It was probably Ramon Dominguez’s most bittersweet trip to the winner’s circle at Saratoga Race Course.
Ushered into retirement by a fractured skull suffered in a January spill at Aqueduct, the record-holder for single-meet wins at Saratoga (68 last year) was honored in a ceremony after the fourth race Sunday. The race was named The Ramon Dominguez, and afterward Dominguez was joined in the winner’s circle by more than a dozen jockeys, along with a few retired riders. Richard Migliore served as emcee, and both Angel Cordero Jr. and Jerry Bailey were on hand as Dominguez was presented with the Mike Venezia Award.
The award is given to jockeys who “exemplify extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship,” according to a New York Racing Association release.
“I’m so honored and humbled to receive this award,” Dominguez said. “For what this award represents, I’m very proud to be the recipient, for sure. Thank you, very much.”
It is the first time the award has been given since Edgar Prado won it in 2006. Migliore won it in 2003, Bailey in 1993 and Cordero in 1992. No recipient was named in 2005, but otherwise the award was in circulation from 1989 through 2006.
Venezia was a jockey who was killed in a spill at Belmont Park in 1988. He won the award posthumously in its first year.
During the ceremony, Dominguez also received his 2012 Eclipse Award as the best jockey. It was his third consecutive Eclipse Award.
NYRA also will donate $15,000 to the Permanently Disabled Jockey’s Fund in Dominguez’s name.
Dominguez twice won the rider’s title at Saratoga.
Two horses failed to finish the ninth race, with Sarava’s Dancer breaking down entering the far turn of the 1 1⁄8-mile turf race, and Kris Royal having his legs slip out from under him approaching the exit of the turn.
Jockey Rosie Napravnik was on the lead with Sarava’s Dancer when her horse seemed to take a bad step, then stumbled again a couple of strides later. She pulled him up, and the field moved around Sarava’s Dancer into the turn with eventual winner Gentleman’s Kitten inheriting the lead.
Nearing the end of the turn, Kris Royal was trying for a wide run into the stretch when he leaned to the left and his legs went to the right. He went down, sending jockey Jose Lezcano to the ground. Kris Royal regained his feet and began running back the wrong way around the turn.
Both horses suffered injuries to their left front legs, and both were euthanized. Napravnik texted her agent, Steve Bass, to let him know she was OK, then rode Grenoble in the final race of the day.
Lezcano eventually stood up and walked off under his own power, though he was favoring his left wrist and hand.
The overnight stakes in the sixth race, the $100,000 In Memory of Dennis Dammerman, was interesting for reasons that had nothing to do with winner Imagining, who pulled away to easily take the
1 3/16-mile race on the Mellon Turf.
First, there was Saratoga Springs native Robbie Davis bringing back his trainee Sandyinthesun eight days after he gave him his first win at his hometown track.
He wasn’t going to run him back so soon, but the 8-year-old gelding came out of the race with some attitude, as if he was ready to go again.
“I had my son [Dylan] gallop her. It was his birthday. I never let him ride him, but it was his birthday, and I said, ‘This is my birthday present for you.’ Well, he ran off with him,” Robbie Davis said. “He didn’t want to stop. It was his first gallop back. The next day, he tried to tear my head off in the stall, then I galloped him.
“I said, ‘Well, he’s in good shape, he came out of the race good. He likes to run close together. I said, well, we’ll get some hay oats out of it, anyway.’ We’ve got this Saratoga fever after winning this last one, but we’re really shooting high here, with the Phippses [owners of the victorious Imagining] and McPeeks [Ken McPeek saddled second-place Atigun].”
Being a stakes race, it pays all the way through to the last horse, so the $1,000 Sandyinthesun earned in seventh place for co-owners Davis and Thomas Pontarella will buy some hay oats.
The race also featured Atigun, who has not been a turf horse since his first time out.
Atigun began his career on Aug. 13, 2011 with a ninth-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight turf race at Saratoga, then switched to artificial surfaces at Turfway Park and Keeneland before trying dirt at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6, 2011 and winning for the first time.
From there, he went on to run on dirt through a third-place at the Belmont last year, sixth in the Jim Dandy and fourth in the Travers.
