Saratoga notebook: Two-year-olds key to Pletcher's success
SARATOGA SPRINGS It’s Todd Pletcher’s world . . . and Chad Brown is starting to live more comfortably in it.
For the third year in a row and the eighth time in the last 11 years, Pletcher won the Allen Jerkens award as the leading trainer at the Saratoga Race Course meet, which ended on Monday.
Bolstered by an incredible 23 victories in 2-year-old races, Pletcher finished with 36 wins from 149 starts for a winning percentage of 24.1.
Including a meet-record 38 wins last year, Pletcher has won at least 35 at Saratoga five times.
“Oh, we are very happy. The team has done a good job,” Pletcher said. “We finished up well after a disappointing start, and still being able to win the meet is satisfying. The babies have run well, and a couple had some nice stakes wins along the way. It’s been good.”
Pletcher had just one winner from the first 22 horses he saddled at the meet.
His seven stakes victories included the Grade I Ballerina (Turbulent Descent), Grade I Personal Ensign (Love and Pride), Grade I Hopeful (Shanghai Bobby), Grade II Adirondack (Kauai Katie) and Grade II Bernard Baruch (Dominus).
With nine Saratoga titles, Pletcher tied Hall of Famer Bill Mott for the most in history.
“Like I have said before, sometimes when you are in the middle of something, it’s harder to kind of grasp it,” Pletcher said. “You can’t really step back and take a look at it or appreciate it, like you can years from now. Historically perspective, I have a great appreciation for Saratoga and how hard it is to win here and how tough the competition is.
“To tie Bill Mott, a guy who is in the Hall of Fame, and one of the best trainers this country has ever seen, is very satisfying.”
Pletcher said that he and his team have gotten to the point where they come into each Saratoga meet expecting to win the title.
With that comes tremendous pressure, especially since, in many cases, he’s training high-priced horses for some of the most influential owners in the business.
“Oh, yeah. When you have been fortunate to win eight training titles here, then finishing second in the standings isn’t good enough. For me, too,” Pletcher said.
“I have said before, there are two places we kind of emphasize our stable, Gulfstream and here suit our stable well. Two-year-old racing here and the 3-year-old racing at Gulfstream Park play to our strong suits. Saratoga, I think brings out a little competitive spirit in everybody.”
Including Brown, a Mechanicville native who finished second to Pletcher for the second year in a row.
Brown had 29 winners from 95 starts (30.5 percent) and was in the money a whopping 66.3 percent of the time.
Last year, he had 22 victories.
“Our strike rate was very good,” Brown said. “And hats off to Todd, because to win as many races as he did, particularly with 2-year-old races first-time out, is not easy to do. He had his horses ready, and not only did they win, but a lot of them won and will go on to bigger and better things, too.
“He’s a great trainer, and his strike rate was also very good. Given how many starters he put on the track, to still hit at the rate that he did, he had another outstanding meet and was the deserving winner.”
Brown had five stakes winners — Street Life in the Curlin, Zagora with a track record in the Grade II Ballston Spa, Balance the Books in the Grade II With Anticipation, Watsdachances in the P.G. Johnson and Dayatthespa in the Riskaverse.
“In the end, one difference in the win total was the 2-year-olds,” he said. “I didn’t break nearly as many maidens as he did, obviously, and that’s probably where the separation was. I had a lot of nice 2-year-olds finish second or third first time out, and hit the board in debuts.”
The big disappointments of the meet included Street Life’s Travers and the euthanization of Bluember, who broke both sesamoids in his right front leg at the end of a race on Aug. 22.
Street Life came in last place in the Travers, and was pulled up shortly after the wire with a leg injury that forced his retirement.
“Overall, I think the meet went very well for us, winning five stakes at the meet was a highlight for us, and surpassing our previous year win total,” Brown said. “I had a lot of happy clients throughout the meet.
“I had some disappointments. I had a couple of horses get hurt. Street Life, losing the Travers and losing the horse for the rest of his career was a big blow for us. So there were a couple things, it wasn’t all highs, but overall, it was a terrific meet that I don’t have any complaints about.”
NO SLOWING DOWN
A day after winning six races and setting a new record for single-season wins at Saratoga, Ramon Dominguez opened the card with a win aboard Noble Tune, then added another in the sixth race to finish the meet with 68.
Sunday, he broke the 2004 record set by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who rode 65 winners that year, but one of those horses was later disqualified for a drug violation, leaving his record at 64. It was Dominguez’s second six-win day of the meet.
“I congratulated him,” Velazquez said. “And they should really make a big deal out of it. It’s a big deal, and he should enjoy it. The things he’s done are incredible. Winning six races yesterday and winning six races earlier in the meet is incredible. People should enjoy that. Things like that don’t happen very often in Saratoga. Make it a big deal. He’s doing things that no one has done.”
Mike Repole won the owners’ title for the third straight year, totaling 14 victories at the meet. He also had 12 second-place finishes and five thirds from 53 starts. He was in the money 58.5 percent of the time and won 26.4 percent of the time.