Another Jockeys' Challenge crown is doubly sweet for Brazilian journeyman, who returned recently after missing two months with a broken collarbone.
After Raul Mena rode two winners Sunday to finish the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Downs meeting in a tie for fifth place with 32 victories – one more than Ademar Santos – it seemed appropriate they would duel to the finish today for the $5,000 Jockeys’ Challenge title in the two-day Summer Festival of Racing at Tampa Bay Downs.
Entering the eighth and final race (in which Santos did not have a mount), Mena needed to finish third or better aboard long shot My Computer to capture the title. But after making a bold move into contention on the backstretch of the 1-mile turf event, My Computer flattened out, fading to seventh place.
That left Santos atop the standings with 80.5 points, 3.5 ahead of Mena. It’s the third Jockeys’ Challenge title for Santos, who also won in 2014 and 2015, earning him a $2,500 bonus in addition to his share of purse money during the event.
Mena, who rode four winners over two days – one more than Santos – collected a $1,500 bonus, while Keiber Coa, who won the eighth race on 4-year-old gelding Pure Luck, finished in third place with 54 points, earning an additional $1,000.
Coa and Kevin Mendez each rode two winners during the event. Points were awarded per race on an 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale.
Today’s card marked the official start of the 2019-2020 meeting, which resumes on Wednesday, Nov. 27. Tampa Bay Downs first conducted Thoroughbred racing in 1926.
Mena suffered misfortune when his entry in the fifth race, 3-year-old filly Jophiel, misbehaved before the race, forcing her to be scratched by the stewards. Had she run and finished fifth or better, Mena likely would have won the title.
But any jockey, Mena included, will tell you such occurrences are part and parcel of the sport. And the title is especially meaningful for Santos, who had returned to action on June 19 after being sidelined two months with a broken left collarbone suffered in a spill at Woodbine in Toronto.
“It’s a good feeling because I came back from my injury and proved I’m the same jockey,” said Santos, a 43-year-old Rio de Janeiro product. “You’re always concerned about people thinking you might be a little scared after an injury, but that’s not the case. I actually think I came back stronger.”
Santos, who plans to ride this summer at Delaware Park and Woodbine, got off to a quick start today by winning two of the first four races, one in a dead-heat. “I got a little lucky and he (Mena) didn’t get the luck,” Santos said. “You need to have the horses under you, and I tried to ride every race the same and give 110 percent on every horse.”
Santos and the 5-year-old mare Hint of Mary shared the victory in the second race on the turf with 3-year-old filly Mallie Cramp and jockey Gilberto Laiz. Hint of Mary is owned by her breeder, Richard Sherman, and trained by Johnny Collins, while Mallie Cramp is owned by John E. Roberts and trained by Karyn Philipp.
Santos also scored in the fourth race on Dorothyfromdublin, a 5-year-old mare owned by Ridenjac Racing and trained by Monte Thomas.
Santos was quick to credit his wife and agent, Rose Miranda, who handled his bookings during the two-day event. “She contributed maybe 95 percent here to my success,” he said. “I had double calls in some races, and she got me on the right horses.”
After seemingly being left in the dust following his scratch in the fifth race, Mena rebounded by taking the next two races. He won the sixth on the turf on Zacapa Run, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Saira Rodas Flores and trained by Jacob Palacios Molina, and added the seventh aboard Mancora, a 3-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by GOP Racing Stable and trained by Gerard Ochoa.
Tampa Bay Downs is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.