By Noel Michaels
Many times, the race for the jockey and training titles at the prestigious summer meets at Del Mar and Saratoga come down to the final weekend.
This probably won’t be one of those times.
As the closing weekend for each meet kicks off – Sept. 6 (Monday) is the final day at each track — jockey Luis Saez and trainer Chad Brown are ruling Saratoga, and jockey Flavien Prat and trainer Peter Miller will each win for the second year in a row at Del Mar.
Much of the meet, it was all about Mike Maker, who rocketed out of the gate and took command for more than a month, with expected leaders Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher playing catch up. Maker slowed down considerably, though, and Brown has taken charge: Entering races on Sept. 2, Brown has 34 wins (23% win rate), with Pletcher second at 25 wins (19%); and Maker third with 24 (19%).
Brown is on course for his fourth Saratoga tile, having won in 2016, 2018 and 2019. Brown trainees dominated on the turf, where he’s won 21 times. The next leading trainer in grass wins is Maker, with 14 winner. Pletcher leads the way with dirt winners with 20. He also leads with nine wins in 2-year-old races.
Heading into the final weekend, Maker saddled 129 starters, second to Brown’s 149. Pletcher started 119.
Among other notable performers, especially in win percentage, are Rob Atras — 13 wins from 43 starters (30% win clip and an average win payoff of $9.40; Brad Cox – 12 winners from 39 starters (31%); Steve Asmussen on dirt with 16 wins from 59 starters (27%); and Christophe Clement on the turf with 13 winners from 63 starts (21%).
The award for the strangest trainer stat at the meet goes to Bill Mott. Usually a turf ace, Mott has 13 winners so far, with 12 on the dirt – he’s 1-for-45 on the turf.
In somewhat of a surprise, Luis Saez has a pretty good lead over the Ortiz brothers (Irad and Jose) and seems set to win his first Saratoga riding title. The regular rider for Essential Quality enters the final five days of the meet with 58 wins; Irad Ortiz, Jr., has 47 and Jose Ortiz has 43. Nothing is over until it’s over, but Saez is having a sensational meet, and is about to end a three-year run of one of the Ortiz brothers winning the riding title.
Saez’s win rate is 20%, including 40-for-162 (25%) on the main track.
Handicappers who remember the 2020 season at the Spa may not be all that surprised about this summer. In 2020, he was quiet during July but was the hottest and winningest jockey in August.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. is 47-for-277 (17%) and leads riders in turf wins with 24. Jose Ortiz is 43-for-275 (16%).
Other notable performances came from Tyler Gaffalione and Ricardo Santana, Jr. Gaffalione tallied a 32-for-205 (16%), while Santana won 29 races from 170 mounts (17%). Joel Rosario, who many thought could contend for the title, hasn’t ridden as many mounts as the other top jocks and has 38 wins from 210 starters (18%).
Peter Miller appears to be a lock with 21 wins heading into the final weekend, with Bob Baffert next at 14 wins. Miller, about to wrap up his fourth Del Mar summer title has an 18% win rate from 117 starters; Baffert is 14-for-54 (26%); and Peter Eurton is next at 8-for-34 (24%).
Doug O’Neill has started the most horses at the meet with 118 but has posted a disappointing 10-win season so far.
Flavien Prat has a comfortable advantage as he closes in on his fourth riding title at Del Mar, and third in a row. He has 36 wins from 135 mounts (27%) despite missing several days to ride out of town.
Other top jockeys included Abel Cedillo (28-for-172, 16%), Juan Hernandez (27-for-163, 17%), Umberto Rispoli (23-for-148, 16%), and Joe Bravo (20-for-98, 20%).