His last dirt race was April 13 at Oaklawn Park, a seventh in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap. Then he switched back to turf, winning an allowance optional claiming race covering 11 1/16 miles on the turf at Churchill Downs. He came back to finish second May 25 at Churchill in the Grade III Louisville Handicap, a 1 1⁄2-mile turf race, by a half-length to Dark Cove. Most recently, he was seventh in the Grade II Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs on June 22.
His only wins, beside the maiden special weight score, have come in allowance optional claiming races.
He finished 5 1⁄4 lengths behind Imagining on Sunday, but trainer Ken McPeek wasn’t discouraged.
“He’s out of a Dynaformer mare, and we thought, just for longevity, it was a good thing to try,” McPeek said of the decision to go back to grass. “He’ll run on about anything. He’s run well on about any surface we put him on.
“That’s a good horse that just beat him today, and he’s had some other ones that have just finished in front of him. We’re still trying to find his niche, but he’s always run well for us.”
FIRST TIME OUT
Starlight Racing trotted out a first-timer in Potosi’s Silver for the second race, a 5 1⁄2-furlong maiden race for 2-year-old fillies on the main track, and she finished second in a race that needed an inquiry to settle things.
Potosi’s Silver broke from post position 2, ran along the rail and was following the pace of Gracer when jockey Joe Rocco Jr. brought Gracer in toward the rail entering the turn. John Velazquez was aboard Potosi’s Silver and was forced to check up and look outside of the leader, but Gracer, who didn’t have to slow down, raced through the turn to build a lead of 3 1⁄2 lengths at the top of the stretch, then extended it to 51⁄4 lengths at the wire. Potosi’s Silver was second, another 3 3⁄4 lengths ahead of Mei Ling.
“We thought the post might be a problem, and sure enough, it was,” said Duanesburg’s Don Lucarelli, who co-manages Starlight Racing with Jack Wolf. “If we can get an outside post next time out, we think she’ll be fine and probably be the favorite.”
Starlight Racing will have another 2-year-old filly, Candy Kitty, running back on Wednesday in the $100,000 P.G. Johnson. She broke her maiden in her third time out, winning a maiden special weight here Aug. 18 and is 1-1-1 in those three starts.
Also, Shanghai Bobby worked five furlongs in company with Graydar, going 1:00.91. Shanghai Bobby won last year’s Grade I Hopeful before going on to become Champion 2-year-old Male.
“We’d love to defend that Hopeful title,” Lucarelli said. Starlight has high expectations for 2-year-old All in Blue, who was fourth in the Grade II Sanford on July 21.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Shanghai Bobby “continues to go great.”
“We’re still a month or so away, but I like what we’re seeing so far. He’s coming back and getting fit a week or so ahead of what we anticipated. We’re really pleased with him and happy to have him back.”
Pletcher also sent out Cross Traffic, winner of the Grade I Whitney on Aug. 3, for a four-furlong work in 48.19.
“Cross Traffic also went well,” he said. “We’ll make a decision [Monday] or the next day on whether he’ll run in the Woodward.”
The Grade I $750,000 Woodward will be run Saturday. In preparation, trainer Kathy Ritvo sent Mucho Macho Man to the main track to breeze five furlongs in 1:03.50 with Prado aboard.
Coming off a five-month layoff, Mucho Macho Man was third in the Criminal Type overnight stakes on June 14, then was beaten by Cross Traffic by 2 1⁄4 lengths in the Whitney.
“He was running hard and strong every step of the way [in the Whitney],” Prado said. “I definitely think that he got something out of the race. He tries all the time. Both times I rode him, he tried real hard; he just couldn’t catch the horse in front.”
A day after winning the Grade I Test, Sweet Lulu was in good shape in her stall and is ready to fly back to California on Tuesday unbeaten in four career starts, according to Christina Jelm, who is an assistant to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who said in the winner’s circle Saturday. Although the Breeders’ Cup Filly
& Mare Sprint had not yet been considered, it remains a possibility.
“[Hollendorfer will] get her home and just let her settle back in, and then they’ll start looking at what the next options would be,” Jelm said. “He usually spans about a month between races with these better horses. We’ll see how she progresses out of this, but so far she is as good coming out of it as she was going into it.”