That was the scene on Saturday as Brown joined his parents, Patti and Jerome, in making their way to the winner’s circle. The favorite son of nearby Mechanicville, N.Y., had just earned a record 41st victory of the meet when Spirit Animal got the job done in the sixth race.
Brown had set the mark at 40 two years ago, only to watch rival Todd Pletcher match it last summer. The record merely tacked on an exclamation point to what the Eclipse Award-winning trainer of the last two years called a “magical meet.” Brown’s 44 victories heading into Saratoga’s closing card on Labor Day more than doubled the number of wins earned by Pletcher, who had 19 as his closest pursuer.
Brown embraced Patti. Jerome unsuccessfully tried to fight back his emotions.
“They got me into this, taking me to the picnic area many years ago,” Brown said of his parents. “They’ve really been a mainstay every day of the meet here, being with me and being around my staff.”
If there is such a thing as a home game in racing, Brown enjoys that at this iconic track in upstate New York. Members of his family, extended family, and friends are there to back his horses and cheer him on. Everywhere he turns, there are fans from Mechanicville and surrounding towns to wish him well.
“It’s a great feeling to have people pull for our stable and for me,” Brown said. “It really feels like a home court advantage.”
Brown also feels the burden of expectation at Saratoga.
“There’s always extra pressure,” he said. “You don’t want to disappoint anyone.”
Owner Sol Kumin, who has grown close to Brown, can feel his friend ratchet up the intensity.
“When you see him in Florida,” Kumin said, “he’s different than at the barn here.” Kumin described Brown as being “laser focused” during the uber-competitive Saratoga stand.
It paid off. Brown displayed his usual upper hand on turf. He took the Diana Stakes, the first Grade 1 of the meet, with Sistercharlie on the grass and never looked back. He also won on dirt and out-did Pletcher in succeeding with 2-year-olds, no mean feat.
“We spent a lot of time developing these horses,” Brown said, “and I feel we have a very strong group of 2-year-olds.”
He endured a major disappointment in the Grade 1 $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets when Good Magic, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve runner-up, and Gronkowski, second in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, never threatened and finished near the back of the pack in the mile-and-a-quarter “Mid-Summer Derby.” They had been sent off as the top two betting choices.
Most of the time, though, the meet was indeed “magical” for Brown. Two races after his 41st win, number 42 came in most unexpected fashion. He seemingly ran third with Hazeem, who encountered a rough trip with Javier Castellano. The veteran jockey claimed foul against Final Frontier and Strike Me Down, the two horses that finished ahead of him. In a rare decision, stewards dropped the first- and second-place horses and vaulted Hazeem to the win.
Brown views the H. Allen Jerkens training title as a way to reward his owners.
“If you have the most wins at Saratoga, then a lot of your clients have done well,” Brown said. “That’s really a big reason to win it, not for personal reasons.”
He also credited the work of his staff in preparing horses to be at their best for what he regards as the most challenging meet in the country. “There is not a lot of room for error in a meet as difficult as Saratoga,” he said.
Kumin thinks Brown will be hard to topple next summer at Saratoga – or at any major meet.
“If you look pound for pound at the horses in his barn, at the 2-year-olds and older horses, I think he has the most ammunition in the country,” Kumin said. “And I don’t see that changing for a long time.
“Look at the owners. I don’t think Juddmonte Farms is going to stop breeding good horses. I don’t think Seth Klarman (of Klaravich Stables) is going to stop buying a lot of yearlings. When you have that, it’s a powerful thing because the guy can obviously train, and train on any surface.”
That, too, helped to explain the smile that never left Brown’s face as he completed the meet of his dreams at a track that fired his imagination.