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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

A SARATOGA WRAP INCLUDING HRI’s TAKE ON THE TRUE IMPACT PLAYERS OF SARATOGA 2022

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.

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12 Responses

  1. John. I hope you are back to good health. I think .I enjoyed this Spa meet more than any other in the last 25 years. The fields were big, many competitive turf races and the stars shined when they had to. The only downside for me was that I just could not find the money to go in person this year, but .I thought the Fox Sports show was very entertaining. All the best my friend, love this website.

  2. Pete, thanks for the love, literally. It still motivates me and it’s nice to know the passion is recognized for what it is. Thanks again.

    Cannot add a single thing to your assessment.

    I spoke to an owner friend who resented paying–he said–$18 for a hot dog and a soda on Travers. If so, that’s totally outrageous and insulting to rank and file customers who support the game with their presence.

    It’s no secret that while it was great to have, it was less of a sport in the Covid years when the public was prohibited from entering.

    As stated, we’re fans of the Fox broadcast, too, but something has to be done about the haphazard scheduling.

    1. The best deal I could get for food & drink on closing day was a $9 clam chowder, plus $6 for a 20 oz. soft drink. An hour later, I handed over $28 for a can of Stella Artois and a medium sized Chardonnay. It looked like the bartender was being generous because he made a point of emptying the wine bottle.

      There are probably only a few locals who would pay those prices. The $17 fried chicken sandwich is primarily intended for suckers like me.

  3. But if it’s Hattie’s fried chicken, I might have to dig deep. [New chef at Hattie’s Chicken Shack on Phila St; great meal, fair prices].

    Otherwise, more outrage. You are correct, these are tourist prices, unquestionably.

    Brown bag it and bet your eating money, as they say…

  4. I love Hattie’s, my god. It’s so good.

    Ok, this is ridiculous. Irad Ortiz has ridden at Colonial the past 2 days after not even taking a day off after the Saratoga meet. He has ridden 13 horses at Colonial the past 2 days. He has 9 wins. He might be the best jockey I have ever seen – he also might very well be completely out of his mind!

  5. [INSERT LAUGHING EMOJI HERE]

    The first time I noticed that Irad was a workaholic was when he made it a habit to ride at Parx on New York dark days. He’s just a freak, which in racetrack-ese is very high praise indeed.

    Interesting, maybe he’s feeling a little Eclipse pressure this year, whatdayathink?

    And BTW, NY doesn’t start till 0915, right? But I bet he’ll be at KD Saturday!

    1. Yes Belmont At Aqueduct isn’t starting until Thursday Sep 15.

      I was thinking Flavian Prat was making a good Eclipse push, but then I looked at the raw numbers and it’s kind of hard to make a case for anyone but Ortiz. Early year: Irad wins both the dirt and the turf feature on the Pegasus card. Triple Crown winners: Sonny Leon, Jose Ortiz, Irad Ortiz. Jose and Leon are obviously not Eclipse contenders. Irad won the Belmont Spring Meet, Prat won the Santa Anita meet. Then Saratoga – Prat had a great meet, no question. He was awesome. Irad really asserted his king status though. Flightline is a HUGE feather in Prat’s cap; this horse could very well belong on the all time lists. Of course, it might be the easiest mount to handle that Prat has all year, but in my opinion you get full credit for Flightline’s accomplishments if you’re on his back. I was blown away looking at BRIS PPs to discover that Irad Ortiz is showing a flat bet profit on turf for the year. The past 2 days at Colonial has done nothing but increase his profit total on the lawn. And the raw totals: Ortiz 235 wins, $24,591,135 in purse winnings; Prat 177 wins, $20,018,908 in purse winnings.

      I love Flavian Prat, but I think it’s going to take a massive BC weekend with Irad not doing much at the same time to really get him into the discussion. I do fully realize that Irad looks like Albert Belle to a handful of the voters, which always plays into a vote when human beings are making the decisions.

  6. True enough, Doc, just as the off-track headlines from Saratoga, might cost America’s dominating trainer an Eclipse vote or two, unjustly or not.

    1. That is a good point. I haven’t really dug into the trainer race, but obviously Chad belongs somewhere in the finalist trio.

  7. SARATOGA 2022 post-mortem part 1.

    My performance was below average, that’s undeniable. Average is minus 16%, the NYRA takeout on WPS wagers.

    “Losing” is a relative term. How much did the bettor lose and can that bettor conclude that the loss was a reasonable entertainment expense ?

    I conclude this experiment DID result in a loss that was a reasonable entertainment expense for the number of wagers (120), the dollar amount lost ($698) and the percentage of the amount wagered lost (29%).

    As bad as my selections were, I retained 71% of the total amount wagered ($1702 of $2400).

    TOTAL: 32 for 120, minus $698, minus 29% ROI

    WIN: 15 for 74, minus $395, minus 27% ROI
    PLACE: 0 for 1, minus $20, minus 100% ROI
    SHOW: 17 for 45, minus $283, minus 31% ROI

    More to follow.

  8. Entertainment for six weeks, the equivalent of taking a family of four to Yankee Stadium four of five times; two tickets to see The Eagles?

    It was a trade off, Dan… and there was always a chance the entertainment could have paid for itself, and then some.

    I won a few dollars on Travers Day, but not enough to pay the deductible following a bit more than a fender bender upstate.

    At the end of the day, it’s only money, and not much at that.

    Have you begun the countdown to 2023? Did you take the Bills last night?

    And so it goes…

  9. My post mortem on the 2022 Saratoga meet showed me that I have been playing too many P3’s, and way too few Exactas. My strengths are turf and maiden races, and finding big prices; these big price horses run 2nd and 3rd so much more often than they win that betting multi race wagers sort of kills the edge that I do have.

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