Trainer Todd Pletcher won his fifth straight Saratoga Race Course training title, but it wasn’t easy.
Mechanicville native Chad Brown was as close as one victory of the lead this weekend, before Pletcher pulled away to clinch it on Sunday.
He had two winners on closing day Monday, Competitive Edge in the Hopeful and Carpe Diem, to finish with 28 to 23 for Brown, and jockey Javier Castellano clinched his second straight riding title, with 58 wins.
Pletcher has had at least 36 winners in each of the four meets before this one.
“Twenty-five seconds,” Pletcher said with a slight grin, when asked about the relatively low win total. “We had a really good start to the meet. I thought we had some big disappointments in the meet, way too many seconds for my liking.
“At the same time, you can’t not be grateful when you come to Saratoga and win 27 races, and win the Hopeful and Coaching Club and Alabama, the Schuylerville. No matter how good you do, it can always be better, and no matter how bad you do, it can always be worse, so we’re thankful for what we have.”
The stars of the stable for Pletcher were Stopchargingmaria, who swept the Coaching Club American Oaks and Grade I Alabama for Repole Stable, and Hopeful winner Competitive Edge, who also had an impressive maiden win early in the meet.
Despite Competitive Edge’s win, Pletcher didn’t dominate with his 2-year-olds like he usually does.
He won 10 2-year-old races, to nine for Brown, but Pletcher had 53 starts to just 24 for Brown.
Pletcher was also hurt by a 25-race losing streak in the middle of the meet.
“Chad’s a very good trainer and has a very powerful barn, so, sure, you have to respect it,” he said. “We hadn’t won a race for 10, 11 days, which is kind of rare, and we were lucky to have survived it. It may be the worst slump we’ve ever had at Saratoga.”
It was the third year in a row that a filly swept the CCA Oaks and Alabama, and Pletcher has trained the last two, Stopchargingmaria and Princess of Sylmar.
Questing won both for Godolphin Racing in 2012.
Pletcher also won the Grade II Schuylerville on opening day with Fashion Alert and ungraded Birdstone with Micromanage.
Brown’s only graded stakes win was Startup Nation in the Grade II With Anticipation on Thursday.
His other stakes winners were Storming Inti in the Sir Cat, Endless Chatter in the Summer Colony, Dayatthespa in the Yaddo and Partisan Politics in the P.G. Johnson.
Riding frequently for both Pletcher and Brown, Castellano won the second straight Angelo Cordero Award for the leading rider when Live in Joy won the sixth ride to shut out runner-up Irad Ortiz Jr, who finished with 53.
“It’s very emotional,” Castellano said “To win the riding title here in Saratoga is very prestigious. You’re riding with the best jockeys in the country. This year was a little more competitive than last year. I felt a little more comfortable going into the last, but this time, there was a lot of pressure all the way to the end.”
The highlight of the meet for Castellano was winning his fourth Travers Stakes, on 19-1 V.E. Day.
Forego winner Palace will point to the Grade I Vosburgh on Sept. 27, trainer Linda Rice said.
She was convinced that seven furlongs was a good distance for the son of City Zip until he won the Forego on Saturday, so the Vosburgh makes sense now. Palace won the six-furlong A.G. Vanderbilt earlier in the meet.
“I’m not the only person who thought his best distance was six furlongs,” Rice said. “Most people did. His record at three-quarters [of a mile] is much better than it was at seven furlongs. After the race, I was happy and relieved. I didn’t want to make a mistake with him. He’s such a nice horse.”
Rice and owner Antonino Miuccio claimed Palace for $20,000 out of a maiden win at Belmont Park almost two years ago.
Kid Cruz is another astute New York-bred claim by Rice, who plucked him out of a maiden race last November for Vina Del Mar Thoroughbreds LLC.
He became a four-time stakes winner, including the Grade III Dwyer, and was fourth in the Travers.
For all the good 2-year-olds who ran in the Hopeful on Monday, one of the most impressive juvenile performances of closing weekend was put in by Zayat Stable’s El Kabeir in a maiden race on Saturday.
Impressive enough, in fact, to make the leap to Grade I company in the Champagne at Belmont Park on Sept. 27, trainer John Terranova said.
El Kabeir, who overcame a bad break in his career debut earlier in the meet to finish third, won by 103⁄4 lengths on Saturday.