SARATOGA SPRINGS — It was a sloppy day, but a tidy wrap-up to the competition for top trainer and jockey at the 154th Saratoga Race Course meet, each based on most victories over 40 racing days.
Irad Ortiz, Jr., came into Monday’s card having already clinched the jockey title, named for Angel Cordero, Jr., and Chad Brown’s fifth training title since 2016, named for Allen Jerkens, was well in hand after Sunday’s card, if not officially clinched.
Brown officially clinched his championship when Emaraaty won the Grade II Bernard Baruch in the third race, giving him 41 wins. He finished with 42.
After Emaraaty’s win, Todd Pletcher, who has won the Saratoga training title 14 times, didn’t have enough horses entered the rest of the way to catch Brown, but one of them was Forte in the Grade I Hopeful, and he won it to give Pletcher 38 victories.
The Hopeful also polished off a 55-win meet for Ortiz.
“I’m proud of the horses and the staff,” Brown said. “Obviously, we won a lot of races, but we won some really big ones that made the meet particularly strong for us, the Grade I’s. That’s at the top of the list, and then we were able to debut some good 2-year-olds, which is always exciting.
“Really, top to bottom, from the 2-year-olds to the sort of workmanlike horses in the middle that won some allowance races and a few claiming races, and then up into the stakes races, I think in all divisions we were competitive. It’s not only the wins, but I think we’re in the 30s now for second.”
Brown, a Mechanicville native who spent summers as a kid in the Saratoga backyard with his family, set the record for wins in a 40-day meet in 2018 with 46.
Of the 17 Grade I races run on the flat track at the 2022 meet, he won the Ballerina with Goodnight Olive, the Allen Jerkens with Jack Christopher and the Diana with In Italian.
He won six other graded stakes, all on the turf.
The one he wants at this meet the most remained elusive, though, as Brown sent Preakness winner Early Voting, Grade I Blue Grass winner Zandon and Curlin winner Artorius to the 153rd Travers, and could do no better than third behind Epicenter.
That dropped Brown’s record to 0-for-15 in the biggest race of the meet.
“That page has been turned,” Brown said. “It’s one of those things that didn’t work out. It was definitely our best chance going in with three of the eight horses, so there was some initial disappointment. But the reality sets in the next day that it looks like the best horse won the race.
“He’s [Epicenter] been consistently, probably, the best horse of the season, at least going long distance for 3-year-olds, and I think he’s a very deserving winner. So those kind of things are easy to accept. If I got beat in a photo or something, it would be lingering disappointment. But I think that horse proved he was the best, not only on that day, but it looks like in this crop — in a strong crop — he’s emerging as the most consistent talented route horse of the crop.”
Brown still has an unresolved legal issue that will bring him back to Saratoga City Court on Sept. 16.
He was arrested by Saratoga Springs police on Aug. 17 after an alleged domestic violence incident at his home that led to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of breathing, to which he pleaded not guilty.
Judge Francine Vero initially ordered Brown to re-appear in court last Friday, but that was postponed to Sept. 16.
Ortiz won his fourth riding title since 2015, and did so in more comfortable fashion than in the past despite how deep and talented the Saratoga jockey colony is, bolstered even further by the presence of Flavien Prat, who has dominated California in recent years but moved his tack to New York to give himself a better shot at an Eclipse Award.
Ortiz led Joel Rosario by 12 victories heading into Sunday’s card, and increased it to 14 by Monday, in part because Rosario was at Kentucky Downs on Sunday and stayed there when the Sunday card was washed out.
“I can enjoy my last day without too much pressure,” Ortiz said with a grin Monday morning. “It’s not easy to do it over here. It’s a short meet, and a lot of good riders. I have to enjoy the moment, because that doesn’t happen every year.
“It’s one of the best meets in the world. Every single day, the fans show up, and they show so much love to the jockeys. Going to the paddock, coming back after the race, kids and older people calling your name, asking for goggles, it makes it so special. The meet is different than anywhere else, so it means a lot. It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication.”
Prat won the last race of the meet to tie Luis Saez, the 2021 champion, with 40 winners for second place.
Ortiz won nine graded stakes at the meet, including spectacular performances by Nest in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks and Grade I Alabama, and another big Grade I win with Life Is Good in the Whitney.
But Ortiz said he appreciated even the smaller victories, such as a starter allowance for Jose Camejo and the Albany with Bossmakinbossmoves for trainer Rick Schosberg and the joyful owners.
“Even a claiming race here means a lot to me,” Ortiz said. “You win for a good friend of mine who, as a trainer, when I get here, they help me since Day 1 and I was able to win some races for them here. I really enjoy when I win for that kind of people.
“It was great winning for Rick over here. Sometimes I don’t ride too much for him, but he’s one of the guys that helped me since Day 1. It meant a lot for him and their whole team. It was great. It was one of the most exciting moments, when I came back and could see everybody was really happy. You could see them dancing in the winner’s circle.”
Besides Nest’s prospects through the end of the year, Ortiz can look forward to a potential matchup between Life Is Good and undefeated Flightline, who put together a monster performance in winning the Pacific Classic on Saturday by 19 1-4 lengths while just missing a track record at Del Mar.
Prat rides Flightline.
“I think my horse is a monster, too. They’re two monsters,” Ortiz said. “You don’t find those kind of horses every day. So I’m happy to be on top of one of them. The other horse was very impressive last Saturday in the Pacific Classic. They have a similar style.
“Hopefully they make it sound and 100%, then they can give the public a great race, because that’s what everybody wants to see right now.”
The Spa meet generated a record $878,211,963 in betting handle for 40 racing days, up 7.7% from the previous mark set last year ($815,508,063).
The average daily all-sources handle was $21,9955,299.
The all-sources handle included $152,274,728 on-track, which includes New York residents betting through NYRA Bets whether they’re physically at the track or not. That’s up 10.5% from last year.
Total paid admission was 1,075,586, the seventh year it has exceeded one million, not counting 2020, when fans weren’t allowed on-track because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Three horses died as the result of injuries suffered during racing at the meet, and five died from incidents that occurred during training hours since opening day on July 14, according to the New York State Gaming Commission’s Equine Breakdown, Death, Injury and Incident Database.
The first death from racing didn’t occur until Aug. 10, when the 4-year-old colt Awesome Gerry, trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr., suffered a leg injury on the main track and was euthanized.
On Aug. 11, Salt Cay, a 3-year-old gelding trained by Brown, was pulled up at the three-sixteenths pole of the main track and vanned off before being euthanized later.
Rush to Honor, a 4-year-old gelding trained by Chris Englehart, crossed the wire in the 10th race on Aug. 18, but was vanned off and euthanized.
Before the meet opened, there were two other horse deaths that occurred on the Oklahoma Training Track, which opens for workouts in April.