Mitchell Murrill ended week 2 of the Arlington meeting atop the jockey standings with seven victories, one more than perennial leading rider Jose Valdivia Jr. Those names are very familiar to Chicago racing folks, but a couple just below them in the standings aren’t.
Sophie Doyle, on the heels of a productive Hawthorne spring meeting, had five winners after five racing days this meet, and Harry Hernandez had four, tying him with several Arlington regulars.
Doyle, 31, is a native of England who has ridden for several years in the U.S. and has come to Arlington for sporadic mounts in the past. Doyle, who is represented by another English expatriate, Penny Ffitch-Heyes, spent the last three summers driving around Kentucky and Indiana to take mounts at Churchill Downs, Ellis Park, and Indiana Grand at various points.
“All the driving around you do in Kentucky, it wears on you,” said Doyle, whose brother is the successful England-based jockey, James Doyle. “I did that for seven years in England and three years in Kentucky and coming here just seemed like the right option with the way my career was going.”
Hernandez, just 21, is scarcely known around these parts. A Puerto Rican native, Hernandez got his first jockey’s license in 2015 and after riding for a short time in Puerto Rico set up shop in Maryland. He moved his tack to South Florida, spent a winter at Aqueduct, and then rode mainly at Finger Lakes in upstate New York in 2016 and 2017. Also riding at Finger Lakes during that time – Hernandez’s father, Andy.
“All my life I wanted to be a jockey – since I was six years old,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez twice fractured his collarbone in spills last year, missing about four months. He got back in riding shape taking some mounts in Puerto Rico over the winter and was set for another season at Finger Lakes when his phone rang. On the other end of the line was Jose Ortiz, one of North America’s top jockeys, but also a fellow Puerto Rican that Hernandez has known for about 10 years.
Ortiz is married to the former Taylor Rice, who rode for a spell at Hawthorne, where the agent Ben Allen booked her mounts. Last summer, Allen represented Santo Sanjur and Chris Emigh at Arlington, but Sanjur is spending this summer at Indiana Grand, and Emigh switched agents when he returned to Chicago from New Orleans this spring. Ortiz sold Hernandez that Allen was in the market for a jockey and had good business at Arlington.
“Jose Ortiz gave me the advice, so I decided to try it out. I just wanted to give myself a shot,” said Hernandez, who rode two horses at Finger Lakes before moving to Chicagoland. “Ben is doing a great job. I’m really happy for the victories I’ve been getting, for the help of the owners and trainers. I’m here to work. I want to do good and to make my name.”
Both those names – Doyle and Hernandez – should grow ever more familiar as Arlington’s 2018 season wears on.
Davis Back at Home
The second-year trainer Chris Davis is the son of longtime Chicago trainer Lianne Davis and Herschell Davis, who has 29 years working the gate crew on the Chicago circuit. Davis shipped a handful of horses to Arlington last summer from his base in Kentucky, but this summer, with Arlington purses raised thanks in great part to the efforts of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Davis is at Arlington with his entire 20-horse string.
Davis grew up in nearby Roselle – and grew up at the track.
“I was a hotwalker, groom or whatever for my mom growing up, but you don’t get paid when you’re working for your parents,” Davis said. “My first official job came when I turned 16 and was an exercise rider. Galloping at Hawthorne and here at Arlington, it was fun. I’m glad to be back.”
Contreras, Sanjur Back in Town for Graded-Stakes Win
The first graded stakes race of the Arlington season, the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup, was won by Matrooh and his out-of-town connections. Kind of.
Matrooh’s jockey, Santo Sanjur, was a Chicago regular before shifting his base to Indiana Grand this spring. Meanwhile, trainer Cipriano Contreras worked for 30 years in Chicago as the assistant to trainer Mike Reavis before going out on his own a little more than a year ago.
“This is home,” Contreras said in the winner’s circle after the Hanshin.
Contreras mainly runs a claiming operation, and Matrooh had been claimed just two starts ago for $25,000. The 8-year-old gelding not only was Contreras’s first graded-stakes winner, he was his first graded-stakes starter.