It’s not very often a jockey will pose in the winner’s circle with a horse who didn’t win the race.
However, after Junior Alvarado won the Grade I $500,000 Forego at Saratoga Race Course aboard Strapping Groom on Saturday, and posing atop the winner, he did his interview with NBCSN and then held up a small picture of Saginaw, the popular New York-bred he rode for the last eight races of his life before the 6-year-old gelding was euthanized Friday.
Alvarado was aboard Saginaw when he broke both sesamoids in his left foreleg earlier Friday. Saturday, he climbed aboard Strapping Groom for Drawing Away Stable and co-owning trainer David Jacobson, the same connections of Saginaw.
“I would put it, there was some kind of connection between Saginaw yesterday and this guy, here,” he said. “I would say there was some kind of connection, definitely, that made me feel that way. And, I mean, it worked out great.”
Strapping Groom was claimed for $35,000 on May 24 when he finished second by a head at 61⁄2 furlongs. He earned
$300,000 for his connections Saturday.
Before his May claiming race at Belmont, he was unraced for more than 10 months, but then-trainer Carl Domino got him back into racing condition. Since then, he is 3-0-0 in four starts, all in stakes races.
“When you claim a horse, you always have high expectations,” Jacobson said. “I always liked him, going back to when he was laid up. Even back then, I told my assistant, Frank LaBoccetta, I thought he was fast enough to win a graded stakes. Frank reminded me of that 10 minutes ago. Carl Domino did an outstanding job bringing him back, and he was in great shape when I claimed him.”
Strapping Groom wired the field in 1:22.27. He was tested early by Fast Bullet as Justin Phillip and Sage Valley remained just off the pace through fractions of 22.92 and 45.22 for the first quarter- and half-mile.
“He broke pretty good,” Alvarado said. “I was trying to make him get comfortable the whole way. He handled it pretty good. Turning for home, I kind of knew I had something left.”
As they rounded into the stretch, Strapping Groom came out a couple of paths, and jockey Javier Castellano guided Jackson Bend through on the inside for a stretch run.
“I felt him coming on the rail, but I knew I was close enough to the wire, too,” Alvarado said.
Strapping Groom returned $32.40, $14.40 and $4.80. Jackson Bend paid $8.90 and $3.90, while Justin Phillip returned $2.10 to show.
“I had a beautiful trip. I was right where I wanted to be. I wish that the pace was a little quicker — 0:224⁄5 [seconds] for those kind of horses, really good horses, it’s kind of easy for them. If I had gotten 0:214⁄5 type of fractions, I think I would have won the race.”
After running second by a length through the first half-mile, Fast Bullet faded to seventh of eight horses as half the favored entry with Justin Phillip. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the distance may be too much for Fast Bullet.
“He might have been a little short,” Lukas said. “He got a little tired on us there. He seemed to lose his action a little bit and get a little bit tired. Seven-eighths might not be as good as six for him. There was the ship-in, the muddy track … there are so many variables in racing.”
Silver Max wired the field to win the Grade II $250,000 Bernard
Baruch, a 1 1/16-mile race for horses 3 and older and the only grass race on the card that was not taken off the turf.
He was pushed through a 23.88 quarter-mile and a 47.34 half-mile by Paris Vegas and Tetradrachm, who finished second and third, respectively. Tetradrachm tried to mount a challenge around the far turn, but was turned back.
“We needed that,” winning trainer Dale Romans said. “Last year, I might have overdone it with him. I ran him a lot of times in those 3-year-old races. He was a little tired at the end of the year.”