Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Thursday, May 5

| Churchill Downs Communications | 05/05/2011 #

  • Arlington Jockey J. Z. Santana Rises to Top at Hawthorne; Arlington’s Mid-America Triple Previewed at Churchill Friday; Reminder:  Three Different Post Times on Arlington’s Opening Weekend

After arriving at Arlington Park for the first time in his 12-year career last season, jockey J. Z. Santana made a solid first impression locally by finishing in a tie for 13th in Arlington’s final rider standings for 2010.

This spring, on the south side of Chicago, Santana finished in another tie – but this time it was for the leading rider title at Hawthorne, earning the 32-year-old native of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, the first championship of a career that began in his native land, continued next in South Florida but was then spent mostly on the Maryland circuit until 2010.

“I’m very happy – very content to win that title,” said the amiably-understated Santana during training hours this week at Arlington in advance of Friday’s opening day at Chicago’s northwest oval.  “It’s nice to win a championship, but I always ride every horse to win and just enjoy riding and being around horses every day.  That’s what’s always exciting to me, being around the horses from the time I get up in the morning to the end of the day.”

It is Santana’s obvious attraction to the horse as an animal that has a lot of trainers becoming increasingly attracted to Santana.

“J. Z. just naturally loves all horses and he seems to develop an inherent sense of communication with them,” said Santana’s agent Penny Ffitch-Heyes.  “Just watch him when he walks into the paddock to ride a horse he’s never even seen before.  Watch how he goes up to them and starts rubbing on their heads or scratching their ears.  He doesn’t even realize that he’s doing it, but of course most horses respond to that sort of thing.”

Santana’s first riding title is not the only new thing in his life.  He was introduced to Ms. Ffitch-Heyes’ baby sitter last year, married her this year and now he and bride Anna are expecting a baby girl to come along before the end of the Arlington season.

“This will be another first for me – having a little girl,” Santana said, who has two boys, six and seven years old, from a previous relationship.  “I love my wife and my kids, and when I’m not around the horses I like to be around my family.”

It’s opening day of the 2011 Arlington Park season Friday in Chicago, as well as Kentucky Oaks Day in Louisville, with full-card simulcasting from Churchill Downs available for Arlington’s guests throughout Friday’s gala afternoon.

However, in addition to the 137th running of the Kentucky Oaks on Friday as the feminine counterpart to Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, the Twin Spires oval will run the 20th anniversary edition of its Grade II $200,000 American Turf, presented by Ram, for 3-year-olds going 1 1/16-miles over Churchill’s Matt Winn Turf Course.

Churchill’s American Turf serves as a precursor for Arlington’s Mid-America Triple, beginning on May 28 with the 77th running of the $100,000 Arlington Classic, continuing with the 96t h renewal of the Grade II $200,000 American Derby July 9 and concluding with the 35th running of the Grade I Secretariat Stakes as part of Arlington Million Day Aug. 13.

Eleven of the 14 grass-favoring sophomores named to Friday’s American Turf in Louisville are original nominations to Arlington’s 2011 Mid-America Triple.

Mid-America Triple nominees Banned, owned by Glen Hill Farm, and the Irish-bred Surrey Star, who races in the silks of Class Racing Stable, are the first and second morning line choices respectively for Churchill’s American Turf.

Guests of Arlington Park and fans of Arlington’s simulcast signal are reminded that on Friday’s Opening Day program, gates will open at 11:15 a.m. and the races will start at 3 p.m.

There will be free admission for all customers on Opening Day and the first 5,000 customers will get a coupon good for a hot dog and a draft beer, or a hot dog and a soft drink for just a penny.  Also on Opening Day, Arlington will offer simulcast wagering on the Grade I Kentucky Oaks as well as advance wagering on Saturday’s Grade I Kentucky Derby, presented by Yum! Brands.

On Saturday at Arlington the local post time will be 12:15 p.m. with guests getting to enjoy Chicagoland’s Largest Kentucky Derby Day Party to include the chance to watch and wager on the Kentucky Derby from Churchill Downs.

On Mother’s Day Sunday, when post time is slated for 1 p.m., the gates will open at 11:15 p.m. and the first 5,000 ladies through the gates will receive a free rose.

Also, there will be an opportunity to get a free keepsake photo with the whole family taken by one of Arlington’s roaming photographers, and of course there will also be pony rides and a petting zoo in the Park Area to keep the kids happy.