Local Stars Looking to Return to Kentucky

The summer at the New York Racing Association’s Saratoga meet is always enjoyable, but in recent years, that meet has provided much satisfaction to fans of Kentucky racing who have watched Bluegrass State horses, jockeys and trainers enjoy strong success at the famed Saratoga Raceway, sometimes called “The Spa.”

Along with cheering for the Kentucky troops, betting on our locals who summer in New York has frequently been a profitable exercise. Successful Kentucky invaders often get away at odds that are better than those at Churchill Downs or Keeneland.

But this year, the Kentucky-based stables and riders will likely be happy to bid farewell to Saratoga and return home for the September-through-November run of racing at Churchill Downs and Keeneland. It all begins with the Louisville track’s September meet, opening September 11.

Wins at the Spa have been unusually scarce this summer for the Bluegrass Brigade.

Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan has seven wins at Saratoga and is the top Kentucky performer at the New York track.

Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan has seven wins at Saratoga and is the top Kentucky performer at the New York track.

As of Tuesday, August 18, Irad Ortiz Jr. led the Saratoga jockey standings with 36 wins, and Javier Castellano and John Velazquez were deadlocked in the runner-up spot at 27 wins.

A glance through the standings for a Kentucky-based rider yields no familiar names until you arrive at the 13th spot. Shaun Bridgmohan is there with seven wins and is by far the most successful of the big-name Kentucky jockeys working this summer in New York. After Bridgmohan, the second-hottest Kentucky rider at Saratoga is Ricardo Santana Jr. with two wins, although his total comes from only five rides.

Bluegrass State stalwarts Corey Lanerie and Julien Leparoux, who finished 1-2 in a dramatic battle for the Churchill Downs Spring Meet – settled in Lanerie’s favor in the meet’s final race – have been freezing cold in the summer. As of August 18, Leparoux had one win in 71 mounts, with the latter total consisting of fewer than half of the opportunities enjoyed by the meet-leading Ortiz. Leparoux’s mounts have collected 14 finishes of second or third. Lanerie was still searching for his first success after 47 races, although nine of his mounts have run second or third.

Rafael Hernandez, at 1-for-41, is the only other Kentucky-based rider with a victory at Saratoga. He had ridden 17 horses that finished 2-3, with 10 of those in the runner-up spot.

Young Kentucky-based trainer Joe Sharp has three wins so far in his first Saratoga meet.

Young Kentucky-based trainer Joe Sharp has three wins so far in his first Saratoga meet.

The success rate is slightly higher in fewer attempts for Kentucky-based trainers. Steve Asmussen and Mike Maker each has four Spa wins. They will not threaten meet co-leaders Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher, who are tied at 21 victories, but there’s time for both to reach double figures by the time Saratoga racing wraps up on September 7.

Other names from the Saratoga trainer standings familiar to Kentucky fans include Joe Sharp, who is a solid 3-for-17 with his young stable, along with Wesley Ward (three wins), Brad Cox (three), Mark Casse (two), Eddie Kenneally (two), Al Stall Jr. (two), D. Wayne Lukas (one), Dallas Stewart (one), Wayne Catalano (one) and Ron Moquett (one).

Still looking for their first Saratoga win as of August 18 were Kentucky stars Bret Calhoun, Ken McPeek, Ian Wilkes and Rusty Arnold.

The membership of that last group is a pretty good measure of the difficulty of winning at the demanding Saratoga session, as is the roster of non-Kentucky trainers still looking for their initial success at Saratoga 2015. The latter group includes three Kentucky Derby winners in Nick Zito, Michael Matz and John Servis, and three-time Kentucky Oaks winner J. Larry Jones.

The one Kentucky-based connection with a chance to win a title at Saratoga is the ownership team of Ken and Sara Ramsey. The Nicholasville power couple currently sits in third place in the “leading owner” race with five triumphs, one behind co-leaders Godolphin Racing and the team of Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence.

While the Saratoga meet has been a struggle this summer for most Kentucky-based riders and trainers, a better measure of Kentucky racing’s quality remains evident in their respective rates of success over the last several years.

Racing is an ebb-and-flow business, and very heavy on the ebb.

It will be good to welcome our local stars back to Churchill Downs and Kentucky over the next few weeks. And that warm feeling, as much as any time in recent years, should go both ways. VT

Photos by Reed Palmer | Churchill Downs