Santos Revolutionizing the Jockey Agent Role

Jose Santos became famous for winning races as a jockey. His son wants to become famous for winning races as a jockey agent.

The winning formula for Jose “Joe” Santos Jr. is to try and revolutionize the profession through strength in numbers, eventually creating a corporate-like business model.

Santos, 26, represents five riders at four tracks. The bulky roster briefly reached six earlier this year and included two for most of the Oaklawn meet in David Cabrera, its second-leading rider in 2018 who is headed toward another runner-up finish in 2021, and Ken Tohill, a veteran approaching 4,000 career victories. Tohill won nine races in Hot Springs before recently departing for Prairie Meadows in Iowa. Santos also books mounts for Miguel Mena and Albin Jimenez at Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Reylu Gutierrez at Lone Star Park in Texas and Freddy Manrrique at Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma.

“I would say it’s abnormal to have a jockey on four or five different circuits,” Santos said.

Under Arkansas rules, agents can represent as many as two journeymen and one apprentice rider during the Oaklawn meeting. Some Oaklawn-based agents do have riders in multiple jurisdictions, with Bobby Dean, for example, representing two-time local champion Terry Thompson and newcomer Elvin Gonzalez this year in Hot Springs and Glenn Corbett at Turf Paradise in Arizona.

But five riders in four states?

“My deal is I worked at Turf Paradise for 15 years,” said Dean, an agent since the fall of 1997. “I mean, I know everybody. I had Glenn Corbett all those years. It’s not like I’m down there with a kid somebody might not know. I’m down there with a guy that’s been there, so I’m barely skirting the line. (Santos) is sharp enough to do it. But I’m old school. I’m still here early. I guess as the long as the jocks keep going for it, it will be good.”

Santos, whose father retired with more than 4,000 victories and was a 2007 inductee into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, said he has been eying a mass-representation/multi-jurisdiction concept for some time, adding COVID-19 restrictions “kind of forced it,” with everything moving online last spring.

“I wanted to start an agency, myself,” Santos said. “The only way to do that is to prove that is I can do it on my own at first. Once I get enough traction and business going, I think it’s been heading in the right direction, we can expand it from there and get some people hired on eventually.”

Santos began his career as an agent in December 2013, initially representing Aldo Canchano, then Didiel Osorio in February 2014. Santos had Cabrera, Israel Rodriguez and apprentice Luis Fuentes to open the 2019 Oaklawn meeting before landing the nationally prominent Mena that spring. Santos essentially flew solo with Mena for approximately a year before adding Declan Carroll in April 2020, reuniting with Cabrera in May 2020, picking up Jimenez in November, Gutierrez and Tohill around New Year’s Day and Manrrique for the Will Rogers meet that began in late March. Santos and Mena rekindled their business relationship in April. Santos no longer represents Tohill and Carroll, leaving the agent to juggle just five riders in late April.

“Santos, he’s sharp,” Dean said. “If anybody can handle it, it’s Santos.”

Santos spent much of early 2020 in Hot Springs (his girlfriend, youthful stakes-winning owner Carson McCord, is a resident), but agents were unable to beat the backside at tracks like Oaklawn, and later Churchill Downs, because of COVID-19 restrictions that barred them from the barn area. The racing office became off limits, too. Armed with a computer, condition books and cell phone, Santos began conducting business from home, entering by phone and watching post position draws through Zoom conference calls, again related to COVID-19 restrictions.

“This is kind of been a goal for a while,” said Santos, who also has represented Eclipse Award-winning apprentice Tyler Baze. “Just didn’t know how to make it work. I kind of always thought the only way that it was going to be able to work was to hire other people on, do the charting, and have them do all the ground work. Like I said, with COVID happening, it worked out to where I was able to do it.”

So far, so good.

Santos’ riding roster has collected more than 120 victories and $5 million in purse money this year. Agents normally receive around 25 to 30 percent of a jockey’s total earnings.

“You work hard when you’re young to not have to when you’re older, right?” Santos said. “Ultimately, the goal would be to own an agency at some point in my life and have other agents work for me and just get a percent off of that, based off tying up the connections, to where I don’t have to do any of this bookwork anymore. But that’s years, years, years down the line.”

We Are the Champions

Perennial Oaklawn champions Steve Asmussen and M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk) clinched meet titles heading into the final two days of the weather-shortened 51-day meeting.

A day after eclipsing his previous Oaklawn record for single-season purse earnings, Asmussen recorded his 58th victory at the meet when Decade ($7.20) won Thursday’s sixth race. Robertino Diodoro, Oaklawn’s leading trainer last year, was second in the standings with 42 victories.

Asmussen has won a record-tying 11 Oaklawn training titles (all since 2007). Hall of Famer Henry Forrest won 11 titles between 1947 and 1963.

The late Cole Norman, Asmussen, Diodoro and David Vance are the only trainers in Oaklawn history to reach 50 victories in a single season. Norman won a record 71 races in 2003.

Decade represented Asmussen’s 753rd career Oaklawn victory (No. 2 all time). Asmussen has a record 96 career Oaklawn stakes victories. He has three horses entered in Saturday’s $300,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles, including 5-2 program favorite Scarred. Asmussen entered Friday with $5,794,818 in purse earnings at the meeting, surpassing his previous record ($5,644,609), set in 2019 when he won 64 races, second-highest single-season total in Oaklawn history.

M and M notched its 17th winner of the meeting in Thursday’s second race with the Diodoro-trained Ghostly Who ($3.60). It is the fourth consecutive Oaklawn owner’s title for M and M, which set single-season meet records for victories (61) and purse earnings and purse earnings ($1,782,351) in 2019.

John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs (Shortleaf Stable) ranked second in this year’s owner’s standings with 11 victories through Thursday. Four-time Oaklawn leading owner Danny Caldwell was third with 10.

Asmussen’s go-to rider, Ricardo Santana Jr., finished the 2021 meeting with a single-season record $5,642,523 in purse earnings. Santana, whose last day at Oaklawn was Sunday, also has a meet-high 68 victories in search of his eighth Oaklawn riding title. David Cabrera had 57 after riding two winners Thursday. He was named on horses for the final 23 races of the meeting.

Cabrera ($3,019,985) became the second rider at the meet to reach $3 million in purse earnings with Thursday’s double.

Finish Lines

First post Saturday, the final day of the weather-shortened 51-day meeting, is 12:05 p.m. (Central). … Decade ($7.20) became the second Oaklawn winner sired by champion California Chrome with a sharp three-length score in her 2021 debut in Thursday’s sixth race, an entry-level allowance sprint for 3-year-old fillies, for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and LNJ Foxwoods (Jaime Roth). California Chrome was represented by his first Oaklawn winner Feb. 5, when Jewel Azul broke her maiden for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. … Tiz Life, a 3-year-old son of multiple Oaklawn stakes winners American Pharoah and Tiz Miz Sue, was scheduled to make his career debut in Friday’s 11th race at Oaklawn for trainer Steve Hobby of Hot Springs and the colt’s breeder, Cres Ran LLC.