05/13/2010 11:00PM

Rider gets himself back in the game


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Eleven years as a jockey in Maryland, and Jozbin Santana was not feeling the love.

Santana, now 31, had started out on the Mid-Atlantic circuit as an apprentice in 1998, and was a perennial top-10 rider in Maryland throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, topping out with a 128-win 2003. Santana won 91 races in 2005, but his annual total fell to 71 in 2006, and was down to 42 in 2008. By the end of the year, longtime supportive trainer Richard Small was about the only horseman who still seemed to have faith in Santana, and Santana decided to pull the plug.

"I just decided to take a break," Santana said.

So, early in 2009, Santana wound up in Miami, where he said he found work on the low end of the totem pole in a restaurant. By fall, the racetrack had regained some appeal, and Santana started galloping horses mornings at Calder. Before the year was out, Santana was back in the saddle in the afternoon, riding one winner in 19 Calder mounts. At Gulfstream Park, Santana was the designated "house rider," picking up late open mounts. At Gulfstream, he won one race in 41 tries. But the win came for owner Frank Calabrese, and Santana came to Chicago - a place he'd never ridden before - hoping to land a mount here or there for the large, successful Calabrese operation,

So far, that hasn't happened, but Santana has gotten off to a surprisingly decent start nonetheless. Through Thursday's program here, he had compiled an Arlington record of 3-3-4 from 19 starters. That's not going to set any records - but it beats busing tables.

Coach Jimi Lee readies for return

On July 18, 2002, Coach Jimi Lee made his career debut, finishing second in a maiden sprint at Arlington Park. On May 12, 2010, Coach Jimi Lee worked a half-mile in a bullet 46.20 seconds at Arlington, the quick work a signal that the 10-year-old Coach is approaching his first start since last October.

It has been a long trip for Coach Jimi Lee, a 17-time winner who has recorded multiple sprint-stakes victories, and who holds the Illinois state-record time for six furlongs. His owners, trainer Jim DiVito and Lee Battaglia, have set a goal of $1 million in career earnings for Coach Jimi Lee, a mark Coach Jimi Lee was edging toward way back at the end of 2007. Coach Jimi Lee had passed $920,000 in earnings then, but a two-start 2008, when he banked only $2,205, delayed the milestone, and Coach Jimi Lee still needs $27,767 in purse money to become a millionaire.

Coach Jimi Lee's 2010 debut probably won't come at Arlington, though. DiVito tried that last spring, and Coach Jimi Lee ran below form on Polytrack. The Coach is a dirt horse, and specifically likes the dirt at Prairie Meadows, where he has won the Iowa Sprint Handicap three times.

Feature brightens sparse card

Arlington races days, but the racing office finally finished their business at night on Thursday. The Sunday card, drawn Thursday, was slow to fill - glacially slow - and when finally set early in the evening, had only 73 horses entered for 10 races. The very first horse in the first race exemplifies the slog that the Arlington racing office underwent Thursday: Special Victory is a "non-winners-of-two"-eligible claimer who was entered in a nonwinners-of-three race by trainer Wayne Catalano, a horsemen who rarely spots horses above their conditions. Catalano has two horses in a race that drew only six entries.

There is, however, a decent feature waiting at day's end: Race 10 is a second-level turf-route allowance that's also open to $40,000 claimers, and 10 horses plus one also-eligible were entered here.

The Sunday feature includes Tajaweed, who finished eighth at 10-1 in the 2008 Epsom Derby, but who has started only three times since, and has not been out since June 2009. He makes his North American debut Sunday for trainer Dan Peitz.

She Be Wild on the mend

She Be Wild, champion 2-year-old filly of 2009, is recovering nicely in Kentucky from surgery to repair a fractured left-front pastern, an injury sustained in April at Keeneland, trainer Wayne Catalano said. But Catalano said there is no timetable for She Be Wild to return to training.

"All I know is that everything went really well with her," Catalano said. "The first couple weeks after a thing like that is really important, and she got through that part of it."