While 40 sensational days of racing at Saratoga seemed to unfold in the blink of an eye, the past seven weekends at the Spa provided more than enough delightful memories to fuel the daydreams of racing fans until the calendar turns to July once again. Sorting through them is a formidable task, but here's one man's thoughts on a few of them that stand out the most: The mid-summer controversy: It was hard to top the thrill of last year's dead heat in the Travers, but this year's Mid-Summer Derby managed to combine the good, the bad and the ugly of racing into a single two-minute trip around the track. The race itself was a gem. The best 3-year-olds in training showed up and leadership of the division figured to be resolved with Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice and the 9-furlong wonder Verrazano in the field. After a dazzling stretch battle, there were four horses within a length of each other, but -- as can often happen at a track known as the Graveyard of Favorites -- the first two horses to hit the wire were not among the three favorites. Will Take Charge, trained by then 77 years-old D. Wayne Lukas, surged in the final yards and finished a nose ahead of 31-1 pacesetter Moreno.
Orb, in his first race since the Belmont Stakes in June, was three-quarters of a length behind the 9-1 winner in a very creditable effort, and Palace Malice, who had a terrible trip and arguably turned in the best effort, was a nose behind him in fourth. As the dust settled from the race, the major news to come out of the Travers seemed to be that several 3-year-olds turned in promising enough efforts to be threats against their elders in the important fall classic. But then, six days after the race, Eric Guillot, trainer of Moreno, filed a claim with the New York State Gaming Commission that jockey Luis Saez allegedly used an electrical device during the stretch run to prod Will Take Charge to victory. The proof, he claimed, could be seen in a tape of the NBC broadcast that supposedly shows Saez moving something from one hand to the other and tucking it under his saddle. Though Guillot's accusations are still being investigated, wide-spread reviews of the tape have done little to enhance his claims. Yet as innocent as Saez's actions appear, the mere lodging of such a complaint was a black eye for the sport at a time when it should have been celebrating one of its best races of the year. Apparently even at Saratoga, the news is not always rosy for racing. Winners in the truest sense: On Saturday, Aug. 31, exercise rider Raymond Bulgado stood in the winner's circle like so many other people during the meet. But the sequence of events that brought him there were far more poignant than the typical racetrack tale of success. Only four days earlier, Bulgado suffered a fractured neck when the horse he was working out for trainer Nick Zito broke down and Bulgado was thrown to the track. Even in a place with such a long and storied history, the sight of Bulgado overcoming his injury and leading the victorious Grand Arrival into the winner's circle for Zito on that Saturday afternoon represented one of the Spa's more touching triumphs in recent memory. "That's real life, and it's something where you put everything into perspective," Zito said. "I was bawling like everybody else [when Bulgado led Grand Arrival into the winner's circle], and then I kind of got my composure because I didn't want to lose the moment here. Obviously, God talks to you and says, 'Make sure we enjoy the moment.' That's a good moment, a special moment. So that was great." A few days earlier, the same winner's circle served up memories of what racing lost when jockey Ramon Dominguez suffered a career-ending head injury in January. Dominguez was the center of attention when he received the Mike Venezia Memorial Award for extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship and was also presented with his 2012 Eclipse Award as the nation's leading jockey. The Eclipse Award was the third in a row for Dominguez, and the presentation could not have been staged at a more fitting place than Saratoga, where in 2012 he set a record for wins with 68. Later in the meet, in an admirable gesture by the New York Racing Association, the proceeds from closing-day admissions were donated to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund in Dominguez's name. NYRA is often an inviting target for criticism, but the donation was a classy move on behalf of a classy man who generated a wealth of rich memories in his much too short career at the Spa. The Ramsey roll: Picking up where they left off previously at Gulfstream, Keeneland and Churchill Downs, Ken and Sarah Ramsey turned the race for leading owner honors into replay of Secretariat's Belmont Stakes. Not only did the Ramseys win the crown, they set a record with 22 wins. By capturing the 2013 owners' crown, the Ramseys ended Mike Repole's streak of three straight titles and secured their third title in six years. Prior to meet, mindful of how dominant the Ramseys had been earlier in the year, Repole likened his duel with the Ramseys to a best-of-seven event along the lines of the World Series and vowed to make "Game 7" in 2014 a thriller. True to his fun-loving nature, Ken Ramsey got a chuckle out of Repole's comments when they were mentioned following a ceremony honoring him for record-breaking achievement. "I don't know if I can keep up with Mike," he said with a laugh. "He has deeper pockets than me. He can get all those all those first-round draft choices [a.k.a. well-bred 2-year-olds]. All I have is Kitten's Joy." Considering that Ramsey's Kitten Joy is one of the sport's most successful and prolific sires, it's pretty clear Ramsey was just playing possum. It should be an individual battle that will be lively, spirited, and, like virtually everything else about Saratoga, memorable.
the major news to come out of the Travers seemed to be that several 3-year-olds turned in promising enough efforts to be threats against their elders in the important fall classic.