Things I learned during this topsy turvy summer of racing:
Young Guys Rule: Flavien Prat, 25, won his second consecutive Del Mar summer riding title (he tied with Rafael Bejarano in 2016) and the native of France has established himself as the West Coast leader. Jose Ortiz, 23, a native of Puerto Rico, defeated his older brother, Irad, to claim his second straight Saratoga crown. These young men have immense talent, humility and character and are going to be fun to watch for years to come.
Old Guys Rule: Though he's cut back on his numbers, Hall of Fame John Velazquez at 45 had a sensational Saratoga, scoring 46 victories, a dozen behind Jose Ortiz, winning at a 26 percent clip at the toughest meeting in racing against a deep and talented group of riders. He sets a tremendous example of both character and competitiveness for the younger riders in that colony. Out West, 47-year-old Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux had a strong Del Mar, finishing fourth in the standings with 26 wins. Corey Nakatani, 46, revived his career and made the most of limited opportunities, winning with 11 of 61 mounts. Gary Stevens, the 54-year-old Hall of Famer, continues to taunt Father Time, winning 12 races from 76 opportunities.
2-Year-Olds Do The Darndest Things: You can never put the binoculars down (or take your eyes off the screen) until the horses cross the wire. That was never more true than in Monday's closing day, Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga, the premier race for 2-year-olds during the Spa's summer meeting.
Sporting Chance, a Tiznow colt trained by D. Wayne Lukas, appeared well on his way to victory under Luis Saez when the jockey decided to switch the stick from his right to his left hand in deep stretch. One crack of the crop sent Sporting Chance careening toward the grandstand, crossing directly in front of the Dale Romans-trained Free Drop Willy and jockey Robby Albarado. Saez leaned left, straightened his mount far to the outside and got to the wire first with a neck to spare.
Stewards took a long look at the incident and ultimately decided to let the results stand, ruling that it did not affect the outcome of the race. Romans disagreed: “It's a ridiculous call,” he said.
No Such Thing As A Sure Thing: The mystifying performances of reigning 3-year-old champion Arrogate at Del Mar this summer reminded us of this racetrack axiom. After four dominating stakes performances dating back to the Travers in August 2016 that put the son of Unbridled's Song on top of the world, the Bob Baffert trainee dropped a huge stink bomb in the G2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, finishing off the board at 1-20 odds. He regained some stature when second to stablemate Collected in the G1 Pacific Classic but does not look like the same colt who dominated Gun Runner, among others, in the G1 Dubai World Cup in March. The latter's three consecutive G1 victories since Dubai – in the Stephen Foster at Churchill and the Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga – make for an intriguing G1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 4.
Patience Is A Virtue: Horse owner Gary West wants to win the G1 Kentucky Derby as much as anyone, but he's been around the game long enough to know that the natural development of a horse does not always coincide with the racing calendar. West Coast, a talented 3-year-old colt West campaigns with his wife Mary, got a late start and wasn't ready or qualified to run on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. West and trainer Bob Baffert circled the last Saturday in August on the calendar and laid out a roadmap to get to the G1 Travers with a fresh and improving horse – just as Baffert had done for Juddmonte Farms with Arrogate in 2016. West Coast rewarded them for their patience with a victory that puts the colt by Flatter smack in the middle of a confusing and contentious 3-year-old Eclipse Award race.
Winning Isn't Everything: That image of the Baffert family (trainer Bob, wife Jill, son Bode) shown on TVG, standing in the paddock and watching the big board as Collected held off favorite Arrogate in the Pacific Classic and giving the Hall of Fame trainer a 1-2 finish in the $1 million race, is one for the ages. It doesn't exactly look like a celebration, does it? It seems more a reflection of people feeling as though a horse that had been ranked No. 1 in the world – one that Baffert himself compared to Secretariat in the wake of his remarkable Dubai World Cup win – wasn't yet back on his game.
Winning Is Everything: The NBC Sports cameras caught trainer Chad Brown at Saratoga screaming at the television monitor in his box as his Money Multiplier surged to the front briefly in the final sixteenth and then facing the reality of defeat as the colt was nipped at the wire by Sadler's Joy in the G1 Sword Dancer Aug. 26. Brown may not have liked this moment of intensity broadcast nationally, but it's really a reflection of what this game can do to our emotions and why we love it so much. It's OK to get a little crazy now and then at the races.
— Kerry Duplessis (@kerryd8) August 26, 2017
Racing Can Be Magical: When jockey Sasha Risenhoover brought longshot winner Terra's Angel back to the Del Mar winner's circle following a 19-1 upset of the Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes on Monday's closing day program, tears were streaming down her cheeks. For good reason. This was the horse that brought her to California from Texas, the jockey said afterwards, and this was her first win of the meet. But there's much, much more to the story.
Terra's Angel is the namesake of Terra Bibb, daughter of co-owner Terry Eoff, wife of Jeremy Bibb, loving mother of Rylan, Conor and Parker Bibb. Those three young boys recently lost their 36-year-old mom to an eight-year battle with brain cancer.
Terra Bibb, an accomplished horsewoman in her own right who loved barrel racing, had the opportunity to see Terra's Angel win her first race at Lone Star Park on May 13. She died a few weeks later in her Austin, Texas, home on June 9.
Winning trainer Dallas Keen told the story of Terra Bibb to TVG's Britney Eurton in the Del Mar winner's circle. Sasha Risenhoover wasn't the only one crying.
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