Oaklawn Barn Notes: 2021 Champion Jockey Joel Rosario Making the Most Out of Time at Oaklawn

Saturday, March 05, 2022

2021 Champion Jockey Joel Rosario Making the Most Out of Time at Oaklawn

Globetrotting and humble, jockey Joel Rosario needed only 11 racing days at Oaklawn to reach $1 million in purse earnings during the 2021-2022 meeting that began Dec. 3.

Rosario hit seven figures Feb. 21 – the last day he’s ridden in Hot Springs – before traveling to Saudi Arabia for the world’s richest race, the $20 million Saudi Cup (G1), Feb. 26.

Of course, Feb. 10 was a noteworthy date for Rosario, too. That night at Santa Anita, Rosario, 37, was honored with his first Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding jockey of 2021.

“Very happy and thankful for the people that have really given me the opportunity to be here,” Rosario said following the Feb. 11 card at Oaklawn. “I have good people behind me. They gave me the support and opportunity to be there. I wouldn’t be there without them. I’m really happy.”

After leading the country in purse earnings ($32,944,478), stakes victories (69) and graded stakes victories (49) in 2021, Rosario was the runaway winner in Eclipse balloting conducted by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB). Rosario collected 213 first-place votes. Runner-up Irad Ortiz Jr. received 17.

Rosario had been a finalist for champion jockey multiple times before finally breaking through in 2021. A native of the Dominican Republic, Rosario rode his first winner in the United States in 2006. His Hall of Fame-caliber resume includes more than 3,000 career victories, 15 in Breeders’ Cup races and three in Triple Crown events, with his mounts earning more than $265 million. Rosario won the $10 million Dubai World Cup (G1) in 2013 in the United Arab Emirates aboard Animal Kingdom. Rosario also won the 2013 Kentucky Derby aboard Orb.

Ron Anderson, Rosario’s longtime agent, said he believes Rosario could have won the award at least two other times, including 2020, but many voters only scan the top line – purse money.

“And a lot of times, it’s not that,” Anderson said. “Like (analyst) Joaquin Jaime on TVG described it very well. You kind of have to look at the whole body of work, on whether it’s the horse, the jock, the trainer. It’s not always about the money and I think Joel was compromised by that thought and people not in tune. And back when he won the World Cup and won on Orb, I honestly think that could have been a year that they voted him an Eclipse. But it’s never about him to a fault. He’s always about the animal and the this, the that. ‘Joel, you’re on the third-best horse in this race and you won.’ He doesn’t want to take any credit. We laugh about it. In like 10 years, I think maybe four times he took credit for a horse that I know wasn’t the best and he won.”

After suffering a hairline fracture of a rib in Dec. 2 accident at Aqueduct, Rosario resumed riding Jan. 14 Oaklawn. A regular in Hot Springs for the first time, Rosario is winning at a robust 26-percent clip (15 for 58) and his mounts have already earned $1,061,222. Rosario won the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses Feb. 12 aboard Plainsman.

Rosario is named on five horses Sunday at Oaklawn, including four for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Ava’s Grace Works Toward Azeri

Ava’s Grace completed major preparations for the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares March 12 with a 5-furlong bullet workout (1:00.20) over a fast track Saturday morning trainer Robertino Diodoro.

Post positions for the 1 1/16-mile Azeri, the final major local prep for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 23, will be drawn Monday. The Azeri field is expected to be headed by 2021 winner and two-time Eclipse Awards finalist Shedaresthedevil for trainer Brad Cox and co-owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs.

In addition to Shedaresthedevil and Ava’s Grace, the Oaklawn racing department listed five other probables Saturday morning – Golden Curl for trainer Shawn Davis, Lady Mystify (Peter Eurton), Lavender (Davis), Pauline’s Pearl (Steve Asmussen) and She’s All Wolfe (Donnie K. Von Hemel).

Ava’s Grace has started three times at Oaklawn, finishing third in a first-level allowance sprint last March before running second, beaten a length, in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies last April in her two-turn debut. Ava’s Grace was scratched on the eve of the Kentucky Oaks because of a minor physical setback, Diodoro said, before completing her 2021 campaign with a ninth-place finish in the $150,000 New York Stallion Stakes June 19 at Belmont Park, which marked her turf debut.

Ava’s Grace, in her 4-year-old debut, finished fourth in a Feb. 12 allowance sprint for trainer Ricky Courville. She returns to Diodoro, and two turns, in the Azeri.

“She needed some time off,” Diodoro said. “She didn’t have surgery, but she needed some time off. There was something kind of brewing from back then (Kentucky Oaks). When it was all said and done, she just needed some time off. If we just kept going, the problem was going to get worse.”

Both Courville and Diodoro train for Cypress Creek Equine (Kevin Moody), which owns Ava’s Grace and one-eyed Un Ojo, upset winner of the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds Feb. 26. Ava’s Grace had been breezing at Copper Crowne Training Center in south Louisiana (Courville is based there) in advance of her 2022 debut at Oaklawn. After returning to Diodoro’s barn, she recorded a half-mile work in :48.60 Feb. 25.

“I think she looks amazing, actually,” Diodoro said. “She’s training really good.”

Millionaire multiple Grade 1 winner Shedaresthedevil hasn’t started since finishing sixth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Nov. 6 at Del Mar. She began her 2021 campaign with a head victory over Letruska in the Azeri. Shedaresthedevil was a finalist for champion 3-year-old filly of 2020 after winning the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs and Oaklawn’s $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) and a finalist for champion older dirt female last year. Letruska returned to win the Apple Blossom en route to an Eclipse Award (champion older dirt female) in 2021.

Flurry said Shedaresthedevil is scheduled to have her final work for the Azeri Sunday at Fair Grounds and ship Tuesday to Oaklawn. Shedaresthedevil has been based this year at Fair Grounds and her five published workouts include a 6-furlong bullet (1:12.40) Feb. 27.

Pauline’s Pearl won the 2021 Fantasy and the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) Jan. 30 at Sam Houston in her 4-year-old debut. Lady Mystify and Pauline’s Pearl were 1-2, respectively, in the $200,000 Remington Park Oaks (G3) Sept. 26 at Remington Park.

Finish Lines

Surging David Cabrera recorded a riding double Friday to move into sole possession of second place in the standings. Cabrera won the first race aboard Flirtatious Smile ($10.60) for trainer Tim Martin and the seventh race aboard Blame George ($14.80) for owner/trainer Karl Broberg. Cabrera entered Saturday with 34 victories – two less than leader Francisco Arrieta – including 14 in the last seven racing days. Flirtatious Smile represented Cabrera’s 150th career victory at Oaklawn, where he has ridden regularly since 2018. … Favored Life Is Hard ($5.20) was an eye-catching eight-length maiden winner in Friday’s ninth race. Tiago Pereira rode Life Is Hard, a 4-year-old Munnings colt, for trainer Jimmy DiVito. Life Is Hard was making his two-turn debut and second start overall. … Oaklawn surpassed $8 million in claims at the meet Friday, Day 34 of the scheduled 66-day season. Through Friday, 371 claims had totaled $8,107,000. … Trainer Rene Amescua won a 17-way shake to claim Alex’s Strike out of Friday’s fourth race for $8,000.