Saratoga Race Course Meet Wrap Up
With the last race having been run at the 2012 Saratoga Race Course meet, we offer a look back on all that was in the form of some post-meet awards.
A 38K Maiden race seems like an unceremonious end to an event whose consistently high quality and tradition have been the building blocks upon which 144 years have history have been written. But when Golden Tornado clipped the wire in Monday's eleventh, the gelding was closing the book on the 2012 Saratoga Race Course Meet. And while the patrons all retire to their homes, and the horses on to other tracks, I find myself overcome with nostalgia - left with only the choice to look back with a smile on all that was. Come along, if you will.
Rising Star of the Meet - Spurious Precision & Kauai Katie: The future of horse racing appears healthy given an impressive class of two year olds who lit up the Saratoga Race Course throughout its 40 day meet, but for my money, it was Spurious Precision and Kauai Katie who were the most impressive. In back to back races one fateful August Sunday, these two claimed a pair of Grade Two sprints in similar style - bolting to the lead, burning through insane early fractions, and kicking away from the field with a ferocious drive that defied explanation. It's a long way to go for these youngsters, and they were joined in the Saratoga barns by a wealth of talent, but these two were, to me, the best.
Performance of the Meet - Questing's Alabama: Questing emerged from relative anonymity to win the Coaching Club American Oaks, but her return to the Saratoga track was a performance that will keep her on the minds of racing fans for generations to come. The emphatic, awe-inspiring nature of her romp in the Grade One Alabama is unquestionably the performance of the meet and, quite frankly, of the year. There was no surprise amongst we in the assembled media when Questing went to an easy lead at the start, but when quick fractions turned to fast fractions, and when Irad Ortiz Jr. kept to his filly and her pace never slowed, surprise turned to disregard as the masses pronounced her hopes of winning the Grade One dead. Soon however, utter disbelief was all you could find as we, jaws agape, watched Questing explode away from and utterly dominate the field. I know I'm prone to hyperbole, but I assure you this is not: it was simply the stuff of legend for Kiaran McLaughlin's Questing.
Race of the Meet - Travers Stakes: As if there could be another choice. The Travers Stakes is the highlight of every Saratoga Race Course meet - the climax of its short, yet ferocious crescendo. This year, the Mid-Summer Derby became so much more than that when the favorite, Alpha, ran down the long-shot, Golden Ticket, in deep stretch with the pair hitting the line together - unable to be separated even on the photo. A dead heat. In the 143 year history of the Travers, only once had the race ended in a dead heat...in 1874...before racing enjoyed today's photo finish technology which you'd be hard pressed to sneak anything by. We'll likely have to wait a while to see anything like it again.
Jockey of the Meet - Ramon Dominguez: When John Velazquez's injury prevented him from racing in the meet's opening few days, everyone knew the door was open for another to step up and claim Saratoga's jockey title. Many pegged Ramon Dominguez as the guy who would step through said door, but not many would have guessed that he would kick it open, tear it off the hinges and post a win total the likes of which Saratoga had never seen. On the meet's penultimate day, Dominguez tallied his second 6-win day of the meet, and broke Velazquez's 2004 record of 65 wins. "I have to stop and pinch myself," says Dominguez, "We were very fortunate." Modest as he is, the man was lights out this summer, there could be no other answer here.
Trainer of the Meet - Kiaran McLaughlin: Though the last three entries in this article have been comically obvious, I go off book a bit and claim a trainer with single digit wins as my trainer of the meet. Though Kiaran McLaughlin's wins measure a mere fraction of the likes of Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, the quality of McLaughlin's wins are nearly impossible to beat. He collected the Coaching Club American Oaks, Jim Dandy, Alabama, Travers, and Forego this meet - that's four Grade Ones, a Grade Two, and four of Saratoga's most important races. Others got more, the got the best.
Horse of the Meet - Questing: A winner of two different Grade One Stakes, Questing stood above them all this summer at Saratoga. First, she lulled them to sleep atop easy fractions in the American Oaks, leaving enough in the tank to step away from the field and hold them off in the stretch; then she quite simply ran them all ragged in a breathtaking Alabama - running away from not one, but three Grade One winners in the process. Other horses tallied the same number of wins, others even one multiple Graded Stakes, but none did them with as much fervor, or as impressively, as this brilliant filly.
Lasting Memory - Travers: Though memories of the many two year old romps, great rides and close finishes; Questing's sparkling performances; and Willy Beamin's two stakes wins in three days are ones that will stay with me through the winter, one is likely to stay with me for as long as I remain able-minded - the dead heat. For me, it will be the building crowd noise as Alpha ran down Golden Ticket in deep stretch, the exasperated screams at the finish and at the posting of the photo, and feeling my own jaw drop while I stood amidst the exuberant celebrations of the various connections surrounding me as the dead heat was posted that will stick with me. There was something beautiful in the chaos of it all - the sport's most exciting outcome in the summer's most exciting race. Never before seen, and unlikely to be seen for a while, it was unquestionably, the most exciting sporting event I've had the pleasure to view in person - a memory that won't soon be equaled.
And so another chapter of Saratoga's immense history has been written - one more summer come and gone for America's oldest sporting venue; and while I sit in the press box and type away with Billy Joel's New York State of Mind blaring over the loud speaker - the sound of boxes being packed doing their best to drown out the ballad - I'm happy to say that mixed in with the sadness and longing is a healthy dose of optimism as I the future can't help but be heard of. Indeed, while I won't be there when Belmont's fall meet opens on Saturday, the horses will be. And they'll be there in the November's Breeders' Cup. They'll be there on the Derby trail in early 2012, in the Triple Crown, and - eventually - back here at the course we all love. So while the tote boards now stand dark, and the paddock sits empty, I know that Saratoga is just biding her time, sitting, waiting - dormant, yet eternally ready to reopen her doors and once again welcome the Sport of King's to her unparalleled course.
So until next year, let me say thank you to all of you who joined me on this 40 day journey. It was my pleasure to host this ride of ours, and my only hope is that you enjoyed it as much as I did. Be sure to check back during the Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown, and I'll see you next year at Saratoga.