Edited NYRA Releases — For the first time in its history, the 40-day summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course generated all-sources wagering handle of more than $800 million, the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) announced Monday.
Having established the new record on Wednesday, September 1 with five racing days remaining in the season, the 2021 summer meet ended with all-sources handle of $815,508,063, a 15.6 percent increase over the prior record of $705,343,949 set in 2019.
With paid attendance totaling 1,046,478, and excluding 2020 when fans were not permitted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 marked the sixth consecutive season of more than 1 million in paid attendance at Saratoga Race Course. Average daily attendance during the 40-day meet was 26,162.
“Thanks to the energy, enthusiasm and support of the best fans in horse racing, the 2021 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course has been a tremendous success,” said NYRA President and CEO Dave O’Rourke. “This has been a summer reunion like never before, and we’re especially pleased that the return of fans has translated into strong business for downtown Saratoga Springs and the entire Capital Region community. The summer meet at Saratoga is as strong as at any point in its storied history.”
Average daily handle over the 40-day meet was $20,387,702, which is the first time that average daily handle has eclipsed $20 million.
Pari-mutuel wagering funds the majority of the NYRA purse account, which directly supports horsemen competing at Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack, as well as the hundreds of businesses reliant on a thriving thoroughbred racing industry. Beyond the purse account, these funds are invested in capital projects to improve and modernize NYRA facilities while prioritizing safety and integrity.
Among the many highlights of the 2021 Saratoga meet:
Klaravich Stables led all owners with 21 wins; Chad Brown claimed the H. Allen Jerkens training title with 41 wins; and jockey Luis Saez captured the Angel Cordero Jr. riding title with 64 wins.
The 2021 meet played host to a significant milestone as Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen became the all-time winningest thoroughbred trainer in North America when he won the 9,446th race of his career on Whitney Day, Saturday, August 7.
Nearly 1.1 million viewers tuned in across the country to watch Essential Quality capture the 152nd edition of the Runhappy Travers on FOX, marking the event’s highest ratings since 2015 when Triple Crown champion American Pharoah made his one and only appearance at Saratoga. An audience of 1,089,000 watched this summer’s Runhappy Travers, which was broadcast on FOX for the third consecutive year.
Brad Cox became just the third trainer in history to capture the Whitney and Runhappy Travers in the same summer with two different horses (Knicks Go and Essential Quality).
NYRA was honored to welcome New York Governor Kathy Hochul to Saratoga Race Course on Runhappy Travers Day, where she presented the Man o’ War Cup to the connections of Essential Quality.
Fans and viewers were treated to more than 220 hours of live programming during Saratoga Live which aired on the networks of FOX Sports, the show’s most extensive and comprehensive coverage since its introduction in 2016.
In addition to daily national coverage on FOX Sports, the 2021 season welcomed the addition of SNY as a regional broadcast partner for Saratoga Live.
A charitable program under NYRA’s stewardship requires every owner competing at NYRA racetracks to donate $10 per start to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), which funds the aftercare organizations that provide homes for retired racehorses. As a result of the 3,253 starts recorded during the 2021 meet, TAA will receive a $32,530 donation. In addition, New York’s horsemen donate 1.5 percent of the purchase price of every horse claimed at a NYRA track to Take the Lead (TTL) and the TAA. Claiming activity during the 2021 summer meet will result in a donation of $18,690 to TAA and TTL.
NYRA paid tribute to the work of frontline and essential workers with a day dedicated to honoring health care heroes and first responders. Additionally, the season-long NYRA Hometown Hero program, held in partnership with CDPHP, honored those who have gone above and beyond during the pandemic, including registered nurses, law enforcement officers and vaccine site officials.
A total of 416 races were run this summer, including 242 on dirt and 174 on the turf. 45 races were taken off the turf due to inclement weather as Saratoga battled historic rainfall throughout the summer. Average field size was 7.7. In 2020, 409 races were run, including 226 on dirt and 183 on the turf. A total of 32 races were taken off the turf. Average field size was 7.4.
The 28-day fall meet at Belmont Park, featuring 47 stakes worth $11.15 million in purses, will open on Thursday, September 16 and continue through Sunday, October 31.
G1 Hopeful Quotes
Steve Asmussen, winning trainer of Gunite (No. 3, $25.20): “I loved how he went through the wire. He didn’t get away great today. Ricardo [Santana, Jr.] said there was just a little bit of bumping. Going 22 and 1 to 44 and 2, and to look how he did it to the wire, it’s going to be exciting going forward. I was concerned we weren’t where we expected to be in the first hundred yards. But I watched the race from up the stretch and Ricardo, coming into the stretch, moved his hands a bit but had him plenty gathered up. I felt really good then.
