Oaklawn to Offer First All 2-Year-Old Card Saturday

For the first time in track history, Oaklawn will offer a full card of 2-year-old races Saturday highlighted by the inaugural runnings of the $150,000 Renaissance Stakes for juveniles at six furlongs and the $150,000 Year’s End of juvenile fillies at one mile.

The Renaissance Stakes drew a field of six led by the undefeated Count de Monet, who won the opening day Advent Stakes. Among his rivals is Spurrier, who won at first asking Dec. 10 to give trainer Ron Moquett his 300th Oaklawn victory. The Year’s End drew a field of nine fillies, including Defining Purpose, who comes off a solid effort in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill and Bluelightspecial, who has never been worse than third in six career starts.

The 10-race card, that begins at 12:30 p.m., also includes six $90,000 maiden races, a $104,000 allowance optional claiming race with a claiming price of $80,000 and a $51,000 starter allowance optional claiming race with a claiming price of $50,000.

Torres Carries Strong Momentum into the New Year

Perhaps the most eye-popping metric regarding jockey Cristian Torres during the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting that began Dec. 9 is that his purse earnings are already approaching season-ending totals in 2021 ($1,034,104 in his local debut) and 2021-2022 ($920,548).

A scintillating start has Torres, 25, topping the standings in victories (11) and purse earnings ($749,345) after just six days of racing. Torres also has a meet-high three stakes victories, two coming in front-running fashion after he and trainer Robertino Diodoro decided to employ a catch-me-if-you can strategy.

Torres continues to make all the right moves. The career spark was ignited roughly seven months ago after a phone conversation between an agentless Torres and Billy Castle, who represented another Oaklawn regular, Ramon Vazquez. Castle said he couldn’t work for both riders (he wanted to concentrate solely on Vazquez, maybe six weeks into his now ultra-successful move from the Midwest to Southern California) and advised Torres to choose Cody Autrey, the well-connected trainer turned racing manager turned jockey agent. Castle and Autrey are also good friends.

“He had a lot of talent, a lot of raw ability,” Castle said of Torres. “But he needed, what I consider, management. Like a Ramon Vazquez. There’s so much talent in the world. It reminds me of “The Voice,” “American Idol.” There’s a lot of people out there with a lot of ability, but they don’t get the chance. In regard to Cristian, you don’t have a Robertino Diodoro, you don’t have a Karl Broberg, etc. These are powerhouse leading trainers that can make any rider. But you take a kid like Cristian, he needed that support. He needed that opportunity and he’s taking advantage of it now.”

Is he ever.

Torres secured his first career riding title at the recently completed Remington Park meeting with 71 victories, 12 more than runner-up Stewart Elliott. Torres also led all riders in purse earnings ($1,742,742) and maintained a robust 25 percent win rate. That momentum has snowballed at Oaklawn, where Torres continues to ride first call for Diodoro and Broberg, two of the winningest trainers in North American history.

“I’m grateful to every trainer and owner that gave me an opportunity,” Torres said. “Remington was a great, great, great meet. Never had a meet like that. We started off on the right foot here, but Remington was unbelievable. I’m just grateful and blessed to be here.”

Torres literally limped to the finish line at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, missing the final 19 racing days after suffering hairline fractures of his tailbone and right ankle in a March 27 spill.

Torres needed a new agent for his comeback after Ruben Munoz, best known for his work with eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr., said he was taking a break and giving Santana’s book, post-Oaklawn, to Matt Muzikar in Kentucky. Munoz had brought Torres from south Florida to Oaklawn shortly after the 2021 meeting began.

Torres selected Joe Santos, whose successful multiple rider/multiple jurisdiction agent business model is headlined by four-time Remington Park champion David Cabrera and Reylu Gutierrez, a rising star who tops the standings this season at Fair Grounds. Cabrera also shared the 2021-2022 Oaklawn riding title with Francisco Arrieta.

Ticketed to return in late May at Prairie Meadows, Torres never rode a race at the Iowa track.

“I was at Prairie Meadows for two weeks working horses,” Torres said. “Honestly, I didn’t feel like it was the place for me to be. I was coming off an injury and I didn’t feel very comfortable where I was at.”

Torres resurfaced at Lone Star Park in suburban Dallas with a new agent, Autrey, and resumed riding May 27, a decision that has changed the jockey’s career trajectory.

“I felt it was great opportunity and I took it,” said Torres, who rode 19 winners in his abbreviated stint at Lone Star. “I felt like I couldn’t let it pass by.”

Diodoro was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2020 and has a meet-high eight victories this season. All eight were ridden by Torres. Broberg, Remington Park’s 2022 training champion, has two victories this season at Oaklawn. Torres rode both, including Flash of Mischief in the inaugural $150,000 Ring the Bell Stakes Dec. 10. Flash of Mischief represented Torres’ first career Breeders’ Cup mount in the $2 million Sprint (G1) Nov. 5 at Keeneland.

About an hour after the Ring the Bell, Torres and Diodoro teamed to win the $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes with Lovely Ride. The Mistletoe was the fourth victory on the card for Torres, equaling a career high, and led to his unanimous selection as Jockey of the Week from the Jockey’s Guild, an organization that represents more than 1,000 active and permanently disabled riders across the country. Diodoro and Torres struck again in the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes Dec. 17 with Bal Harbour.

