tyler Baze, Hall of Famer Calvin Borel, and Jon Court, who last year became the oldest jockey to ride in the Kentucky Derby.

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