By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
Antonio Whitehall arrived early, got himself fit and ready to ride and now, four weeks into the 50-day meet at Assiniboia Downs, the 2018 champion jockey is in the midst of a dream season.
And it sure doesn’t hurt that he put together the streak of the decade this week.
On Tuesday night, the 26-year-old from Bridgetown, Barbados, won five of six races on the card and finished second by a nose in Race 3. However, he also won the last race on Monday night and after finishing fourth in Race 1 of the power-outage-shortened card on Wednesday, he went on to win Race 2 and Race 3 – the final two races of the evening, to claim eight victories in 10 races.
“Yeah, that was awesome,” said Whitehall, who was still buzzing about his sensational week on Thursday morning. “Every time I asked a horse to give me his best this week, they gave me what I wanted. Even the ones that didn’t win. I got the best out of every ride.
“I’ve won five races on a card twice before, but I’ve never won five races on a six-race card and I was only a nose away from winning all six. That would have been a record. I think winning eight of 10 is probably a record. It was awesome.”
Here’s what Whitehall pulled off this week:
On Monday night, he finished second aboard Bold Bulldog in Race 3 for trainer Jerry Gourneau. In Race 4, he finished second on Dixie Pulpit for trainer Joe Russo. And in Race 5, he finished second on Vending Machine for trainer Shaun Morin. Then, in Race 6, he brought home Morin’s Honour Class for his first win of the win.
On Tuesday night, Whitehall was off the hook. In what his hometown newspaper in Barbados called, “an astonishing display” he claimed Race 1 aboard semi-longshot Hilda ($6.40), for trainer William Tourangeau, before winning the evening’s featured race, the $25 000 Chantilly Stakes in Race 2 with 16-1 outsider Kickalittlebooty for trainer Brent Hrymak. Kickalittlebooty paid $34.40 to win.
Whitehall finished second in Race 3 aboard the favourite Terri’s Temper (Gourneau), losing by the hairs on a nose to Jamaican jock Neville Stephenson, the No. 3 rider at ASD, who was aboard Fairy Barb.
Whitehall came back to win Race 4 aboard Witt’s Lucky Shoes for Gourneau and then won Race 5 for Gourneau on longshot Empirical Data ($13.20). To top off the evening of brilliance, Whitehall won a dominating Race 6 on the favourite More Mo For Me for Shelley Brown.
But Whitehall didn’t stop on Wednesday night. After finishing fourth in Race 1, he came back to win Race 2 aboard Kinahora for trainer Devon Gittens and then he won Race 3, the second $25,000 Stakes race of the week, on 7-1 Deep Explorer ($14.00) for this week’s top trainer, Jerry Gourneau — just before the storm shut down the electricity at the track for the night. Whitehall beat both the favourites Stone Carver (second) and Mr. Dazzle (third) in the stakes to give the young jockey champ from Barbados, his eighth win of the week, a streak that included both Stakes races.
Whitehall now has 19 wins, 14 seconds and nine third-place finishes in 67 starts this spring (63 per cent in the money). He has already won a whopping $171,403, almost $60,000 more than No. 2 Rafael Zenteno Jr. who has 13 wins, 12 seconds, and five thirds in 58 starts and $112,167 in winnings.
Whitehall, who first arrived in Winnipeg in 2016, was one of two Caribbean jockeys to get to Assiniboia Downs before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down travel. He says it’s been the biggest reason for his success.
“I got here before they shout down travel in March and it’s something I always like to do anyway,” he said. “I like to get into town early, get into the barns, work out the horses and get really fit before the meet starts. I’m always a lot fitter than I would have been if I had arrived later.
“And it’s important to understand, I think, that we’re now four weeks into the meet. This isn’t like I won a lot of races in the first week because I had fitter horses. We’re right into the meet now and it’s only going to get better.”
Whitehall and his agent, Shane Ball, have been spending much of their time choosing which horses to ride.
“We’re often getting two to three calls per race,” said Whitehall, who started his career riding dressage horses and showjumpers when he was 15. “We have to keep putting our heads together to make sure we choose the best horses. I’m not a gambler. I don’t bet on the races. But these days it seems like Shane and I are betting on which horses to ride and because I make more money for a win – that’s the incentive – so we’re kind of betting before the races in a different way.”