Hawthorne Racecourse (3/26/11)
Contact: Ron Uchman
Jozbin (J Z) Santana
There were two things that I heard about Jozbin (J Z) Santana before I ever met him. The first was “Wow, that guy can ride!” The second was that he was a great guy.
The fact that he could ride was evident from the first moment he was seen on this circuit and enforced when he won so many races in Illinois last year before departing and how he has catapulted to the top of the jockey standings at Hawthorne in the early days of the 2011 spring meet.
The second truth was verified when we met last week. He was kind enough to sit down between races, after having just won with a pick-up mount.
Born April 26th, 1979, this 31-year-old was born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico but has been in the United States since 1998.
“I had only a distant cousin involved in horse racing and I didn’t even meet him until I went to Florida. I first learned to ride on a farm in Puerto Rico. I worked for a woman, Sesy Martinez, who trained horses and had some at the racetrack. But, she was mostly involved in equestrian events and that’s what I learned. I learned on a Quarter Horse. After that, she took me to the jockey’s school in Puerto Rico and that’s where I got my diploma as a jockey. I was there from the time I was 16 until 18. I had to start as a groom. They give you a horse. First you have to learn how to groom, then you have to learn to handle the horse around the shedrow. Then they put you in a little round pen. But, I already knew these things from the farm. They wanted to get me through the program in a year instead of two but I couldn’t because of my age. You have to be 18 to be a jockey in Puerto Rico.
“I’ve been in the United States for most of my career,” Santana said in the interview. “I did win four races in Puerto Rico before leaving for California. I rode briefly at Los Alamitos but wound up in Maryland where I was based for 10 years. I rode for some big outfits there including Richard Small and Scott Lake. I did very well for years. I was usually in the top three.
“But, I was getting kind of heavy and not getting enough mounts and found it hard to pay my bills. I was down to only two barns. I had switched agents a couple of times, which didn’t help. I needed a break.
“I took some time off, about eight months, went to Florida, and got a job in a restaurant. I worked on getting my weight down. When I got my weight back down to 113, I started riding again. I became the “room rider” at Gulfstream. Johnny V (Velasquez) told me that was the best thing I could do at that point in my career because the jockey colony was so tough. He told me that was the best way to get mounts and make some money. Plus, I would be in the jocks room with so many good riders and be able to learn more.
“So, I decided that was what I would do. It helped. After a while, the offer was made to come to Chicago, to ride at Arlington last summer. Joe Gunn was my agent. We did very well, especially for my first time in Chicago. Then, at the end of Hawthorne’s fall meet, where I also did very well, the offer was made to go to Turfway and ride for Michael Maker. That was why I left here. I also did very well down there. I was tied for leading rider when I left to come back here.
“Now I have Penny Fitch-Hayes as an agent and she’s another one of the best in the business. We arranged that before I left.
“Things are more steady here. I don’t have to drive around as much and I can live in one place with my family. I have my two kids with me now and we have another on the way. I love it here. Everybody has treated me very well. Everybody has been helping me out. I’ve been very blessed.”
Hawthorne Race Course is in its 102nd year of racing under Carey family ownership. Hawthorne races Friday and Saturday in February, beginning February 11. In March and April, live racing will take place every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday through the end of April. First post daily is 1:30 pm. For more information on racing at Hawthorne, visit our website at www.Hawthorneracecourse.com.