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Barn Notes: Friday, May 4, 2012
In Today's Notes: Jockey Jeffrey Sanchez: One to Watch at Arlington in 2012; Arlington Million Preview at Churchill on Kentucky Derby Day
JOCKEY JEFFREY SANCHEZ: ONE TO WATCH AT ARLINGTON IN 2012
Chicagoland racing fans who annually enjoy the Arlington experience may be unfamiliar with the name of jockey Jeffrey Sanchez, but the 26-year-old native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, has rapidly made a strong, positive impression among the nation's more discerning horsemen on other major league circuits.
Now, in a last-minute change of plans, he is bringing his talents to Arlington for its 2012 session, and local horsemen, as well as the guests of Arlington and fans of its simulcast signal, are advised to take note of the soft-spoken youngster.
Sanchez entered Puerto Rico's jockey school at 17 years of age, and following completion of that program, he rode at Puerto Rico's El Comandante for three months before transferring his tack to South Florida's Calder Race Course.
He won his first race in the continental United States at Calder that summer, and by the time the 2006 Calder season came to a close, Sanchez had won two graded stakes there before finishing that session as the North Miami oval's second leading rider.
In 2009, he piloted Jackson Bend to a sweep of Calder's Florida Stallion Series, and repeated a Stallion Stakes sweep in 2010 with Awesome Feather.
Awesome Feather's Stallion Stakes sweep allowed her connections to entertain thoughts of that season's Grade I Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and the Florida-bred daughter of Awesome of Course rewarded their confidence. After prompting the early pace, Awesome Feather challenged for command at the furlong grounds under right-handed urging and then drew off for a 2 1/4-length tally after Sanchez switched his stick to the left hand in the final sixteenth.
"The Breeders' Cup win made me want to the to try the New York circuit," Sanchez said this week after his arrival in Chicago following the close of the spring meet at Keeneland, "and I was fortunate enough to do very well there because I had a very good agent.
"People on the New York circuit told that they had never seen someone who caught on as quickly as I did in New York last season," Sanchez said, "but with the circuit getting more competitive during the summer months, my original plan was to ride on the New Jersey circuit at Monmouth Park this summer.
"While I was riding at Keeneland this spring, I began to have second thoughts about New Jersey, with racing only three days a week at the beginning," Sanchez said. "I wanted more than than that, and when I met Penny (Arlington agent Penny Ffitch-Heyes) there, she convinced me to come to Chicago. Now, I'm looking forward to having a good summer at Arlington."
For her part, Ffitch-Heyes has joined forces with Sanchez under somewhat unusual circumstances.
"I saw this adorable bull-dog puppy looking out a car window at Keeneland," Ffitch-Heyes said. "I once had a bull-dog who I absolutely adored, so I went over find out who the owner was. It was Jeffrey, who I didn't know or recognize at the time, but when I found out who he was and that he was thinking about coming to Arlington, I asked him if he would like me to take his book and he agreed."
ARLINGTON MILLION PREVIEW AT CHURCHILL ON KENTUCKY DERBY DAY
The 138th running of the Kentucky Derby – America's most famous horse race – captures the attention of the nation this Saturday, but also slated for Saturday's Churchill Downs program is the 25th renewal of the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.
That nine-furlong event for 3-year-olds and up over the Louisville lawn annually serves as the first step on the road to the Grade I Arlington Million – centerpiece event of the Chicago racing season.
Three Woodford Reserve winners – Masayuki Nishiyama's Paradise Creek in 1994, James Lewis Jr.'s Mecke in 1996, and Juddmonte Farms' Beat Hollow in 2002 – went on to win the Arlington Million later during those summers.