By Scott Taylor (@staylorsports)
WINNIPEG — It’s hard to imagine anyone having a better season at the racetrack than Antonio Whitehall.
And considering he’s had that success during a summer in which the COVID-19 pandemic has raged across the entire world is even more impressive.
Thanks to the scheduling of races at Assiniboia Downs and Century Mile this summer, Whitehall and a handful of other jockeys have found it not only possible but also financially rewarding, to fly between Winnipeg and Edmonton to get more rides.
For Whitehall that has meant all but locking up the champion jockey title at ASD in Winnipeg while currently sitting in third place in the jockey race at Century Mile in Edmonton.
“He’s having an amazing year,” said his agent Shane Ball. “He won two Stakes races in Edmonton last week and finished second in the big (Canadian Juvenile) stakes on the weekend with Greg Tracy’s two-year-old (Common Knowledge).
“The travel back and forth between Winnipeg and Edmonton has been good. He gets a little jet-lagged and considering the amount he’s been riding, he can get a little tired, but it’s been good overall.”
Here in Winnipeg, Whitehall has his 2020 jockey championship well in hand. He won in 2018 and then lost last year to Richard Mairs, who didn’t get to Canada in time this spring to compete at ASD before COVID shut down Canadian travel from the Caribbean. That meant there was a smaller jockey colony in Winnipeg and a great opportunity for the keen Whitehall to get some great mounts.
“I got here before they shout down travel in March and it’s something I always like to do anyway,” said Whitehall, who finished second last year with 46 wins while Mairs won it all with 52. “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.”
That strategy has certainly paid off. Back in June, the 26-year-old from Bridgetown, Barbados, won five races on a six-race card and took over the jockey competition. He has not been out of first place in the jockey standings since the second week of racing at ASD this summer.
With Week 13 of the 17-week meet starting tonight at 7:30, Whitehall now leads No. 2 Rafael Zenteno Jr. by 24 first-place finishes. Whitehall, who won the 2018 ASD jockey title with just 41 wins, has 57 victories this year after winning three times last week. He also has 39 seconds and 37 third-place finishes in a track-leading 212 starts. He has now earned $513,000 for his owners – more than $200,000 more than his nearest rival. Whitehall has finished in the money an amazing 64 per cent of the time this season.
Zenteno Jr. remains in second place with 33 wins, 25 seconds, and 17 thirds in 162 starts and has $308,917 in winnings while Stanley Chadee Jr. is in third place with 30 wins, 33 seconds and 24 thirds in 184 starts and has $333,060 in winnings. Kayla Pizarro is fourth with 22 wins in 147 starts.
However, it’s not as if any of Whitehall’s fellow riders will have much of an opportunity to catch him. In 21 races this week at ASD, Whitehall has 18 mounts. Seven of them are pre-race favourites while three more are second-best on the morning line. He has one horse at 15-1, but not one of the other 17 are longshots. Heading into the week, he has a legitimate chance to win at least a dozen races.
And he doesn’t even have a ride in the $18,000 Uene Overnight Stakes on Tuesday.
“It’s pretty amazing that he’s already won 57 races,” said Ball. “And we still have a month of racing here. He could wind up with 75-80 wins.”
Meanwhile, in Edmonton, Whitehall is third in the jockey standings and although Rico Walcott appears to have a lock on the title with 34 wins, Whitehall could finish second. Currently, he trails No. 2 Rigo Sarmiento by two wins. Sarmiento has 19 victories in 106 starts while Whitehall has 17 in just 89 starts. Whitehall has also won another $160,356 for his owners in the Alberta capital while finishing in the money 51 per cent of the time at a track in which he arrived as a virtual unknown.
“Yeah, he’s done really, really well out there,” said Ball. “He’s only going to get better, too.”
Tonight, Whitehall will ride Wolski (5-1) in the first race, Big Egypt (2-1 favourite) in Race 2, Orange Theory (5-1) in Race 3, Tres Magnifique (5-2 favourite) in Race 4, My Kinda Gal (5-1) in Race 5, Vallentay (2-1 second favourite) in Race 6 and Where’s the Reward (2-1 favourite) in Race 7.
Live racing begins at 7:30 p.m. and it could be a monster night and week for Antonio Whitehall.