Interview and Transcript by Nicolle Neulist
(Photo by Four Footed Fotos)
Hard work is paying off for apprentice jockey Santo Sanjur. He is not only the top apprentice jockey at Arlington Park this summer, but he’s currently fourth among all jockeys with 26 wins at the meet. He has finished in the money another 50 times this meet, and his mounts have earned $604,648 so far. Over the weekend, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Santo Sanjur about his path to becoming a jockey and his aspirations going forward.
Nicolle Neulist: Where did you grow up?
Santo Sanjur: I was born and raised in Panama.
NN: Did you grow up around horses or horse racing?
SS: I have always been around horses. Several of my cousins are jockeys. Both of the Saez brothers are my cousins, (as well as) Eddie Castro… I have a lot of family who are race riders.
NN: How did you get started riding horses?
SS: I went to the jockey school in Panama. In Panama, when you’re in the school, you work for a barn. In that barn, they give you two or three, four horses, they are your horses. When those horses go to run, that’s how you learn. You ride those horses.
NN: You ride them in the mornings? You ride them in races? All of the above?
SS: Everything. You’re pretty much the caretaker of those horses. It’s two years you go to the school. The first year is all about learning about the horse itself: taking care of them, stuff like that. The second year, you get the opportunity to start riding them and learning how to be a jockey.
NN: When did you ride your first race? Was that after the two years of jockey school, or as you were finishing up?
SS: My first race, I rode in Panama. I rode about forty races in Panama, and won ten.
NN: When did you start racing in Panama, and when did you start racing in the US?
SS: I rode my first race in December of 2012. In May of 2013, I came to the United States and went to Kentucky.
NN: Which tracks did you ride in Kentucky?
SS: Churchill Downs (Sanjur won his first race at Churchill on June 20, 2013. It was aboard a 24-1 longshot named Pastor Puckett).
NN: Earlier this meet, you rode Flashdance Road to a third-place finish in the Springfield Stakes. Was that your first stakes mount, or did you ride any stakes at Churchill, or in Panama?
SS: It was my first stakes. I was very happy to be third.
SS: Thank you!
NN: What’s it like being an apprentice jockey?
SS: The most important thing right now, as an apprentice rider, is to go out there and learn from every horse I ride and having a couple of guys who are always willing to help, to mentor.
NN: Is there anybody -a jockey, trainer, etc. – who has been particularly important as a mentor so far?
SS: Wesley Ward. Wesley Ward took me under his wing. To this day, we talk all the time.
NN: Was Wesley Ward the first trainer you rode for here in the U.S.?
SS: No. I rode for another trainer but I worked for Wesley. Wesley took me under his wing and then sent me to Chicago. Wesley Ward is like my agent, everything.
NN: Is there anything, in particular, either an experience you had growing up, or an experience you had as a jockey, that has shaped you as a jockey, or as a person?
SS: What I have seen trying to grow up, trying to be a rider, is the Saez brothers and Eddie Castro: They’re all good riders. I want to be as good as them, or better. That has been my experience and I have worked very hard to get here.
NN: Do you have any goals as a jockey, or particular races you would want to win?
SS: I want to be able to ride amongst the top jockeys in the nation. I would like to win the big races, like the Kentucky Derby.
NN: Is there anything else that you would like racing fans to know about you, as a jockey or as a person?
SS: I would like everybody to know that I appreciate all the help I have gotten from everybody in the United States, all the way to the people who started me out in Panama. They got me here. I want to thank everybody for helping me get here.
NN: Thank you! I love your attitude, and I wish you the best of luck!
SS: Thank you!
This Jockey Journal was transcribed from an interview by Nicolle Neulist with Santo Sanjur, as translated by Leo Gonzalez.