Saratoga is in the rearview mirror, the kids are back in school and fall racing is upon us.
As we approach the quarter pole of the 2019 racing season, The News’ next stops will first be to Toronto next weekend for the Woodbine Mile and then onto the Breeders’ Cup in Arcadia, Calif. at Santa Anita Park in early November to cover the Classic.
In between we’ll follow the Pennsylvania Derby as the last restricted 3-year-old race of the season. A Super Saturday at Belmont Park featuring the Jockey Club Gold Cup (run at the classic 1 1/4-mile distance), and the Awesome Again awaits at Santa Anita Park for the West Coast horses.
So here’s what we’re thinking about after the end of the meeting at Saratoga…
- The extended calendar for Saratoga starting in early July and adding an additional dark Monday made for a long meet, where we’ll likely see changes to next year based on local business owner sentiment. Look for dark Tuesdays and Wednesdays which will keep folks in town over Sunday nights to help the Saratoga business community.
- For the first time in history, the meet generated all sources handle of over $700 million and paid attendance topped 1 million for fifth consecutive season. Average daily handle of $18 million was up 9.8 percent over 2018. The meet consisted of 39 racing days, as the second Saturday of the meet was canceled due to extreme heat.
- After romping over perennial trainer champ Todd Pletcher by an astounding 27 wins last year, triainer Chad Brown continued his winning ways this year winning by 23 over the Toddster, accumulating 38 wins.
- We know Brown (28) was the top turf trainer at the meet, but Steve Asmussen took top honors on the dirt with 15 victories, two more than Brown and Jeremiah Englehart. Asmussen captured some big races including the Forego (Mitole), Personal Ensign (Midnight Bisou) and Hopeful (Basin) contributing to his 27 percent winning clip on the main track.
- 2016 and 2017 jockey winner Jose Ortiz rebounded after finishing behind brother Irad last year to recapture the jockey title with 52 wins, four more than the 2018 champ. He was the leading dirt rider with 35 wins at a 24 percent rate.
- Ortiz, Jr. continued his Spa dominance as the top turf rider, winning 28 times on the grass and 21 percent of his rides on the weeds.
- The rider that made bettors the most money though was Johnny Velazquez, who finished the meet strong and had a positive ROI percentage of 24 (first) and a win percentage of 23 (second to Ortiz). His winning Travers ride on Code of Honor was a thing of beauty and showed that the old pro still has it.
- Klaravich Stables took the bragging rights for the owner title, winning 19 times, seven more than Michael Dubb.
- Best race of the meet was the Personal Ensign for the second straight year where the stretch duel between Midnight Bisou and Elate was epic.
- Cross Border won all three of his races at the Spa and took top equine honors.
- Here’s hoping you were following my selections for the Jim Dandy and the Travers, where we captured the rare double with our top pick of Tax and Code of Honor, respectively. Throw in an ice cold trifecta in the Dandy and an ice cold exacta in the Travers and we’re going streaking.
- Governor Cuomo showed up for the first time in recent memory on Whitney day to honor the late Marylou Whitney. He increased his lifetime tweets about Saratoga to two.
- By the way, whatever happened to Gronkowski (the horse), did he retire, too?
- Good to see Albany Times-Union scribe Tim Wilkin garner the Walter Haight Award for career excellence in turf writing, from the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association. Tim is one of the good guys in the sport and a stellar turf writer. He didn't hesitate to show me the ropes when this role was handed to me back in October 2010.
Here are the current probable entries for next Saturday’s Woodbine Mile, which looks to be a stellar field for one of Woodbine’s signature races (courtesy Woodbine Press Office):
EARLY LOOK AT PROBABLES FOR THE GRADE 1 RICOH WOODBINE MILE (11)
Admiralty Pier – Barbara J. Minshall – Hoolie Racing Stable LLC and Bruce Lunsford – Luis Contreras
American Guru – Michael J. Doyle – Stronach Stables – Rafael Hernandez
Awesometank (GB) – William J. Haggas – Lee Yuk Lun – TBA
El Tormenta – Gail Cox – Sam-Son Farm – Eurico Rosa Da Silva
Emmaus (IRE) – Conor Murphy – M and J Thoroughbreds LLC and Riverside Bloodstock LLC – Jamie Spencer
Got Stormy – Mark E. Casse – Gary Barber and Southern Equine Stable LLC – Tyler Gaffalione
Lucullan – Kiaran P. McLaughlin – Godolphin LLC – Luis Saez
Mr Havercamp – Catherine Day Phillips – Sean & Dorothy Fitzhenry – Junior Alvarado
Raging Bull (FR) – Chad C. Brown – Peter M. Brant – Joel Rosario
Silent Poet – Nicholas Gonzalez – Stronach Stables – Gary Boulanger
Synchrony – Michael Stidham – Pin Oak Stable – Flavien Prat
I know you didn’t ask, but here’s my 2019 Bills prediction anyway: 9-7, wild card.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.