Saratoga Springs

Prat finds his spot in fiercely competitive Saratoga jockey colony

Jockey Flavien Prat dismounts Bear Alley after the first race on opening day at Saratoga Race Course on Thursday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Jockey Flavien Prat dismounts Bear Alley after the first race on opening day at Saratoga Race Course on Thursday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Trainer Chad Brown said one of the qualities he likes about jockey Flavien Prat is his determination to “secure position early in his races.”

This wasn’t a race, it was an interview on Friday, but Prat secured early position on his answer, laughing in anticipation well before a certain question was complete.

Then again, it didn’t take superpowers of perception to see where “You’re the only jockey who’s been on both Life Is Good and Flightline …” was headed.

“They’re both extremely good,” the 29-year-old from Melun, France, near Paris, said with a smile. “They’re different. Obviously, it’s been a pleasure to ride both of them. I’m really thankful for that. But it’s hard to compare them.”

It’s not hard to compare the jockey colonies in New York and California these days, and the one in New York got even deeper and more competitive at the Saratoga Race Course meet this summer when Prat decided to move his family cross-country and try to gain a foothold among an all-star cast of riders.

That includes five who have won at least one Eclipse Award as the most outstanding jockey in North America, the Ortiz brothers, Jose and Irad, Jr. and Joel Rosario, and Hall of Famers John Velazquez and Javier Castellano.

New York-based riders have won the last 12 Eclipse Awards (Ramon Dominguez is retired), and the Saratoga colony also includes riders like Luis Saez, who has ranked No. 3 in wins and earnings in North America two years in a row, and Manny Franco, who won the Belmont Stakes and Travers on Tiz the Law in 2020.

So why would Prat, an Eclipse finalist last year while dominating California once again, choose to step out of his comfort zone and into this battle zone? As it turns out, the depth of talent in New York was not an impediment and actually held appeal for Prat, who is trying to carry over some success from the Belmont Park spring/summer meet into the intense 40-day Saratoga meet.

“When I decided to move, it was because the colony was good, and because you want to ride against the best riders and see where you stand,” he said. “So you can’t think that way. I wanted to prove my riding skill, as well.”

At Belmont, Prat was second in earnings and second in winning percentage (21%) to Irad Ortiz, and fourth in wins (33) behind Ortiz, Dylan Davis and Franco.

Through four days at Saratoga, he has gotten off to a slow start, with just two winners from 19 starts, on Whatlovelookslike for trainer Todd Pletcher in a maiden race on Saturday and on Zoomer for Linda Rice on Sunday.

Prat has much to look forward to, though, including pretty regular business from Brown.

Prat, who was fourth on Rougir for Brown in the Grade I Diana on Saturday, is the regular jockey on Zandon, the Kentucky Derby third-place finisher who is a top contender for the Jim Dandy on July 30 and the Travers on Aug. 27.

He rode the Brown-trained Domestic Spending to victory in the Grade I Manhattan at Belmont last year.

If you’re in the rotation to get mounts from the four-time Eclipse Award winner’s talent-loaded barn, you’re primed to have a successful Saratoga meet. 

In 19 races, Prat has already ridden for 14 different trainers at the meet, three times for Brown.

“I mean, he’s the one who’s deciding who’s riding what,” Prat said,. “It just felt like I could have some support from his barn, but I have to do my own thing, as well, and try to find horses on an everyday basis.”

“Just another outstanding, super-talented jockey in the colony that’s become one of the partners in our barn with a lot of other top riders that are here,” Brown said. “So, only positive things having him here as a resource to connect with some of our horses.”

Prat has been riding in the U.S. since 2015, after having won the Best Apprentice Championship in France, then becoming the second-call rider for billionaire brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, who own and operate Chanel.

