By Noel Michaels
The 2020 Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort season has just begun, and already we have some jockey and trainer trends to follow.
As usual, the duo of Steve Asmussen and Ricardo Santana Jr., tend to dominate the trainer and jockey standings, respectively. As in the Hall of Famer earned his 10th trainer’s title at Oaklawn in 2019 with 64 victories. To put that into perspective, he had won the 2018 meet with 44 wins, and had similar totals before that with 41 wins in 2017 and 46 wins in 2016. Asmussen smashed his own Oaklawn purse earnings record of $3,448,729 in 2016 with $5,644,609 in 2019.
As Asmussen goes, so usually goes his main man, Santana. Asmussen and Santana form a dynamic trainer/jockey combination, and Santana had a great Oaklawn meet in 2019, winning 73 times and breaking his own earnings mark at Oaklawn with $4,317,757 in purses.
Santana, however, actually lost his Oaklawn leading rider title in 2019, snapping his streak at six. Last year David Cohen led the way with 75 wins. It sets up Cohen for a chance at another good season, but a few new riders in town seem to have cut into Cohen’s business. He was 0-for-8 on opening weekend, riding mostly for Karl Broberg and McLean Robertson. Broberg sent a big string to Oaklawn in 2019 and won at a 25 percent clip last season.
The new man on the scene is Joe Talamo, who moves his tack from his base in southern California. It certainly will add to the overall quality of Oaklawn’s jock’s room to have Talamo riding regularly all season, and he will no doubt make his presence felt as a regular rider for the high percentage barn of Brad Cox, among others.
Talamo failed to make a splash opening weekend, however, with just three wins from 20 mounts, including 0-for-6 for Cox (three seconds). Talamo is riding for many different top barns based on the opening week of the meet, so his win percentage seems certain to improve, especially while riding for Cox.
Cox was sixth in the 2019 standings with 20 winners from only 94 starters for 21 percent, and before that he was fourth in in the 2018 standings with 27 wins and third in the 2017 trainer’s standings with 26 wins. His ITM percentage can also be counted on to be very high after posting a 60 percent ITM mark in 2019.
The jockey who made the biggest impact during Oaklawn’s opening week was Orlando Mojica, who came out guns blazing from January 24-26, riding first call for Robertino Diodoro and making the most of the opportunity to the tune of four wins and 10 ITM finishes from 18 mounts.
All of Mojica’s opening week wins were for Diodoro, and he also brought in a pair of places for Norman McKnight. That’s significant, because a rider at Oaklawn could do very well riding for just those two barns. Diodoro finished second in the Oaklawn standings for the third year in a row in 2019, winning 48 races, a 24 percent winning clip. He is annually a top win-percentage trainer at Oaklawn, with 31 percent wins in 2016 and 25 percent wins 52 percent ITM in 2017. McKnight, meanwhile, arrived at Oaklawn en force in 2019 to win 25 percent of his starts. His horses should once again be respected this season, with Mojica as well as others in the irons.
Jockey David Cabrera took a major dip in effectiveness at Oaklawn in 2019, and has departed for Sam Houston.
A stalwart in the top 5 of the Oaklawn standings is Ramon Vazquez, who comes off a 50-win season, good for third place. In 2016, for example, Vazquez battled it out all season with Santana and finished six wins behind with 47 victories. He should have no difficulty rounding out the top 5 in the jock’s room this season. Vazquez rides for the Federico Villafranco stable, and picked up an opening week win riding for John Sadler, who has a string at Oaklawn from his base in California.
Speaking of Sadler, he also seems like he will be using the services of Tyler Baze, who has also relocated to Oaklawn. Baze appears to be riding first call for Jerry Hollendorfer with his Oaklawn string this season, and was able to pick up his first win of the season riding an Ingrid Mason-trained favorite.
Keep a close eye on the jockey moves as the season progresses, and best of luck at the meet.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.