SARATOGA SPRINGS — The big black star on the gold West Point Thoroughbreds silks settled in midpack down the Saratoga Race Course backstretch for the fifth race Saturday afternoon.
The leaders went very quickly on the front end — a good thing for the West Point horse — then that star was still inside when a wall of horses swung into the straightaway. A hole opened up, and Originator and jockey Chris Landeros went through it.
The rider hit his horse once with the left-handed stick, there was some banging, but Originator carried the black star and Landeros to the wire first, by a neck. As his agent, Richard Migliore, had said that morning, “I think the stars are lined up that this is going to be our first winner.”
OK, here goes, with the stars lined up: Originator’s sire is Artie Schiller, whom Migliore rode to fame and glory in 2004 and 2005. Originator’s trainer, Ian Wilkes, is Landeros’ father-in-law. Bonus points for the fact that Migliore’s son, Joe, is a partner associate for West Point. And Originator’s win came one day after Landeros’ 31st birthday.
While you’re trying to keep up with all that, Landeros will be trying to keep up with the intensely competitive jockey colony at Saratoga. Based in Kentucky, he shipped in to the Spa for one mount on each of four stakes weekends last year, including a victory on Big Dollar Bill in the Birdstone.
Richard Migliore, a retired long-time New York-based jockey and one of the most recognizable faces at Saratoga, convinced him to bring his tack here full-time this season, and if Saturday’s card is any indication, Landeros should fit right in.
Yes, he rode four other horses who went off at average odds of 41-1, showing how difficult it is for an outsider to get live mounts at Saratoga, but Landeros did everything right on Originator, the type of performance he and his agent, who rode against Landeros toward the end of Migliore’s career, hope will lead to more business.
“It’s Saratoga. It’s the best of the best,” Landeros said. “It’s something that you prepare yourself for before you get here, mentally. You’ve got to know what’s ahead of you. But you have your goals for yourself, and I’m looking forward to it. More than anything, I’m just happy to be here and hopefully make an impact.”
“He can ride with anybody,” Migliore said. “As a former rider, you recognize those qualities in somebody. And that’s why I thought it would be a good fit for him to come here. I felt a lot of people out and got nothing but positive responses on him, as a person and as a rider. We know it’s tough, but I wouldn’t have done this unless I had 100 percent confidence in him. He can ride with anybody.”
Landeros has the built-in advantage of his association with Wilkes (Chris and wife Shelby have a young son, Beckham), although both rider and trainer have said emphatically that they will keep business separate from family.
Wilkes trains Gentle Ruler, whom Landeros rode to victory in the Grade III Robert G. Dick at Delaware Park on July 6, and Champagne Anyone, exclusively ridden by Landeros in eight career starts, including a win in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks and a fourth in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks.
She’s pointing toward the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga, and if this was 2018, Landeros would’ve shipped in from Kentucky for those rides. This summer, the 40th-ranked jockey in North America in purses won will be competing on a daily basis against a colony that includes almost half of the riders ahead of him on that list.
That challenge was made even tougher when Tyler Gaffalione, the regular rider for Preakness winner War of Will, also decided to work the entire Saratoga meet, instead of shipping in on a spot basis.
“Last summer, I got plenty of calls to come,” Landeros said. “Mig called me up and approached the idea to me, and that was kind of the icing on the cake and everything, all his connections and his respect from everybody. It made sense. I couldn’t have asked for anything better than this.”
“Gary Contessa gave us calls right away,” Migliore said. “We got calls from Bruce Brown, John Kimmel, Graham Motion. Mark Hennig put us on a real live horse the second day [which scratched]. I’m probably going to run the risk of leaving somebody out, but even guys that haven’t given us calls yet are like, ‘When it shakes free …’ because they’re using [certain] guys. They’re not going to just take guys off for us.
“But we’re going to hit them where they’re not. If a guy runs into trouble, we’re here, and we’re going to work hard and enjoy ourselves. But I’m happy when I win.”
Migliore also said they’ll shoot for rides on the huge pool of 2-year-olds at this meet, many of whom are unspoken-for and for which he already has an opinion of quality, based on his work as the New York field representative for the Fasig-Tipton auction company.
He’s also an East Coast analyst for XBTV and is part of the “Saratoga Live” broadcast team, scouting out how horses look on the track before each race during the live show. This is his first taste of life as a jockey agent.
“It might not happen immediately, but I also think having Chris here now, him getting around and seeing people and them getting to see him ride on a consistent basis, it’ll loosen up even more,” Migliore said. “So, yeah, it’s definitely different, but like you said, I like being around anyway, I like talking with everybody, so that’s not going to change that much for me.
“He’s gotten stronger and stronger. He can finish with anybody. He’s got great hands. Watch the stake at Delaware [Robert G. Dick] on Saturday [July 6], the eighth race. Saved every inch of ground, got through on the fence on the turf and wins a $200,000 race. And he does that consistently. Some riders ride good, and then, what happened? He is extremely consistent.”
Like Landeros did in winning on Gentle Ruler at Delaware, Migliore said all of the same ingredients he likes were on display when he won aboard Originator this Saturday.
That bodes well for the rest of the meet, when Landeros will have to be on top of his game to hang in there with the likes of the Ortiz brothers, John Velazquez, Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario, and on and on …
“I mean, he really can finish on a horse. And I like that,” the Mig said. “It’s always been something I like in a rider.”
In the winner’s circle after Originator’s win, Landeros was asked if his agent would be enjoying this one. He grinned and said, “He better be.
“He put a little pressure on me, Artie Schiller and all.”