“It’s state of mind. We’ve been aggressive with him and he’s put on weight and gotten stronger the whole time. We’ve been through the roof with how well he’s doing.”
On needing three starts to break his maiden: “The distance; it was a little too short. But we were anxious to get the Gun Runners running. He’s from a solid sprint family of the Winchells with Gun Runner giving him some endurance. But he’s very durable, mentally and physically. As much pressure as we put on him, he accepted it.”
On a potential start in the one-mile Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne on October 2 at Belmont Park, which offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile: “I love him for more 2-year-old races this year. We know what we want his next two races to be and we feel really good about them. The Champagne and the Breeders’ Cup are what we’re hoping his next two races are. I love his style for the Juvenile. He’s going to travel and we’ll try to take it. We’re very proud of him.”
Ricardo Santana, Jr., winning jockey aboard Gunite (No. 3): “He’s a really nice horse. He can go to the lead, he can come from behind. He can do whatever you want. Today, I decided to take him back. [Defend, No. 2] tried to blow the turn a little bit, so the rail opened. I made my move, and he was making his move by himself. I was really comfortable with him the whole race. He’s getting better and better and better.”
On winning five Grade 1s this meet: “It’s special. Saratoga is one of the best tracks in North America. I’m really blessed. Five Grade 1 wins in one meet is unreal.”
Todd Pletcher, trainer of runner-up Wit (No. 6): “He probably compromised himself. I thought he put in a good, sustained run. It was a tough spot to come from.”
On the stumble at the start: “I’ll have to evaluate it. He took a decent chunk out of both quarters. I’m not saying he felt it during the race. It was the result of stumbling away from there.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr., jockey aboard runner-up Wit (No. 6): “He got beat by a nice horse. He stumbled a little bit at the beginning and he tried hard to overcome that. I had to hustle him and ask him to get position to get there on time, but it was too much. It looks like he can [stretch out].”
Winning margin: 5 3/4 lengths
Final time: (seven furlongs): 1:23.08
Fractions: 22.23, 44.49, 1:10.36
Full order of finish: 3-6-9-8-10-11-1-7-4-2-5
G1 Spinaway Quotes
Steve Asmussen, winning trainer of Echo Zulu (No. 3, $3.30*): “I can’t measure how much I wanted to have Gun Runner’s first Grade 1 winner. Everything he done for the barn, he’s obviously a tremendous sire and somebody had to be first, but I’m glad it was us.
“Ricardo [Santana, Jr.] said after he came back, ‘I thought they let us get away with going a little slow but then I looked back and saw the times. She’s just very fast, very easy.’
“It was a huge jump. We prepared her like a first-time starter at Saratoga to run. She responded and ran well and that was a long time ago going five and a half against different horses. To jump from maidens to a Grade 1 off one run in a race with everything going your way is not easy. It takes a special horse to do it and maybe that’s what she is.
“She is all class and training her she’ll go as easy as you want her to go and picks it up when asked. She’s not been in a hurry for a filly that’s as fast as she is.
“I thought she stutter-stepped the first step and then moved up in there. From the inside in a Grade 1 to stutter-step a bit and then rush a jump to be back where you thought you were going to be and run like that – that’s not easy to do. A real credit to her.”
On a potential start in the Grade 1, $400,000 Frizette on October 3 at Belmont Park – one-turn mile offering a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies: “That looked like it would translate to the Frizette pretty good to me and that would hopefully be the bridge [to the Breeders’ Cup]. To suggest what she can’t do right now would probably be a mistake.”
Michael Levinson [L and N Racing], winning co-owner of Echo Zulu No. 3): “At the top of the stretch, you’re looking at 44 for the half and thinking how does she stay up? But she found another gear and finished up in 1:22 on a pretty slow track today. This was absolutely incredible. To win back-to-back Grade 1 races with two horses from the same family is incredible.
“She and [half-brother Echo Town] both won a Grade 1 at Saratoga going seven furlongs. Obviously, she’s a year younger. It looks like the sky is the limit for her. We’re going to enjoy the win and see what happens. Steve will have to decide where she goes next.”
Ricardo Santana, Jr., winning jockey aboard Echo Zulu (No. 3): “She’s nice. First time she won was impressive and she was training really well. We were happy with her.
“I had so much confidence that I only wore two goggles for seven furlongs. She was working real nice and today she improved a lot.
“I had plenty in the tank. I never hit her. She was running on strong.”