“Unbelievable,” Diodoro said. “Very lucky to have him. He reminds me of Francisco (Arrieta). They’re both similar – young, hardworking, no issues behind the scenes, work ethic and very grateful. When they win a race or get a live mount, it’s not they’re entitled to it. They’re very grateful for it. Cristian is so patient. I think that’s the key with any good rider. But lot times they have to learn that, where this guy is only 25 years old. Another thing I’ve noticed is nothing rattles him.”

Originally from Puerto Rico, Torres launched his riding career in April 2019 at Gulfstream Park and won 122 races overall that year to finish 76th nationally. He won 120 races overall the following year to finish 43rd. Torres was fourth in voting for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion apprentice jockey of 2019 and finished fifth for 2020.

Torres won 22 races to finish seventh in the 2021 Oaklawn standings and added 19 victories at his injury-shortened 2021-2022 meeting to finish 15th. Now, he’s No. 1 and armed with a 33 percent strike rate (11 for 33). Meanwhile, Vazquez (393 career Oaklawn victories, including 44 in 2021-2022) has captured three riding titles at Los Alamitos and one at Santa Anita since relocating to Southern California last April.

“Cody’s been a very successful trainer,” Castle said. “Knows the industry well, knows the condition book well. Very bright and I just thought it would be a very good marriage. I thought Cody would be a very good person for Cristian, vice versa, and I just wanted to focus every capacity on Ramon.”

Diodoro Approaching Milestone

Robertino Diodoro, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2020 and atop the early 2022-2023 standings, entered Wednesday with 2,991 career North American victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Equibase’s totals are based on races in the United States and Canada.

Only 36 trainers in history have reached 3,000 career North American victories, according to Equibase, the last being Jeffrey Radosevich Dec. 19 at Mahoning Valley in Ohio. Diodoro, 48, has eight victories through the first six days of racing this season at Oaklawn, including a double Dec. 18 (Ninja Warrior and Kattath) to push his career total to 2,987. Oaklawn was dark last week in observance of Christmas, but Diodoro added three victories at Turf Paradise in Arizona, where he has a division of horses, and another there Tuesday.

Diodoro will have at least 15 horses entered through Jan. 3 at Turf Paradise and Oaklawn, which resumes racing Friday. Diodoro has nine horses entered Friday at Oaklawn, with entries for Saturday and Sunday pending Wednesday morning. Diodoro has 287 career victories at Oaklawn.

The Canadian-born Diodoro began wintering in Hot Springs in 2015 and became just the fourth trainer in Oaklawn history to reach 50 victories at a meet in 2020 when he amassed 51. Diodoro also finished second to perennial Oaklawn champion Steve Asmussen in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2021-2022. Diodoro’s fast start in 2022-2023 includes two stakes victories, increasing his career Oaklawn total to 12.

Asmussen, North America’s all-time winningest trainer (9,964 through Tuesday), is among seven Oaklawn training champions to reach 3,000 career victories. Jack Van Berg (6,523), Bill Mott (5,268), D. Wayne Lukas (4,886), Bernie Flint (3,550), David Vance (3,192) and William Hal Bishop (3,058) are the others.

Asmussen, who has collected a record 12 Oaklawn training titles, Van Berg, Mott and Lukas are all members of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Asmussen, Vance and the late Cole Norman are the only trainers in Oaklawn history with at least 50 victories at a meet. Norman set a single-season Oaklawn record with 71 victories in 2003.

Finish Lines

Oaklawn reopened for training Tuesday afternoon after an arctic blast closed the track following training hours Thursday morning. Temperatures quickly dropped below freezing early Thursday afternoon in Hot Springs and plummeted to around zero early Friday morning. Five workouts were recorded over a fast-rated surface Tuesday afternoon. … Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race, the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile, is Sunday. Post positions for Sunday’s card will be drawn Thursday. … Yuugiri, among Oaklawn’s leading 3-year-old fillies last season, is scheduled to make her comeback in Friday’s fourth race, a $106,000 allowance sprint, for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. Yuugiri hasn’t started since finishing 13th in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) at 1 1/8 miles last May at Churchill Downs. Yuugiri ran twice last season at Oaklawn in Kentucky Oaks points races, finishing third in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) and winning the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3). Both races were 1 1/16 miles. Friday’s 6-furlong race will mark Yuugiri’s first sprint since a 7 ¼-length victory in her Sept. 17, 2021, career debut at Churchill Downs. That race was 6 furlongs. Brisset said earlier this month that Yuugiri will “more than likely” target one-turn races in 2023. Probable post time for Friday’s fourth race is 1:54 p.m. (Central). … Another 2021-2022 Oaklawn stakes winner, Punchy Girl, is scheduled to make her comeback in Friday’s eighth race, a $106,000 starter optional claimer for Arkansas-bred female sprinters. Punchy Girl won the $150,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes for 3-year-old Arkansas-bred female sprinters last April. She hasn’t started since early May.