SARATOGA SPRINGS — It’s perhaps a measure of how coveted the trainer and jockey meet championships are at Saratoga Race Course that a jockey lodged a claim of foul against his own brother on Monday, closing day of the 2017 meet.
After surrendering the training title named for the legendary Allen Jerkens to Mechanicville native Chad Brown last year, Todd Pletcher played anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-
Meanwhile, Jose Ortiz won the jockey championship named after the legendary Angel Cordero Jr. despite being disqualified from first place on No Hiding Place in the third race on a steward’s decision prompted by his brother Irad’s objection.
Jose Ortiz came into the day with a comfortable five-win cushion over his brother, and each won one race to put the final tally at 58-53 for Jose, who won 65 races last year.
The brothers are very close, and even their words were in lockstep, as both had terrific meets.
On the subject of the disqualification, Jose said, “I found out he was claiming foul when I came back. I mean, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I knew I drifted out a little bit. I just feel bad for the owner and the trainer who gave me an opportunity. It was my fault.”
Irad, whose horse Driving Me Crazy was moved up from fourth to third by the DQ, also matter-of-factly shrugged it off as simply business.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “I’m happy for him. You just congratulate him. I had a great meet, too.”
While the jockey race was all but decided heading into the 40th and final day of the meet, the training race was tight and could have gone either way, as Pletcher and Brown each had horses entered in just about every race.
Pletcher led 39-38 and went up by two when Critique won the fifth, but Brown came back with Engage in the sixth. Brown didn’t win any more.
“It made for some excitement all the way through the meet,” Pletcher said. “It’s difficult to win 40 races here, and we appreciate how hard it is to win here and are thankful for a lot of hard work from a lot of people, the owners supporting us, and it was a team effort.
“Honestly, we’ve had some really good meets here and never won 40 races before, so I didn’t expect that. Things got off to a pretty good start, and the horses were running well, but I’d never imagine we’d have 40 wins. Those guys are tough to beat. We exceeded expectations and I’m proud of it.”
“They had an outstanding meet,” Brown said. “Their horses were running well all meet. Very rarely did they have a horse not run well. In a long, grueling 40-day meet, it’s hard to compete day-in and day-out at that top level, and they certainly did that. As did we.”
As a measure of the Pletcher-Brown dominance, the next closest trainer, Linda Rice, had 16 victories.
Pletcher won two graded stakes at the meet, the Grade II Amsterdam (Coal Front) and the Grade II Adirondack (Pure Silver).
His ungraded stakes victories included the Curlin (Outplay), Birdstone (Hard Study), Alydar (Rally Cry), Quick Call (Blind Ambition), Bolton Landing (March X Press), Better Talk Now (Hieroglyphics) and P.G. Johnson (Orbolution).
“I thought Orbolution was pretty impressive in the P.G. Johnson, and hopefully some of the 2-year-olds keep coming along,” Pletcher said.
Brown won the Grade I Diana and Grade II Ballston Spa with Lady Eli, the Grade I Allen Jerkens with Practical Joke, the Grade II Honorable Miss (Paulassilverlining), and the Grade II National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (Bricks and Mortar).
His ungraded stakes victories included the Shone Sgain (Carina Mia), Albany (Twisted Tom) and Fleet Indian (Sunset Ridge).
“I had a really strong meet,” he said. “Unfortunately, the weather’s been good all month, can’t complain too much, but the last two days killed us. I had so many good horses to run. I’m still proud of my staff and my horses. We left a lot of good horses in the barn the last two days, and when you’re on a 40-day meet, competing against another really top barn, there’s not a lot of room for error. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone, with the horses we had.”
Both Pletcher and Brown had disappointing meets in terms of how their Triple Crown race winners performed.
Pletcher won the Kentucky Derby with Always Dreaming and the Belmont Stakes with Tapwrit. Always Dreaming was third in the Jim Dandy, ninth in the Travers and has been sent to WinStar Farm in Kentucky for a physical evaluation that will determine his future, which could even mean retirement.
Tapwrit was fourth in the Travers.
Brown won the Preakness with Cloud Computing and was looking forward to the best shot of his career to win the signature race at his hometown track. Instead, Cloud Computing was last of five in the Jim Dandy and eighth in the Travers.
Jose Ortiz’s stakes wins included the Grade I Alabama, on Elate, and the Grade I Test (American Gal).
His other stakes wins were the Grade II Honorable Miss (Paulassilverlining), the Bolton Landing (March X Press), Summer Colony (Verve’s Tale) and Fleet Indian (Sunset Ridge).
“Being able to be the leading rider for the second year in a row, I feel very blessed,” he said. “It’s very tough. It’s six days of racing a week, you get very tired, you get worn out the last couple weeks. It’s a lot of work in the morning, and there is huge talent sitting back in the [jockeys’] room. I mean, Johnny V [Velazquez] is doing great, Irad, you’ve got Manny Franco, Javier [Castellano], and guys who are chipping in, like [Ricardo] Santana, who is a good rider. A lot of talent here.”
The 45-year-old Hall of Famer Velazquez finished in third, with 46 wins.
Irad Ortiz may have lost in the quantity department, but he had a better record in stakes races than his brother did, and had a terrific meet by any standard.
Besides the Grade II Bernard Baruch aboard Heart to Heart on closing day, he won the Grade I Diana and Grade II Ballston Spa on Lady Eli, won two of the graded stakes for 2-year-olds — the Sanford (Firenze Fire) and Saratoga Special (Copper Bullet) — and one of the graded stakes for 2-year-old fillies, the Grade I Spinaway (Lady Ivanka).
His ungraded stakes victories included the Saratoga Dew (Literata), Union Avenue (Picco Uno), Evan Shipman (Diversify), John’s Call (Infinite Wisdom), Yaddo (Bar of Gold) and Lucky Coin (We Deer You).
“The Alabama and the Test were very good races to win,” he said. “I’d never won them before, so I was very happy.”