Cherie DeVaux, trainer of runner-up Tarabi (No. 1): “She ran great. I’m really pleased with her effort. Stepping up into Grade 1 company off a win at Ellis Park is a tall ask and she was just so professional and handled everything well. She stumbled and Javier [Castellano] didn’t panic and she just picked it back up and got herself collected and into the race.
“I’m not sure how far she wants to go and Javier had the same impression. A mile might be too far for her – six or seven is where she’s likely going to be most effective.”
Javier Castellano, jockey aboard runner-up Tarabi (No. 1): “I really liked the way this filly improved. I was working her in the morning and she worked really well. We were second best today. The winner was much the best. I would like to see how she improves next time.”
Norm Casse, trainer of Pretty Birdie who was eased to the wire and walked home (No. 5): “Luis [Saez] said he pressed her a little bit at the three-eighths pole and she wasn’t responding, so he just wrapped up with her and took care of her. I watched her jog back and she’s sound and it didn’t look like she bled.”
Winning margin: Four lengths
Final time (seven furlongs): 1:22.51
Fractions: 22.07, 44.73, 1:09.50
Full order of finish: 3-1-6-8-7-4-9-2-5
G2 Bernard Baruch Quotes
Tom Morley, winning trainer of Tell Your Daddy (No. 1, $7.90): “We were going to try and go to the lead anyway, but Todd [Pletcher-trained En Wye Cee] coming out was a big help in terms of the fact that we thought we’d be able to clear. I wasn’t going to give Johnny any instructions, but Jay [Jason Provenzano, owner Flying P Stables] and I had discussed the fact when he rode him last time [second in the Lure], I’d love to see what he could do on the front end in one of these races.
“En Wye Cee coming out probably helped our cause as well and it’s a yielding turf course and hard to close. I was very dubious about how he would handle this ground. He’s run very well on very fast ground, but he has got some form on yielding turf.”
On the claim for $40,000 in January: “We were looking for horses with some real back class to them and this horse ran a huge race in the Shakertown at Keeneland [finishing sixth in 2020]. He was flying at the end going five-and-a-half in what looked like a very good Shakertown and got beaten a length [1 1/2 lengths]. I rang Jay and I said, ‘if we can get this horse to Belmont and go six or seven or a one-turn mile, he’s already won two mile-and-a-sixteenth allowance races.’ So, that was our plan. We started at seven, went to a mile and then we came up here and went a mile and a sixteenth and Johnny said, ‘I think he’ll go further.’ So, it worked out brilliantly and it was great to see him getting his head in front. He’s run some huge races in defeat for us, but that was massive.”
John Velazquez, winning jockey aboard Tell Your Daddy (No. 1): “It [the lack of other pace] made all the difference today. Last time, he ran a winning race and ran a good race, but the other horse that day [Flavius] went to the lead and kept running. Today, our plan was to go to the lead and hope to hold off the other horses, and he did.
“The turf is soft. You have to expect that with the rain we just got. I was a little concerned. I was looking at his soft turf and yielding turf form and he was OK. But you just never know. When he ran on soft turf it was in shorter races. Going two turns helped him today, too.”
Manny Franco, jockey aboard runner-up No Word (No. 4): “The pace was slow, but at the same time I wanted to give my horse a chance. I know the other horse [L’Imperator] was the favorite, so I wanted to give a nice trip. That’s what I did and he ran well.”
Winning margin: half-length
Final time (1 1/16 miles, inner turf): 1:44.61
Fractions: 24.92, 50.75, 1:15.54, 1:38.63
Full order of finish: 1-4-3-5
Saez, Brown and Klaravich All Earn Spa Titles
Luis Saez earned his first riding title at the famed Saratoga Race Course, tallying 64 wins for the 40-day summer meet that concluded on Labor Day Monday. Chad Brown paced all trainers with 41 wins and Klaravich Stables repeated as the top owner, compiling 21 victories.
Saez won the Angel Cordero Jr. title by posting a 64-45-39 record in 336 mounts, amassing earnings of $6.2 million. The native of Panama City, Panama garnered his first riding title on a NYRA circuit.
The 29-year-old Saez finished eight wins clear of three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., whose 56 wins were good for second. Jose Ortiz was third with 51 wins while Joel Rosario was fourth .
Saez extended his run of success aboard reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Essential Quality by piloting him to victory twice during the Saratoga meet, winning the Grade 2 Jim Dandy in a prep for his eventual victory in the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers. Saez, who won his first Classic when leading Essential Quality to glory in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets in June, has helped put his charge in position to win another Eclipse Award as Essential Quality sits as the current top contender for 3-Year-Old Male. The Runhappy Travers win was the second for Saez, who got his picture taken aboard Will Take Charge in 2013.
