Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. will be on a plane shortly after Friday’s Churchill Downs race card, headed to Santa Anita Park where he will ride in his second Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Saturday.
The 21-year-old Panama-native will ride Jerry Durant’s Lucky Player in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade I) and Bourbon Lane Stables’ Bourbon Courage in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI).
Santana has ridden Lucky Player in three of his four starts, most recently to a victory in the Sept. 6 Iroquois (GIII) under the Twin Spires where he won by a neck.
“He’s such a nice horse,” Santana Jr. said. “He was a little green in those first couple of races, but now he’s a grown man. The first day I rode him and he broke his maiden, I had a lot of confidence in that horse. He’s worked well since and he always gives his best.”
Santana’s only defeat on Lucky Player came as a runner-up finish in the Aug. 9 Prairie Meadows Juvenile Mile, where Santana said the 2-year-old colt may have been slightly distracted by running under the lights for the first time.
“When I rode him at Prairie Meadows, going a mile, he ran well starting off and I thought he might open up,” Santana said. “That was his first race at night, too. He looked up and saw the lights and then a horse came up on his side and passed us. When he realized the horse was passing he picked up a little bit but it was too late. But he’s matured since then and I think he’ll be ready to go.”
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Lucky Player will break from post position six in the Juvenile and has been given odds of 30-1 on the morning line.
Santana’s first mount on Bourbon Courage also was the colt’s first race at a sprint distance since October 2013. The 6 ½-furlong allowance optional claiming contest resulted in a 3 ¼-length win for Bourbon Courage and Santana at Keeneland on Oct. 3.
“I really think that horse is better off going a little shorter,” Santana said. “I worked that horse twice before going to the Breeders’ Cup. The last time he worked on Monday, he worked three furlongs in :34 like it was nothing. The time before that he worked five furlongs in :59 so he’s been working just so nicely and I have a lot of confidence in him, too.”
Breaking from the far outside in the 14-hole, Bourbon Courage also has been given odds of 30-1 for trainer Kellyn Gorder.
“My two horses are 30-1, but horses don’t know that; they don’t watch TV,” Santana said.
Santana said his favorite part of the Breeders’ Cup was the high level of competition and the excitement of the fans.
“It’s a great experience, seeing so many people there, screaming your name; it’s a big deal,” Santana said. “It’s the best horses, the best trainers and the best riders, which also makes it fun.”
While Santana is confident, he hopes to have luck on his side facing such stiff competition.
“I’m really excited to be there,” Santana said. “Santa Anita is amazing. It’s not going to be easy though, so hopefully I can get some luck on my side. But like I said, I have confidence in my horses, so we’ll see what happens.”
BLOCK WEIGHS IN ON MY OPTION AHEAD OF SATURDAY’S CHILUKKI
Trainer Chris Block will saddle Timothy Keeley’s multiple Grade III winner My Option in Saturday’s $200,000-added Chilukki (GII) at Churchill Downs with rider Eduardo Perez up.
The 4-year-old filly by Belong to Me is coming off a third-place effort in the Oct. 4 Mari Hulman George at Indiana Grand, which was her first dirt start since April.
While Block said that the one-mile Chilukki probably is the ideal distance for My Option, he acknowledged the filly has made her best efforts on synthetic surfaces.
“She’s probably best going a mile on synthetic,” Block said. “I think if you look at her results it’s pretty obvious but we thought we’d give her a try again on the dirt here Saturday.”
In My Option’s only previous start under the Twin Spires, she finished fourth in the 2013 Falls City Handicap (GII) beaten four lengths going 1 1/8 miles on dirt.
“I thought she ran really well at Churchill last year all things considered,” Block said. “She was kind of coming down at the end of her season there and probably wasn’t necessarily at her best. I feel like I had her peaking last year when she went into Keeneland in her start prior to that, but I thought she ran very credible in the Falls City against some good fillies and she seemed to handle the surface there well.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s Chilukki, Block said he thinks the cooler temperatures probably would work in My Option’s favor, but would have preferred a post position closer to the middle than the far outside.
“I don’t think the cold will affect her at all,” Block said. “Actually, I think horses like running in the cold a little better. As far as the post position, I’d probably rather have been in the six, seven or eight but there’s a long run out of the chute and up the backstretch there. We should be able to get over into a proper position that will hopefully give her a shot when she approaches the quarter pole to make her run. But she’s been doing great and we’re excited looking ahead to Saturday.”
My Option has been made the 6-1 co-third choice for the Chilukki, the ninth of 10 races on Saturday’s Churchill Downs card, with an approximate post time of 7:25 p.m.