“I lost my [apprentice] bug, so I had a few years that were pretty rough, to go across the country every day, riding handicap, so I had to work my way through,” Prat said. “I did one or two years that were decent. I won a few graded stakes, won my first Grade I. I was second call for the Wertheimers, but I just felt like I wasn’t really happy. I felt like I could do better, and at the time I used to come in the winter in California.”

On the west coast, Prat struck up a solid working relationship with Hall of Famer Richard Mandella and Leonard Powell.

He has ridden races for Bob Baffert, including the $1 million UAE Derby in March, finishing last of 16 with Pinehurst, the second choice in the betting, when Prat eased him to the wire.

Prat has won two legs of the Triple Crown, both with some controversy attached.

He made a late charge on Country House to finish second in the 2019 Kentucky Derby, then was awarded the victory when Maximum Security was disqualified, and Prat and Rombauer were responsible for ending the Triple Crown bid by the Baffert-trained Medina Spirit last year in the Preakness.

Medina Spirit eventually was disqualified from his Kentucky Derby win for a drug positive.

“It’s not the way to win,” Prat said of Country House’s Derby. “I felt like the horse didn’t get enough credit for his race. I thought he ran a great race. Unfortunately, he never had the chance to run back and show that he was a good horse. It was a hard way to win. You’d rather cross the line first, but it is what it is and it’s still a Kentucky Derby winner.

“The Preakness was nice, and hopefully we work for it and one day we can win the Belmont, too. That would be nice. I’ve been riding for the right people, and I’m really grateful that they’re giving me a chance, so hopefully one day it’ll happen.”

Prat had been routinely winning meet titles in California by large margins before considering the move to New York.

He said the timing was right for he and his wife, Manon, to attempt to secure position here so they wouldn’t have to uproot their kids, 3-year-old Elena and Lenny, seven months, at an age when they had established friends and school.

“I’ve got two kids, they’re young, so they can travel now,” he said. “So family-wise, it was good timing. It just felt like the timing was good now. It just felt right to try now.”

Part of the move means coming to Saratoga, where business is even harder to come by than at Belmont, even for a top rider.

Prat rode here four times last year, winning the Grade II National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame for Brown.

Now he has a top Travers contender lined up in Zandon, who dueled with Epicenter down the stretch in the Kentucky Derby before 80-1 Rich Strike snuck up on the rail late for the win.

“He ran a great race, and I thought we had a good trip,” Prat said. “I was behind Epicenter, who was the horse to beat. So it was pretty much tracking him the whole way, we turned for home, it looks like I’m going to go by him, I can’t go by him and all of a sudden there’s Rich Strike that came by us like we were tied to a pole.”

“He does his homework,” Brown said. “He comes very prepared to the paddock. He generally attempts to secure position early in his races, which I like. I think he’s a good decision-maker. He gives you good feedback after the race on horses, which is useful. And all-around great attitude. Like I said, an all-around super-talented guy that I don’t see any faults with, any weaknesses that you could identify using him as a jockey.”

As for the Flightline-Life Is Good debate over who is the better horse, Prat chooses to sit this one out, even though he has sat on both.

For one thing, he isn’t the regular jockey on Life Is Good. That’s Irad Ortiz, and it’s a measure of respect the east coast trainers have for Prat that he was selected by Pletcher to ride Life Is Good in the Grade II John A. Nerud at Belmont on July 2, when Ortiz was serving a suspension for careless riding in a race at Royal Ascot.

Prat has ridden the undefeated Flightline in all four of his career starts, including the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day, and expects to leave Saratoga and travel cross-country when Flightline makes his next start, in the Pacific Classic at Santa Anita on Sept. 3.

But otherwise, Prat is here, trying to make his presence felt among the most fiercely competitive group of jockeys in the country.

“Obviously, Saratoga is one of the greatest meets in the States,” he said. “I came a few times last year, I did well and I felt like I got good support from different trainers. And I was at a time in my career when I felt if I wanted to try the east coast, it was now or never.”

Categories: At The Track, Saratoga Springs, Sports

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