Francisco Arrieta points his right index finger to the sky following each triumph. The jockey stated it’s not about finishing No. 1, but acknowledging the heavens.
Arrieta had raised his right arm 19 times through Saturday, the 18th day of racing at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark. In a room full of newcomers at the 2021 meet, Arrieta has clearly made the biggest impression, trailing only seven-time local riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. in the standings. Santana ended Saturday with 21 victories. Arrieta’s purse earnings of $886,253, from 82 mounts through Saturday, ranked third.
“Everybody told me it’s really tough here,” Arrieta, 32, said during training hours Friday morning. “But I’ve got belief. When you believe and get the opportunity, if you get the opportunity … now I’m doing really good.”
Arrieta credited his strong start to Jay Fedor, the jockey’s well-connected agent who represented Martin Garcia, Oaklawn’s co-second-leading rider at the 2020 meet. Fedor said after splitting with Garcia, he stated searching for a 2021 replacement and “cold-called” Arrieta, then riding at Fair Grounds, in December. Arrieta said he planned to ride the 2020-’21 Fair Grounds meet before Fedor convinced him to move his tack to Oaklawn.
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“Looked up his record and watched a few of his races and called him,” Fedor said. “Good kid. Generally, for the last few years, I’ve had a name that I could walk in the door with – (Gary) Stevens, (Robby) Albarado, Stewart Elliott, Martin, (Corey) Nakatani, Michael Baze – so this was a challenge that excited me, taking somebody that I was pretty certain that not many would know. A few people knew him, but I got lucky.”
Through Saturday, Arrieta had ridden his 19 winners for 10 trainers.
They were Cipriano Contreras (5 victories), Jason Barkley (4), Jerry Hollendorfer (3), Aidan Green (1), Jimmy DiVito (1), Joe Sharp (1), Mac Robertson (1), Phil D’Amato (1), Randy Matthews (1) and Steve Asmussen (1).
Prior to coming to Oaklawn, Arrieta had never ridden a horse for Hollendorfer or Asmussen, both members of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Arrieta did forge a relationship with Robertson at Canterbury Park, and they teamed for an upset victory with Beach Flower ($41.20) in Friday’s allowance feature for older fillies and mares. Beach Flower represented their 12th career victory together.
“He does the weight,” Robertson said. “He’s won 600 races in three years. That says more than what anyone else says, right?”
Arrieta, a native of Venezuela, has ridden extensively the past few years in New Mexico, Arizona and Minnesota. He said moving to Arkansas wasn’t an easy decision, owing to his family traveling with him. Retired Hall of Fame jockey Ramon Dominguez, who is also from Venezuela, is among the people Arrieta said he leaned on for advice.
“He said it was a great opportunity,” Arrieta said. “Ramon’s a really smart guy. He always helps. I really like the outdoors here, the mountains. I’m really happy.”
Arrieta said he doesn’t know where he’ll ride after the Oaklawn meeting ends May 1, but he’s weighing a couple of options. He was leading rider at Canterbury in 2019 and second-leading rider there last year. The suburban Minneapolis track normally draws a handful of prominent Oaklawn figures.
According to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, Arrieta entered Sunday with 616 victories and $9,886,008 in purse earnings in his career. Arrieta ranked eighth nationally in victories (250) in 2019, also setting a career high in purse earnings ($4,033,210).
Arrieta recorded his first United States victory in 2015.
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