The Labor Day Weekend always signals the end of the prestigious Saratoga meet and the 2021 meet at the Spa is one jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. is likely to remember for a long time. His three Grade 1 wins closing weekend earned Jockey of the Week honors for August 30 through September 6. The award, which is voted on by a panel of racing experts, is for jockeys who are members of the Jockeys’ Guild, the organization which represents more than 875 active riders in the United States as well as retired and permanently disabled jockeys.
On Saturday, trainer Steve Asmussen called on Santana, Jr. to pilot Max Player in the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup, run for the first time during the Saratoga meet. Max Player broke from post position two and settled back and to the outside of Forza Di Oro. Advancing down the backstretch and reaching the top of the stretch, Max Player took command and drew off to win by four lengths in 2:02.49 for the 1-1/4 mile prestigious test for three-year-olds and up. “I was happy with him,” said Santana, Jr. “Today, he broke good so I was really happy with it. The trainer is doing all the work.”
In the Grade I Spinaway on Sunday, Asmussen again gave a leg up to Santana, Jr. on Echo Zulu. Off a step slow from post position three, race favorite Echo Zulu went straight to the front, leading the nine-horse field gate to wire to power home in a final time of 1:22.51 for the seven furlong test for two-year-old fillies. “I had so much confidence that I only wore two goggles for seven furlongs,” Santana, Jr, said. “She was working real nice and today she improved a lot. I had plenty in the tank.”
The Asmussen/Santana, Jr. combination struck again with Gunite, in the Grade I Hopeful, the traditional Closing Day feature on Monday. Breaking from post position three in the field of 11, Gunite bumped with Kitodan but was rushed into contention. He opened up a ½-length advantage at the stretch and continued to find more, drawing off to win impressively by 5-3/4 lengths in 1:23.08 for seven furlongs. Santana, Jr. rode Gunite for his fifth Grade I of the meet – four for Asmussen and the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks earlier in the meet for trainer Rob Atras. “I love Saratoga, it’s one of the best tracks in North America,” said Santana, Jr., who won a personal-best 35 races at Saratoga. “To win five Grade Is at one meet is unreal.”
Santana, Jr.’s weekly statistics were 49-8-5-8 for an in-the-money percentage of 42.8% and total purse earnings of $1,329,686.
Santana, Jr. out-polled fellow riders Julien Leparoux who won the Grade I Flower Bowl, Flavien Prat who won the Grade I TVG Del Mar Debutante and his third straight leading jockey title at Del Mar, Joel Rosario who put on a riding clinic at Kentucky Downs with 10 wins over two days and John Velazquez who won the Grade II Bernard Baruch.