“Last spring while I was at Keeneland, I saw this adorable bull-dog puppy looking out a car window,” Ffitch-Heyes said. “I once had a bull-dog who I absolutely adored so I went over to find out who the owner was. It was Lindsey, and she introduced me to Jeffrey. I didn’t know who he was, or even that he was a jockey, so I kind of ignored him and went on playing with the dog.
However, at that point their mutual how-we-ended-up-at-Arlington story changes briefly. Sanchez says girlfriend Molina told him to come to Arlington. She says she told him no such thing, only that she suggested he talk to agent Ffitch-Heyes about taking his book. Then the three of them agree to blame the whole thing on the dog. Sanchez and Molina had returned to Chicago at 1 o’clock in the morning following a one-day trip to Kentucky Downs the previous day. There he had ridden Team Block’s Stars and Stripes winner Ioya Bigtime to a half-length victory over Robert Courtney Jr.’s Arlington Handicap hero Rahystrada in the Grade III Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes but had been back to work horses at the beginning of training hours.
“I was tired this morning, but I have to keep going to work,” Sanchez said while sporting an ear-to-ear grin. “My girlfriend makes me.
“When I found out that Penny had handled J. Z. Santana’s book at Arlington last year and that he had finished second in the standings, that was good enough for me,” the 26-year-old native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, said. “Coming up here to Arlington has turned out to be a very good move. I’m happy I came. I’m doing well here. I have consistently ridden some very good horses all summer long.
“I very much appreciate trainers like (Arlington’s leading conditioner) Wayne Catalano, (Ioya Bigtime’s trainer) Chris Block and (Arlington’s 2-year-old guru) Jimmy DiVito,” Sanchez said. “They have all given me good horses to ride.”
With a father and an uncle who were both former jockeys, Sanchez entered Puerto Rico’s jockey school at 17, and following completion of that program he rode at Puerto Rico’s El Comandante for three months before transferring his tack to South Florida’s Calder Race Course.
He won his first race in the continental United States at Calder that summer, and by the time the 2006 Calder season came to a close, Sanchez had won two graded stakes there before finishing that session as the North Miami oval’s second leading rider.
In 2009, he piloted Robert LaPenta and Fred Brei’s Jackson Bend to a sweep of Calder’s Florida Stallion Series, and repeated a Stallion Stakes sweep in 2010 with Stronach Stables’ Awesome Feather.
Awesome Feather’s Stallion Stakes sweep allowed her connections to entertain thoughts of that season’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and the Florida-bred daughter of Awesome of Course rewarded their confidence. After prompting the early pace, Awesome Feather challenged for command at the furlong grounds under right-handed urging and then drew off for a 2 1/4-length tally after Sanchez switched his stick to the left hand in the final sixteenth.
“The Breeders’ Cup win made me want to try the New York circuit,” Sanchez said, “and I was fortunate to do very well there because I had a very good agent. But with that circuit getting more competitive during the summer months, I decided I needed to try somewhere else.
“I’m very glad I was able to do as well as I did during my first summer riding at Arlington,” concluded Sanchez, who has been among Arlington’s top five riders all season. “After the Arlington season ends (September 30) I will go to Keeneland, on to Gulfstream for the winter, back to Keeneland next spring and then back to Arlington next summer. Maybe next summer I will have even more luck here. Maybe next year I’ll be leading rider here. You never know.”
SECRETARIAT STAKES HERO BAYRIR RUNNER UP AT LONGCHAMP SUNDAY
His Highness the Aga Khan’s French-bred Bayrir, hero of Arlington’s Grade I Secretariat Stakes Aug. 18, ran finished second in France’s Group II Qatar Prix Niel at Longchamp Sunday.