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2022 Kentucky Derby jockey profile: Ricardo Santana

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 30th, 2022

Who is Ricardo Santana?

It’s safe to say Ricardo Santana is a jockey on the rise. The 29-year-old from Panama has made almost uninterrupted progress since September 2009, when he began plying his trade at Delaware Park. Santana’s annual victories and earnings have been ascending in sync, and he’s ranked among the nation’s top 10 jockeys by earnings every year since 2018.

Rather than focus on major racing epicenters like California, Florida, and New York, Santana spends much of his time riding in Arkansas and Kentucky. This strategy has been widely successful for Santana, thanks in part to a high-profile partnership with Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Many of Santana’s 81 graded stakes wins (and 19 of his 24 Grade 1 wins) have been achieved while riding Asmussen runners.

Santana’s biggest year to date came in 2021, when he won nine Grade 1 races, earned $16.8 million, and rode future champion two-year-old filly Echo Zulu to a pair of Grade 1 wins. He’s continuing to win at a solid 17% rate win in 2022 and recently picked up the mount on Lexington S. (G3) winner Tawny Port for the Kentucky Derby (G1).

Through the years, Santana has compiled a rock-solid resume riding the Kentucky Derby conditions of 1 1/4 miles on dirt. His 6-for-32 (19%) resume would have produced a 40% profit for any bettor wagering equally on all of his mounts.

This is reflective of a greater trend: Santana rides well on dirt wherever he goes. Case in point, check out Santana’s stats riding the main track at every facility where multiple Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races are contested:

Track
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Starts
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Wins
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Places
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Shows
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Win %
Up ArrowDown Arrow
ITM %
Up ArrowDown Arrow
ROI %
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Earnings
Up ArrowDown Arrow
Aqueduct
21
3
3
3
14%
43%
-59%
$143,349
Churchill Downs
1247
219
204
153
18%
46%
-25%
$13,802,885
Fair Grounds
148
26
32
21
18%
53%
-39%
$1,645,540
Gulfstream Park
10
2
0
2
20%
40%
-8%
$122,000
Keeneland
337
47
55
40
14%
42%
-31%
$2,724,758
Oaklawn Park
1,847
379
287
228
21%
48%
-18%
$24,423,444
Santa Anita
8
1
0
0
13%
13%
-65%
$1,386,351
Tampa Bay Downs
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Turfway Park
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A

All stats from Jan. 1, 2017 through April 24, 2022. Generated by STATSMASTER, Powered by TrackMaster, an Equibase Company.

Lifetime record over 1 1/4 miles on dirt:
Starts Wins Win % ROI %
32 6 19% 40%

Lifetime record stats compiled by Nazrana Dixon.

Lifetime record in the Kentucky Derby:      
Starts Wins Places Shows Win % ITM % ROI %
7 0 0 0 0% 0% -100%

Santana at Aqueduct

Santana stopped at Aqueduct for a couple of weeks in December 2017, going 3-for-21 (14%) on dirt while riding in maiden, allowance, and claiming races. All three of his wins came with forwardly placed trips in sprints.

Santana at Churchill Downs

Unlike many jockeys riding in the Kentucky Derby, Santana is a regular presence at Churchill Downs, where he wins at a solid 18% rate over the main track. While he’s yet to finish better than fifth in the Kentucky Derby, Santana has won plenty of other major races at Churchill Downs, often while teaming up with Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

During Kentucky Derby week in 2019, Santana rattled off victories in the Humana Distaff (G1), La Troienne S. (G1), and Churchill Downs S. (G1), all over the main track and all for Asmussen. Santana also tied for leading jockey honors at the 2014 September meet.

Santana at Fair Grounds

Although Santana usually rides at Oaklawn Park during the winter, he occasionally makes trips to Fair Grounds, where he wins at a solid 18% rate over the main track. Easily his biggest victory came in the 2020 Rachel Alexandra S. (G2), when Santana guided Finite to a decisive 4 3/4-length victory over champions British Idiom and Swiss Skydiver.

Santana at Gulfstream Park

In 2018 and 2019, Santana made late-season forays to Gulfstream with the primary goal of riding in the Claiming Crown. The results were productive—Santana went 2-for-10 (20%) over the main track, most notably rationing the speed of Liza Star to wire the Claiming Crown Glass Slipper S. by a well-measured length.

Santana at Keeneland

Although Santana is best known for his skills riding on dirt, all five of his graded stakes triumphs at Keeneland have come over the turf course, including a victory in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). That said, Santana’s 14% win rate over the Keeneland main track is respectable, and during 2020 Breeders’ Cup week, Santana won the Perryville S. and Songbird S. aboard a pair of front-running sprinters.

Santana at Oaklawn Park

Over the last decade, no jockey has enjoyed more success at Oaklawn than Ricardo Santana. He’s been a top-two rider by races won at every meet since 2013, finishing on top seven times. Since 2017, Santana has compiled a 21% win rate at Oaklawn with earnings of more than $24 million. And through the years, Santana has won a quartet of Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers at Oaklawn, including two editions of the Arkansas Derby (G1) aboard Creator (2016) and Super Stock (2021).

Santana at Santa Anita

Santana’s 1-for-8 (13%) record over the Santa Anita main track might seem unimpressive at first glance, but the raw stats don’t tell the whole story. Five of those rides came in Breeders’ Cup events, including a victory aboard champion Mitole in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).

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