HALLANDALE BEACH, FL September 6, 2022 — “Every time I thought I was out, they pulled me back in” –Michael Corleone.
And so, every time I think that Saratoga can’t possibly out-do itself, it does, and there appears to be no let-up in sight.
Yes, the prices are steep–in some cases stupid expensive–but the market is baring it.
Racing fans love Saratoga and will support it by any means necessary.
The nuts and bolts of Saratoga 2022 are well known by now:
A million paid racing fans–and we think it’s legitimate to include advance season ticket sales. If nothing else, It shows intent.
Meet handle of $875 million, a roughly 10% increase and a record. $152 million on-track. I perused attendance and handle figures daily. Per capita figures for a “destination resort track” were consistently strong, even when attendees were disguised as empty seats.
Saratoga championships rightfully are to be celebrated. Hence, props are due Irad Ortiz Jr., Chad Brown, and Klaravich Stables the champion jockey, trainer and owner of Spa 153.
But the 2022 meet might have been a personal-enjoyment best and I have attended every meet since 1977 with a small handful of exceptions.
The best horses, many of them champions, put on a dazzling display. Those who didn’t wasted no time in redeeming themselves.
This meeting was so rich that many non-leaders enjoyed the kind of successful moments one hopes to have but has learned never to expect. But it’s horse racing and the memories made never will be forgotten. They top our list of…
HRI TOP IMPACT PLAYERS OF SARATOGA 153
Johnny Velazquez celebrated a landmark victory with his 1000th Saratoga winner. For perspective, how about riding 50 Saratoga winners a year for 20 years? Unfathomable, yet true.
Joel Rosario captured 12 stakes victories in 2022 and didn’t ride the entire 40 days. Remarkable.
But it was Flavien Prat who made the greatest impact this year in his first full Saratoga season.
And the winners didn’t come on a parade of favorites in six-horse fields, nor was locked in to heavy-headed barns, though he got plenty of support there, too. After watching him on a daily basis, I can find no holes in his game.
Prat’s presence, along with the Ortiz brothers, Rosario, and Luis Saez, Saratoga’s Top 5, proved best of a Top 10 room that could rule any jock’s room it enters.
New York’s riders represent the deepest colony during my time covering New York racing—and I started going to the races for real during the Cordero, Velasquez, Baeza and Belmonte era, with Jerry Bailey coming shortly thereafter.
Chad Brown, per usual, led the league with his talent, staff, and a very deep bench, but Todd Pletcher was more impactful. If I’m wrong, the challenge is for the HRI Faithful to prove it:
No horseman, to my knowledge, won four of the most prestigious races NYRA conducts at Saratoga in a single season. The challenge is to top the Whitney, Alabama, Personal Ensign and Hopeful. That would be four disparate divisions if you’re counting.
For his support, Seth Klarman has earned everything he’s accomplished in this game but from going from zero to sixty on the success scale, I can’t think of another ownership tandem that has accomplished as much in such a short period of time from what, for this game, is humble beginnings.
Peter Brant had another exceptional meet, setting personal standards routinely and giving the illusion that this game isn’t as tough as everyone thinks. But it’s taken him decades to accomplish this.
Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, formed in 2009, bought an eventual Horse of the Year, a promising juvenile named Mucho Macho Man shortly thereafter, and this year Dean and Patti Reeves accompanied their horses into the Saratoga winners’ circle on five occasions. Winning stakes in Saratoga was their goal. Mission accomplished.
PERSONAL FAVORITE MOMENTS FROM SARATOGA 2022
One of everyone’s favorites, a returning Jackie Davis winning a race for her dad, Robbie… Pedigree expert and New York-bred pioneer, Dr. Edward Messina, alternately hiding and showing emotion as he waited for his victorious Sanctuary City to return to the circle and dedicating the victory to his recently passed spouse…
And then a couple of old Woody’s in the winners’ circle following the victory of state-bred Thin White Duke in the open Lucky Coin Stakes, when the fans learned that trainer David Donk became Woody’s assistant trainer after Phil Gleaves went out on his own.
Redemptive performances by Epicenter—actually, there were two, including the Jim Dandy—and Malathaat, who might tend to wait but is no hanger, in the Personal Ensign. And, of course, Olympiad in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
In this context, we’ll be pulling for Clairiere to bounce back next time and getting clocked with a knockout punch as she left the starting gate…
Michelle Lovell’s first graded stakes as a trainer was a good-for-her moment, as was Gufo’s repeat win in the Sword Dancer, a z-pattern season that started fast, lagged, then was resurgent in the Spa most important turf test…
The racing and wagering were so interesting that Saratoga Live, a betting fan’s favorite racing production on television, set viewership records despite the fact that Fox Sports regionals FS-1 and FS-2 knocked it around like a ping pong ball.
Even setting the VCR in advance didn’t always do the job. While we are a fan of the program there were several too many technical sound glitches.
On balance, the new aerial camera provided an interesting view that brought fans closer to the action despite an occasionally jarring camera-angle switches. The hosts, handicappers and particularly paddock and post-race coverage were Grade 1 worthy.