EDMONTON, Alberta – The odds may be stacked against him but exciting Barbadian jockey Antonio Whitehall is refusing to back down in his quest to become Canada’s top rider for the 2020 campaign.
The 26-year-old has already won 111 races this year between Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg and Century Mile in Alberta, and is 16 clear of Canada’s next best rider Justin Stein who is based at prestigious Woodbine in Toronto.
Rafael Hernandez lies third on 94 to be second behind Stein at Woodbine, also putting him in contention for the title of leading rider this year.
However, while Assiniboia Downs wrapped up last month and the four-and-a-half month Century Mile season concludes November 8, the Woodbine season will run until December 13, giving both Stein and Hernandez extended opportunity to overtake Whitehall.
That fact has not been lost on Whitehall but has not dented his enthusiasm, especially after passing 100 wins.
“I’m going for it,” said Whitehall, who arrived in Canada from Barbados four years ago and has quickly made his mark.
“First in Canada would definitely be nice. I know that [Stein and Hernandez] have more opportunities than I have but I want to keep my lead.
“To be honest – I don’t want to lie – but I thought it was possible with the right opportunities.
“Midway through this season I started thinking about getting 100 wins. I’ve still got lots of races left. It’s far from over,” he told Horse Racing Alberta.
Whitehall’s agent, Bob Fowlis, who has played a key role in his success this season, knows it will be touch and go.
“The law of averages probably says that Antonio won’t finish on top but you never know,” Fowlis pointed out. “One thing that is for sure is that he’s had an exceptional year.”
It has been a hectic season for Whitehall, who ensured he arrived in Canada early to beat the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He quickly established a lead at Assiniboia Downs when the season opened behind closed doors in May, and ran away with the the jockeys title to finish on 74 wins – 26 clear of the second placed finisher Trinidadian Stanley Chadee Jr.
With Assiniboia Downs racing Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Century Downs at the weekend, Whitehall was able to split his time between both tracks flying back and forth, and has now racked up 37 wins to be third at Century behind leader and fellow Barbadian Rico Walcott on 58.
“The travelling wasn’t so tough because it was all in Canada so it was fast. I also got a lot of Air Miles built up which will come in handy if I ever get to use them,” said Whitehall.
“It was a lot of flying back and forth but it was certainly worth it.”
Whitehall has been fairly special in added money races this season too, notching 10 stakes wins including the capture of the CAN$75 000 Northlands Distaff last month on Derby day here with favourite Sunburst.
Also last month here, he won the $60 000 Freedom of the City Stakes with She Likes to Party, whom he also guided to the capture of the $40 00 Princess Margaret Stakes, en route to $900 000 in purse earnings this year.
And with time still left in the campaign at Century, Whitehall has his sights squarely set on adding to his stakes wins.
“And I’m not finished yet. There are still six stakes races left at Century Mile,” said Whitehall.(CMC)