By Noel Michaels
Four weeks of racing remain at Oaklawn Park, and it’s the best four weeks of the meet when fields will be the fullest, the competition strongest, and the handicapping its most challenging. Here are jockey and trainer trends to consider the rest of the way as the meet moves into the home stretch.
This season at Oaklawn has represented a big shake up from what we’ve come to expect in terms of the top jockeys and trainers. The dominating humans to focus on at Oaklawn tend to be Steve Asmussen in the trainer’s race and Ricardo Santana Jr. in the jockey standings.
After all, Asmussen won his 10th trainer’s title at Oaklawn in 2019 with a dominating 64 victories (his three previous meet-leading numbers were 44, 41 and 46 wins). Santana won six riding titles in a row from 2013-18. Even when Santana lost the title in 2019 to David Cohen, Santana still won 73 times and broke his own seasonal earnings mark with $4,317,757 in purses.
Things have changed, however. The jockey standings have been a total scramble this season, and there’s a new sheriff in town atop the trainer’s standings with Robertino Diodoro on his way to his first-ever Oaklawn training title.
Santana back, but Talamo still on top of standings
Santana missed two weeks of action but returned to the Oaklawn jock’s room on Thursday, April 10, after self-quarantining for 12 days (nine racing days) due to coronavirus precautions after riding at Fair Grounds on Louisiana Derby day (all riders that day were forced to precautionary quarantine). During that time, Santana dropped from No. 1 in the jockey standings to a tie for third-place. He wasted no time getting back into the winner’s circle upon his return, however, winning the late double on Thursday to raise his win total for the meet to 38.
The new leading rider currently at Oaklawn is Joe Talamo, who has 40 wins from his first 212 mounts (19 percent). Martin Garcia used a riding triple on April 4 to help move him up to a second-place tie with Santana with 38 wins (19 percent). Defending leading rider Cohen has 37 wins as we are now 43 racing days into the 57-day season at Oaklawn.
It should be a great battle the rest of the way as the Talamo-Garcia-Santana-Cohen quartet competes for the 2020 jockey title.
Diodoro looking for rare trainer’s title
In the Oaklawn trainer’s race, Diodoro finished second behind Asmussen for the last three years but has finally enjoyed a breakout season in 2020 with 46 wins from 169 starters for a huge 27 win-percentage and a 12-win lead over Asmussen, with 34 wins but a much more modest 14 percent win percentage. Amazingly, bettors still do not bet Diodoro the same way they bet Asmussen. Diodoro’s average win payoff at the meet has been $9.50, which is a lot better than the other top-echelon Oaklawn trainers this season. Asmussen’s average win payoff is $7.80, while third-place trainer Brad Cox’s average winner has paid only $6.90 and fourth-place trainer Ron Moquett’s average winner has paid $8.75.
The moral of the story: Keep betting Diodoro-trained horses the rest of the 2020 meet at Oaklawn.
Asmussen finally ends losing streak at Oaklawn
Although Asmussen has had a very solid meet overall, he has been slumping badly at Oaklawn. Asmussen struggled mightily with a streak of 43 straight losers until finally breaking his cold snap with a pair of wins on April 9.
Of course Asmussen will break out of his current funk, and when you do feel comfortable betting him again, consider betting his sprinters more than his horses in routes. He’s winning 18 percent in sprints this season as opposed to just 11 percent in routes. Things are exactly the opposite with Cox, as 15 of his 21 overall winners at the meet have been in routes, where his win percentage is an eye-opening 31 percent, as opposed to just 15 percent wins in sprints. Diodoro seems consistent at all of the various distances.
Aside from Asmussen, two other trainers who have had solid meets overall are currently ice-cold at Oaklawn – Ingrid Mason and Federico Villafranco. Mason is in fifth in the overall trainer standings with 10 wins from 92 starters, but she’s 0-for-her-last-14 starters. Villafranco, meanwhile, owns a similar 9-for-94 record at the meet, but has lost with his last 11 starters in a row.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, one barn just beginning to heat up is that of Tom Amoss, who had been having a quiet stand at Oaklawn until the closing of the Fair Grounds meet. Since then, he’s won with four of 12 starters at Oaklawn and raised his overall win total from four to eight for the period of time up to April 9.
Cohen may have inside track to wind up as leading rider
As Asmussen goes, so usually goes his main man, Santana. Asmussen and Santana form a deadly combination at Oaklawn, and perhaps part of Asmussen’s slump has been due to Santana missing all of his regular mounts the past two weeks. If Santana is able to break out from the Talamo-Garcia-Santana-Cohen quartet to win the riding title, it will be on Asmussen’s coat-tails, so no one is rooting for an Asmussen resurgence more than Santana. Meanwhile, Talamo’s fortunes are hitched to Brad Cox, and whether or not he can enjoy a strong finish to the Oaklawn meet.
Cohen might have the strongest hand and inside track to a second straight jockey title. He rides for the widest array of top trainers and his fortunes are not hitched to the success of one primary trainer. Cohen rides winners for several top barns, including Norman McKnight, Amoss, Doug O’Neill, Wayne Catalano, and has been one of the two go-to riders for Diodoro this season along with Orlando Mojica.
Enjoy the final four weeks of racing and wagering at Oaklawn Park. The meet continues until Saturday, May 2.