“This is a tough spot, so winning this title is everything,” Saez said. “To win the Travers; racing at NYRA is the biggest deal right now, and we’re so blessed to be here. It means a lot.”
The Saratoga meet also saw Saez earn graded wins aboard Bella Sofia in the Grade 1 Longines Test and on Cross Border in the Grade 2 Bowling Green, along with Grade 3 scores in the Forbidden Apple [Rinaldi] and the Schuylerville [Pretty Birdie]. Other stakes wins came in the Albany [Americanrevolution], Yaddo [Giacosa], Union Avenue [Awesome Debate], Tale of the Cat [Wondrwherecraigis], Alydar [Art Collector] and the Shine Again [Bayerness].
“You see how tough it is to win a race here. To win 64 races here, it’s wonderful,” Saez said. “I’m so thankful to the trainers and thanks to [agent] Kiaran [McLaughlin], who did a great job. Nothing is impossible. We came here and were patient and rode our horses to win, and we did it. We’re so happy to be here.”
Saez said he’s hopeful his good stretch could put him in contention for his first Eclipse Award.
“That’s my biggest dream, so let’s keep going and see what happens,” Saez said.
Brown registered his fourth H. Allen Jerkens award as top trainer and his third in the last four meets after previously finishing as the leading conditioner in 2016 and 2018-19.
Brown, who set a meet record for conditioners with 46 wins in 2018, edged 14-time Saratoga leading trainer – and 2021 Hall of Fame inductee –Todd Pletcher [31 wins] and third-place finisher Mike Maker .
The Mechanicville, New York native posted five graded stakes wins, compiling a record of 41-34-24 with 176 starters and earnings of more than $4.5 million. Among the highlights was Technical Analysis winning both the Grade 3 Lake George and the Grade 2 Lake Placid, with Viadera capturing the Grade 2 Ballston Spa and Public Sector winning the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame and Grade 3 Saranac. Royal Flag also earned a victory in the Grade 3 Shuvee.
“It’s really been one of the most gratifying meets we’ve had given the fact that we started out really slow with a lot of seconds and a ton of rain,” Brown said. “For the horses and my team to persevere and battle back has just made it such a gratifying meet. Credit, first and foremost, my team, to focus in on their individual tasks, execute our plan and take it one day at a time. We’ve turned the meet around and had a remarkable run the last fourteen days.”
Brown, who tallied four straight Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Trainer from 2016-19, also racked up Saratoga stakes wins in the Better Talk Now [Sifting Sands], Riskaverse [Rastafara], John’s Call [Serve the King], Fasig-Tipton De La Rose [Regal Glory] and the Fasig-Tipton Lure [Flavius]. Combined, Brown and Pletcher have won every Saratoga training title since 2010.
“Obviously it was great to see and for me, I have a better appreciation for it. I don’t take anything for granted,” said Brown of his continued success at his hometown track following a 2020 when spectators were not permitted on site at Saratoga due to COVID-19 concerns. “After a year with nobody here, you do gain a greater appreciation of having the freedom to come to the track and interact with people. I always have been one to try and stop and talk to people whether it’s for a picture or to sign something, or just to chat. You stop a little bit more when you realize people really wanted to be here. They don’t have to be here, but they are here because they want to be. I’ve had a great time catching up with people I hadn’t seen and also meeting a lot of new people every week.”
Klaravich Stables was the leading Saratoga owner for the fourth consecutive meet, extending a run that started in 2018. Headed by Seth Klarman, the ownership entity finished eight wins ahead of runner-up Michael Dubb’s 13 victories. Three Diamonds Farm was third [10 wins] and Repole Stable [nine] was fourth. Klaravich Stables was one win shy of the Saratoga single-meet owner record of 22 wins set by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey in 2013.
For the meet, Klaravich Stables posted a 21-8-12 record with 65 starters, tallying earnings of $1.54 million. Brown trained the two horses [Technical Analysis and Public Sector] who accounted for all four of the stable’s graded stakes winners this meet.
Live racing returns Thursday, September 16 for Opening Day of the 28-day fall meet at Belmont Park, featuring the Grade 1, $150,000 Lonesome Glory, a 2 1/2-mile steeplechase handicap for 4-year-olds and up.
The Belmont Park fall meet, which will run from Thursday, September 16 through Sunday, October 31, will include five Grade 1 races and five “Win and You’re In” qualifiers to the Breeders’ Cup in November at Del Mar.