Jack Pompay said that his father was so devoted to Saratoga Race Course that it killed him.
The spirit of that devotion was alive in vivid glory on Monday, as the granddaughter that John Pompay put on a horse when she was 3 won the Grade I Hopeful with Currency Swap to close the 143rd meet on a joyful note with a profound connection to the city.
Trainer Terri Pompay, 50, a third-generation Saratoga Springs native, earned her first career Grade I, and now will set her sights on the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with the handsome bay son of High Cotton.
“I don’t even know how to describe it, I’m so excited,” Pompay gushed. “I thought I was going to pass out. This is my hometown, and they sent me some really beautiful 2-year-olds and he is just so special, this horse. I’m proud of him, he came through.”
But not by much.
Trinniberg very nearly shocked the Hopeful at odds of 68-1 by leading to the sixteenth pole and not relinquishing much ground to Currency Swap after that, holding on gamely for second by just three-quarters of a length.
Pompay screamed, “Go! Go! … switch [leads]!” as Currency Swap, owned by Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence, rolled down the sloppy, sealed main track in the biggest race for 2-year-olds of the meet, drifting out a little but in command.
Afterward, her beaming parents, Jack and Marie, joined Pompay, along with dozens of family and friends, in the winner’s circle.
“It’s the greatest thing. We’ve been waiting for this,” Marie Pompay said.
“We’re very proud parents,” Jack Pompay said.
Jack described his father as the most avid racing fan who would save his money and schedule his vacation for August each year.
“In fact, he passed away from pneumonia because he came up here the last week of the meet that year, it was raining every day, he caught a cold and wound up in the hospital and never made it out.”
By then, John had launched his granddaughter’s career with horses, literally, by lifting her onto them to walk.
The 50-year-old Terri Pompay, a 1979 Saratoga Catholic graduate, became a show rider, was a jockey for a year, then got into training.
“When I could sneak here and get here, I was here,” she said of her formative years.
The Monmouth Park-based Pompay has won six times at her home track, including a maiden victory by Currency Swap just over four weeks ago that was impressive enough to warrant a shot at the Hopeful.
He was just as impressive on Monday, because the field was loaded, the condition of the track was a concern and he never melted in the stretch.
J C’s Pride, who broke the five-furlong track record on July 27, was the favorite on the toteboard until just before post time, when Currency Swap went off at just under 2-1.
For the first time in three starts, J C’s Pride and jockey Jose Lezcano found themselves chasing the leaders, and J C’s Pride was pulled up near the three-eighths pole. He was vanned off.
Trinniberg, beaten by 26 lengths in the Saratoga Special, threatened to commit a massive upset, but Currency Swap and Rajiv Maragh got down to business coming off the turn and had running room in the middle of the track.
“I tried to put him in a spot that was pretty ideal for me on the outside in the clear where my horse was really happy,” Maragh said. “The other horse put up a really strong challenge. I wasn’t sure I was going to win it until after I had passed the wire.”
“I thought that the other horse would stop, and he kept on going,” Pompay said. “He must really like the slop, because we were pressing to get him.
“It’s always a jump when you break your maiden and then go in a stakes, and they were all a really nice group of horses. I went through the PP’s probably a hundred times in the past few days, and you could make a case for any one of them moving up. So, yes, it’s scary.”
“Shoot. I thought we’d get it, but that’s racing,” said Trinniberg’s trainer, Bisnath Parboo.
Pompay was glowing after the race, not only for having won her first Grade I in the showcase juvenile race of the meet that fostered her love of horses, but for the promise that all of that brought with it.
“It’s been exciting and fun, because I knew I was bringing a good horse, so I was very excited, but you still get those moments of doubting, you know?” she said. “Even if you’ve covered all your bases, you still wonder, did I miss something? Am I thinking too grandiose in my head? But I really, really think this horse is special.”
Also on Monday, Emerald Beech, ridden by Alex Solis, won the Grade III Glens Falls for fillies and mares 3 and up going a mile and three-eighths on what was a soft inner turf.
“Alex seems to get along well with her,” trainer Jonathan Sheppard said. “He had a lot of confidence in her. The one thing she does is stay forever. He said she went around easily. She used to run off, and now she’s learned to relax.”