07/03/2009 12:00AM

Sanchez does well working two jobs


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - On the banks of the Guadalquivir River outside Seville, Spain, some 25,000 inhabitants of a village called Lebrija grow beets, cotton, and wheat.

On the suburban prairie around Arlington Park, one of those Lebrijans quietly has risen to seventh in the Arlington jockey standings.

That would be one Diego Sanchez, whose 20 wins through Thursday are only four fewer than he notched during the entire 2008 Arlington meet. Yes, it's a case of a rider coming around with experience, but Sanchez's experience seems much different than the typical American jockey. Now 32, he rode agricultural work horses when he was a kid, going to work at the Pineda racetrack in Seville as an 18-year-old.

"I walked hots, groomed - when you start out, you have to do everything," said Sanchez.

Sanchez became a jockey back home at 19, but the local track didn't race often enough to provide much support, he said. He went to Chantilly, France, for several months, and then, on the advice of a friend who had already made the trip, traveled to California in 2002 to gallop for trainer Doug O'Neill.

"I always liked the style of U.S. jockeys," said Sanchez. "I came here to learn."

Lacking proper documents to stay in this country, Sanchez had to leave California and go back to Spain. He returned in 2005, worked as an exercise rider again, and rode one race in 2006 at Golden Gate. Sanchez landed in Chicago in 2007, and caught on well enough to at least stick. In 2007, he won 64 races, but that total dropped to 46 in 2008. At Arlington, Sanchez had 25 winners during his apprentice year of 2007, but the total fell to 16 last summer.

Sanchez already has 20 victories at the 2009 Arlington meet. Half of those have come for trainer Mike Stidham, and with 10 wins, the Stidham-Sanchez combination is tied for first among jockey-trainer combos at the meet. Sanchez started working horses for Stidham last year, and actually stopped at Fair Grounds to work for him a few days late this past winter while getting back into shape during the Chicago dark period. Sanchez rode Stidham's starters across town at Hawthorne, and has gotten the bulk of his business at Arlington.

Trainer Jim Gulick has regularly used Sanchez in the afternoon, and likes him even more for morning work.

"He's just a very, very good hand on a horse," Gulick said. "He can teach nervous young horses to really learn to relax."

Sanchez actually is working two jobs right now; he also serves as his own agent. Trainers start calling in the afternoon to arrange works the next morning. Sanchez writes everything down in a condition book, taking care to stay meticulously organized. If his business grows too big, he said, he would have to think about hiring an agent. For now, Sanchez gets to keep the 25 percent himself, and do with it what he pleases.

"He buys tacos for the grooms every day," said Stidham. "The boys in the barn love him."

Hooh Why had excuse for failure

Hooh Why was in heat when she finished fourth as the favorite in the Iowa Oaks on June 26 at Prairie Meadows, co-owner Mark Hoffman said Thursday.

"She came into heat about two days before the race," Hoffman said. "It knocked her out big-time."

Hooh Why, winner of the Grade 1 Ashland in April, has returned to the Arlington barn of trainer Donna Dupuy, but there are no immediate plans for the filly.

"We're in a holding pattern right now," Hoffman said. "She's not going anywhere."

Both parts of Catalano entry scary

In Dixie Band, trainer Wayne Catalano already trains arguably the most impressive 2-year-old winner so far this Arlington meet. Catalano said he hopes to bring Dixie Band back in an entry-level allowance race here later this month, and in Sunday's sixth race, Catalano entered two more 2-year-olds that may bear watching. Best Actor and Call Shot both are pricey babies owned by Gary and Mary West, and since Fernando Jara was named to ride both, it's likely one will be scratched.

The guess is that Best Actor, a $230,000 son of Rock Hard Ten, will get the call, but based on works, as well as Catalano's sparkling recent work with 2-year-olds, either can win.

The nominal feature on a nine-race card is race 7, an entry-level Illinois-bred turf allowance that drew a full field of 12. The Chris Block-trained Itsagimme probably will be favored, but keep an eye on two first-timer turfers, especially Souper Miss, and to a lesser extent Hawaiian Conch.

* Arlington will honor retired Hall of Fame jockey Earlie Fires in a ceremony at the track on Sunday. Fires, Arlington's all-time leading rider, retired during the Arlington meeting in 2008.