Kentucky Derby Jockey Profile: Ricardo Santana Jr.

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 26th, 2021

Who is Ricardo Santana Jr.?

It’s safe to say Santana is a jockey on the rise. The 28-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 most of his time riding in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. 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 roughly 70 graded stakes wins (and 14 of his 17 Grade 1 wins) have been achieved while riding Asmussen runners.

Santana’s biggest year to date came in 2019, when he won seven Grade 1 races, earned $16.7 million, and achieved coast-to-coast success as the regular rider of champion sprinter Mitole. But 2021 is on track to be another banner year for Santana, who’s been winning at a career-best 23% clip this season. On April 10, Santana rode Asmussen’s Super Stock to an upset victory in the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park, in the process securing a Kentucky Derby mount for the sixth consecutive year.

Through the years, Santana has compiled a rock-solid resume riding the Kentucky Derby conditions of 1 1/4 miles on dirt. His 24-4-3-2 (16%) resume would have produced a 13% profit for any bettor wagering equally on all of his mounts.

What are jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.'s records related to the Kentucky Derby?

Below are statistics for Santana's efforts at race tracks with more than two Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races, plus lifetime data at the 1 1/4-mile distance and Churchill Downs specifically.

Lifetime record over 1 1/4 miles on dirt:

Starts Wins Places Thirds
24 4 3 2
  Win % ITM % ROI %
  17% 38% 13%

Lifetime record in the Kentucky Derby:

Starts Wins Places Thirds
6 0 0 0
  Win % ITM % ROI %
  0% 0% -100%

Lifetime record stats compiled by Ed DeRosa and are through 2020.

All stats from Jan. 1, 2016 through April 20, 2021. Generated by STATSMASTER, Powered by TrackMaster, an Equibase Company

Santana rides well on dirt wherever he goes. Let’s review Santana’s stats riding the main track at every facility where multiple Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races are contested:

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 17% clip 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 Asmussen. During Kentucky Derby week in 2019, Santana rattled off victories in the Humana Distaff (G1), La Troienne (G1), and Churchill Downs (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, every once in a while he makes a quick trip 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 (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 15% win rate over the Keeneland main track is respectable, and during 2020 Breeders’ Cup week, he 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. The leading rider at every meet between 2013 and 2018, Santana finished second in the 2019 standings, but bounced back to win again in 2020. Since 2016, Santana has compiled a 21% win rate at Oaklawn, with earnings of more than $24 million. Along the way, he’s won a bevy of graded stakes, including two editions of the Arkansas Derby, an Apple Blossom H. (G1), and three renewals of the Fantasy (G3).

Santana at Santa Anita

Santana’s 1-for-9 (11%) record over the Santa Anita main track might seem unimpressive at first glance, but the raw stats don’t tell the whole story. Six of those rides came in Breeders’ Cup events, including a victory aboard champion Mitole in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).