By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
The Saratoga meet is never long enough for this native New Yorker. But it never fails to leave us with enough memories to keep us warm through winter’s chill. My top 10 moments from this summer at the Spa:
New York Racing Association officials scrambled to launch a second canoe into the infield lake to bear the colors of the winning owner of the Travers Stakes (G1) after favored Alpha and 33-1 Golden Ticket hit the finish line with nothing to separate them. It was the first such official result in the 143-year history of the “Mid-Summer Derby.” Atilla and Acrobat deadlocked in 1874 before Atilla prevailed in a runoff.
There were tears all around as jockey John Velazquez made an emotion-charged speech following his induction into the Racing Hall of Fame. The stellar rider repeatedly stepped back from the microphone to collect himself as he reflected on his journey from Puerto Rico to the U.S., where the mentoring and tutelage from Angel Cordero Jr. and an equally strong bond with trainer Todd Pletcher helped him rise to the top.
All About Ramon
Ramon Dominguez rode beautifully day after day in winning a Saratoga record 68 races during the 40-day meet, four more winners than Velazquez brought home over 36 days in 2004. Dominguez enjoyed a pair of six-win days in adding a second Saratoga riding crown to the one he earned in 2009.
“The Chief” Rules
Eighty-three-year-old Allen Jerkens received a tremendous ovation when he entered the winner’s circle with Emma’s Encore after a dramatic rally allowed her to prevail in the last stride in the Prioress Stakes (G1). It was Jerkens’ first Grade 1 score since Miss Shop got it done in the Personal Ensign in 2007. If anyone doubts that Jerkens still possesses a magical touch, Emma’s Encore was purchased for $2,000 as a yearling.
Zagora, a 5-year-old mare who already boasted an admirable resume, added significantly to her impressive body of work by setting a track record of 1:39.07 in the Ballston Spa Stakes (G2). The French-bred topped Hungry Island by 1 ½ lengths.
Sweet Home Alabama
Questing roared to the head of her class when she romped by nine lengths in the Alabama Stakes (G1). The front-running rout served as an exclamation point to her previous triumph in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). “She’s definitely the best 3-year-old filly in America on the dirt,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said proudly after the Alabama. There was no disputing the point.
Love and Pride shocked runner-up Royal Delta, last year’s champion 3-year-old filly, and multiple Grade 1 winner It’s Tricky in the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) for a familiar combination, Velazquez and Pletcher. It’s Tricky had an excuse after stumbling at the start. Bill Mott, who trains Royal Delta, was left to scratch his head after noting that she did not perform to her lofty standards.
Longshot Fort Larned asserted himself in the wide-open race for champion older male when he bested Ron the Greek by 1 ¼ lengths in the Whitney Invitational handicap (G1). “I always thought I belonged with them,” said trainer Ian Wilkes, who turned around Fort Larned’s career by adding blinkers late last season. Ron the Greek did well to be second after being forced seven wide.
Fans are still shaking their heads after New York-bred Willy Beamin, claimed for $25,000 by owner Jim Riccio, got up by half a length to pull a stunning upset in the King’s Bishop Stakes (G1). His determined charge came three days after he won the Albany Stakes for controversial trainer Rick Dutrow.
My Miss Aurelia made her belated 3-year-old debut a winning one when she stumbled out of the gate but still took the 6 ½-furlong Mandys Gold Stakes. The 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner, sidelined for an extended period by a shin injury, extended her lifetime perfection to 5-for-5.