12/02/2010 1:01PM

Contreras sizzles after change in status at Woodbine


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Luis Contreras checked into Woodbine Racetrack at the beginning of 2009 as the stable jockey for trainer Steve Asmussen, and his immigration status allowed him to ride only for American owners.

But since getting the necessary paperwork completed in September, Contreras and his agent Tony Esposito have had free reign to ride for all, and the results have been spectacular.

After scoring with Classy Zip ($6.90) and Marcellino ($9.70) on Wednesday evening, Contreras had ridden 118 winners here and another six at Fort Erie this season.

The majority of his local winners have come since he got the green light to ride for Canadian owners as Contreras recorded 38 wins in November after racking up 30 victories in October.

“I think it’s the best thing that ever happened in my life,” the 24-year-old Contreras said. “I was waiting for it, to get approval.
“But I never expected to win that much so early. I really appreciate all the people giving me the opportunity.”

Esposito, who had taken over as agent early in the meeting after being recommended for the position by trainer Mike Pino and his assistant, Katerina Vassilieva, said the process of getting Contreras to his current status was difficult and time consuming.

“It included letters, statistics, security checks,” Esposito said. “It took four months to get the file together and another month to get it approved.”

Contreras, who was born in Mexico City, had ridden successfully in Mexico and various countries in the Caribbean before setting out for Northern California in 2007.

Competing at Golden Gate, Bay Meadows, and on the California fair circuit, Contreras rode 181 winners heading into midsummer 2008.

At that time, Contreras decided to up the ante and rode at Del Mar, Fairplex, Santa Anita, and Hollywood through the balance of that season.

“I’d been in Northern California for a year and a half,” Contreras said. “I wanted to go to where the best riders and best trainers were.”

Contreras found the circuit hard to crack, although he did win 10 races at Fairplex.

“I was not very recognized,” Contreras said. “I just kept working hard, going every morning.”

It was Contreras’s decision to move to Sunland Park late that season that sowed the seeds for his Canadian odyssey.

“I was at Hollywood, and my agent told me Asmussen wanted me to ride his horses there,” Contreras said.

“When I started riding for him at Sunland, we were doing good. He asked me about coming to Woodbine to ride his horses. He told me I could ride for him and American owners.

“I wasn’t sure, but Asmussen had helped me at Sunland, so I decided to come.”

Although he left early, Contreras was the leading rider at Sunland with 51 wins, including 17 for Asmussen.

Contreras then rode 67 winners at Woodbine last year, with 49 of those coming from his 267 mounts with Asmussen to top all jockey-trainer combos at the meeting.

“It was good, but I wanted more action,” Contreras said. “I wanted to ride all the time, and I was only riding four or five a day.”

Returning to Sunland following the conclusion of the 2010 meeting, Contreras was back at Woodbine this year with an eye toward branching out.

And his numbers are very different this year, with Contreras and Asmussen having combined for 26 wins from 145 starts, but just 3 of 15 since the first of September.

The shift began when the Asmussen-Contreras alliance weakened suddenly this summer.

“He was mad at me, for a bit,” Contreras said. “I didn’t ride for him for two of three weeks, then I started getting some calls from him again.”

Contreras has won three stakes at the meeting, with the latest being his most lucrative score to date in the $250,000 Coronation Futurity. He will be looking to add to that total this closing weekend.

On Saturday, Contreras will be riding Sagatiba for the first time in the $150,000 Ontario Lassie, a 1 1/16-mile race for Ontario-foaled 2-year-old fillies.

And on Sunday, Contreras has picked up the mount on Eye of the Leopard in the $150,000 Valedictory, a 1 3/4-mile race for 3-year-olds and up that is the longest stakes race of the meeting.

The mount on Eye of the Leopard came open because his regular rider, Eurico Rosa da Silva, will be serving a one-day suspension for a whip infraction.

Following the end of the meet, Contreras will travel to Mexico along with his wife, Alma, and young sons Luis Jr. and Alberto to visit family. The holiday is not expected to last more than a couple of weeks, however.

“Then I’m going to Fair Grounds,” Contreras said. “I’ve never been there and want to try it.

“I’ll be back here the end of March, the weekend before we start. I really love this track and the people here. Everybody’s friendly.”

Sand Cove romps home in Sir Barton

Sand Cove, who had been a beaten choice in the last two runnings of the Sir Barton, made amends with élan in Wednesday night’s running of the 1 1/16-mile stakes for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and up.

With regular rider Richard Dos Ramos in the irons, Sand Cove scored by 6 3/4 lengths as the even-money favorite in the $127,800 Sir Barton and equaled his career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 100.

“This has been a tough race for us,” said Dos Ramos, who has been aboard Sand Cove for 29 of his 32 career starts and 9 of his 11 victories. “This time, everything just went perfect.”

Dos Ramos, 48, is winding up his 31st campaign and has won six stakes at the meeting, with three provided by Sand Cove and the others by Miami Deco, Officeinthevalley, and Lucky Be Me.

“It’s been a very good year,” said Dos Ramos, who had won 37 races and almost $2.2 million heading into Thursday’s program. “Purse-wise, it’s been fabulous.

“I was on a really good roll all summer. It kind of tailed off this fall, when the turf horses started going south.”

After the meeting winds up Sunday, Dos Ramos plans to take a short break before heading to Ocala in late December.

“I’ll probably ride a few in Tampa and keep fit,” Dos Ramos said. “I like doing it that way.”

Sand Cove, a 5-year-old horse owned by Ralph Johnson and trained by Roger Attfield, won his fourth stakes of the season and has finished in the money a total of seven times while banking $392,983.

“He’s an iron horse, isn’t he?,” said Attfield, who watched the race from his winter home near Payson Park in Florida.

“I was just delighted. It just goes to show how we all get better as we get older.”

Sand Cove will soon be joining Attfield in the Sunshine State.

“I’ll turn him out until the new year, then start training him towards next season,” Attfield said.