01/18/2013 3:01PM

Turfway Park: Sellers teams up with Arroyo's former agent

Patrick Lang/Lang Photography
Shane Sellers wins the Prairie Bayou Stakes aboard Night Party in December.

Jockey Shane Sellers has begun easing back into action at Turfway Park after recently hiring Scotty Ward, the agent who assisted Norberto Arroyo Jr. in becoming the leading rider at the northern Kentucky track.

Sellers, who has spent most of his time working on his Versailles, Ky., farm since being injured in a June 29 spill at Churchill Downs, is riding first call in selected spots for Mike Maker and several other well-established trainers. Sellers, 46, said recently he wants to emulate the manner in which Craig Perret operated in the latter stages of his outstanding career by “picking and choosing” his mounts, essentially taking a pass on the many cheaper races that are carded during the winter months at Turfway.

The development coincides with the break that Ward had with Arroyo, who has become the dominant player at Turfway since being awarded a conditional license to ride following his return from a layoff or more than three years. Arroyo was the leading rider at the 21-day holiday meet that ended Dec. 31 and is easily the leading jockey at the winter-spring meet that began Jan. 1. He is now working with his brother, retired jockey Nelson Arroyo, as his agent.

Maker said he was not happy with the way things had gone recently with Arroyo and that he is giving Sellers and Ward some of the better mounts among his string at Turfway, where he has been the perennial leading trainer even while having his best horses in Florida and Louisiana for the winter.

“Norberto has been in very high demand, so he wasn’t wanting to take calls or honor them too far in advance,” said Maker, adding he intends to keep riding Arroyo in certain spots and that “in his defense, there was some confusion” during the transition of agents.

Arroyo’s troubles have been well documented. The 36-year-old native of Puerto Rico was arrested on drug charges in August 2009 at Saratoga and later served part of a 2 1/2-year prison sentence. He returned to race-riding in late November at Turfway and rode his 1,000th career winner on Dec. 8. His wife and four children currently live in Louisville while he splits his time between there and northern Kentucky, where he lives with his brother when Turfway is conducting racing. He does not have a driver’s license.

Arroyo has said he hopes to prove himself for an indefinite period on the Kentucky circuit before perhaps attempting to secure a jockey’s license in other jurisdictions. He is subject to random drug tests and other conditions under his Kentucky license. Barbara Borden, acting chief steward on the Kentucky circuit, recently said officials have had “no problem” with Arroyo.

On the racetrack, Arroyo has been a true standout in nearly two months of competition at Turfway while being cited on several occasions for aggressive riding, having been aboard two horses that were disqualified during the holiday meet and two more at the winter-spring meet. In fact, he was to begin serving a suspension of three racing days starting Saturday, Jan. 19, for careless riding on a horse named Strong Government in the sixth race on Jan. 11. The penalty runs through next Friday.

Meanwhile, Ward said he is proceeding cautiously with Sellers while accepting calls for Maker, Tom Drury, and Joe Woodard while also looking to make inroads with such trainers as Charlie Lopresti and Kellyn Gorder.

Sellers, a former multiple riding champion at such major tracks as Churchill, Keeneland, and Arlington Park, entered this weekend with 4,390 wins in a career that dates to 1983. He won the Prairie Bayou Stakes aboard Night Party on Dec. 15 at Turfway and rode two winners last weekend from just four mounts.

Jimenez winners showing a profit

Albin Jimenez is quietly making his presence felt among the Turfway riding colony, having finished second to Arroyo at the holiday meet by winning 18 races and compiling a terrific win ROI of $4.21 (for every $2 wagered). The 21-year-old native of Panama entered the weekend battling Ben Creed for second place in the standings behind Arroyo while sporting a positive ROI of $2.28.

Jimenez, who can tack 112 pounds, began riding in the United States in 2010 and briefly took a try in New York before returning to ride mostly at River Downs and Mountaineer Park. He won 121 races last year and has “become a polished little rider,” said his agent, Bert Crawford.

Goodbye WEBN, welcome 96Rock

Turfway has secured a new title sponsor for its traditional $50,000, one-mile stakes race in February for 3-year-olds. Known since 2002 as the WEBN Stakes, the race is now being sponsored by another local radio station and is known as the 96Rock Stakes. It will be run Feb. 2 as the second of four stakes for 3-year-olds at the winter-spring meet.

Meanwhile, the fourth of those races – the annual Turfway showcase now known once again as the Spiral Stakes – is still lacking a title sponsor. The Grade 3, $500,000 race is set for March 23. Vinery was the sponsor the last two years, and Lane’s End for the nine preceding years.

◗ Turfway will continue to run three days a week (Friday-Sunday) through Jan. 27, after which the schedule will be pared down considerably the following month, with just four February dates (Feb. 1, 2, 8, 9). Two-day weekends (Friday-Saturday) resume in March, with the Thursday before the Spiral (March 21) also on the schedule. The meet ends March 30.