By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
The 2019 Assiniboia Downs jockey champion would appear to be heating up. Despite this week’s weather.
Monday night on Assiniboia Downs’ six-race card, Antonio Whitehall, picked up an impressive double by riding the favourite Bye Y’all ($2.30) to an easy win in the third race and then by winning a duel aboard Her Name Is Um ($5.70) in the fifth race.
With his win in race 3, the 26-year-old from Bridgetown, Barbados won his 200th race as a jockey in Canada and that’s quite a milestone.
However, those two big wins moved Whitehall move into top spot in this year’s jockey standings.
Whitehall now has eight wins, nine seconds and eight thirds (in the money 25 times) in just 41 mounts with a whopping $77,448 in winnings in seven days of racing. Rafael Zenteno Jr. is next with eight wins, seven seconds, and two thirds in 36 starts with $69,380 in earnings. Kayla Pizzaro is third with six wins, four seconds, five thirds and $61,563 in winnings in 33 races.
For Whitehall, who first arrived in Winnipeg in 2016 and was one of two Caribbean jockeys to get to Assiniboia Downs before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel, the little Winnipeg track is “just like home.” He’s extremely well-liked, gets some of the best mounts on the grounds and admits, “It’s like I’ve been here all my life.”
“I love it here,” he said last summer. “That’s why I come back every year. People treat you good here and they give you a chance. I’m committed, dedicated and motivated.”
Whitehall started riding dressage horses and showjumpers when he was 15. Within a year, he was at Garrison Savannah Racetrack, the only thoroughbred track on the island of Barbados.
He was the track’s champion apprentice in 2012 and 2013 and was second in the race for a champion jockey. He came to Canada five seasons ago and was an instant hit with owners and trainers because of his eagerness to do whatever he had to do on the backstretch in order to get rides. He would work horses in the morning and clean stables in the afternoon in order to get mounts at night. By 2019, he was the best jockey at ASD.
“He is a very gifted jockey who has a wide set of skills in the saddle,” said Downs CEO Darren Dunn. “He can put the competition to sleep on the front end and wire the field or masterfully time a rally from off the pace.
“As the champion rider at ASD in 2019, his experience and understanding of the nuances of winning races on this oval should give him a strong competitive edge over most in the jocks room who are here for the first time. In my mind, he will wear the bullseye as the jockey to beat for the title this year.”
NOTE: The big matchup we were all hoping to see on Wednesday night between Hidden Grace and Miss Imperial is off. Hidden Grace’s trainer Michael Nault decided that it was too soon to bring his unbeaten four-year-old mare back to competition and will look at a stakes race at a later date.
“This race is about a week early,” Nault conceded. “It’s hard getting horses ready to run that have been sitting around all winter. When she runs, I want her to run at her best. We’re looking at the Canada Day Stakes for her debut this season.”
Regardless, Miss Imperial, trained by Murray Duncan, will try to win her second stakes race of the young season and at 4-5 on the Morning Line is obviously the pre-race favourite.