Saratoga Notebook: Spa's Dynamic Duo Reflect; Huge Pick 6 Pay-Off; Aldebaran Could Make BC Sprint

By Mike Kane and Phil Janack
Their meet titles long since clinched, trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez reflected on their record-setting achievements this summer.

Pletcher, 36, won his second straight Saratoga crown and third in six years, finishing with 35 victories, 17 seconds and 20 thirds in 124 starts, an astounding in-the-money success rate of 58%.

He notched his 25th win in 20 days on Aug. 14, one more than what was believed to be the record set by Sylvester Veitch in 1954, when Saratoga was a 24-day meet.

Recent research by Kentucky-based journalist Bill Mooney showed that Veitch actually had 19 victories, a total tied by Allen Jerkens in 1972 and passed by Pletcher's 20 in 1998, a year after the meet was expanded to its current 36 days. Bill Mott saddled 22 winners in 2001.

"It really doesn't matter," Pletcher said. His 23rd win came on Aug. 9.

"It became a big story as it unfolded in the first 24 days. We were happy to accomplish it. It was a great accomplishment for the whole staff, but I don't get too caught up in that kind of stuff. I think it would be foolish to emphasize those things in terms of setting goals that way.

"It's like with the Derby. You concentrate on those kinds of things, you're going to get disappointed a lot. It's great that it happened. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future, if someone can break it or we can come back and come close. Who knows."

Pletcher won six stakes during the meet, the Schuylerville (gr. II) and Spinaway (gr. I) with Ashado; the Sanford (gr. II) with Chapel Royal; the Jim Dandy (gr. II) with Strong Hope, the Ballerina (gr. I) with Harmony Lodge and the West Point for New York-breds with Finality.

"There's obviously a lot of good wins in there," Pletcher said. "Strong Hope's win in the Jim Dandy was a great win for us. Harmony Lodge winning the Ballerina was big. She's a 5-year-old that's been in our care for a long time and she's kind of been on the verge of something like that. We always felt like she was a grade I filly that didn't have that on her resume. The Spinaway was a big win.

"To me, what's great about the meet is not only did we win a lot of races, but we also won some significant races along with it. Those are the big ones and those are the ones you are trying to develop horses to be in, stakes-caliber horses."

Saratoga was Pletcher's second straight record-setting meet. He won 40 races at Belmont Park's 55-day spring-summer session.

The jockey title is the second for Velazquez, 31, who finished with an equally astounding 61 wins in 235 mounts (26%) with 29 seconds and 31 thirds. He also wore the crown with 31 wins in 1998, one more than Mike Smith, who was leading the standings before being hurt with more than a week left in the meet.

"It's much better. I've got to say, I feel better winning it this way," Velazquez said. "I can't say that one doesn't count, but this is more satisfying for me.

"That was my main goal, to win the title with no doubts or anything. That was something I really wanted. It didn't matter the number. I just wanted to win the title."

Represented by retired 14-time Spa riding champion Angel Cordero Jr., Velazquez scored his 42nd winner on Day 23, Aug. 17, one more than the recognized 24-day record set by Manny Ycaza in 1959. On Saturday, Velazquez upped his total to 59, four more than Jerry Bailey's 36-day standard from 2001.

Riding first call for Pletcher, who produced 29 of the jockey's wins, Velazquez won six stakes: the Sanford, Jim Dandy and West Point for Pletcher; the Alabama (gr. I) with Island Fashion for trainer Barclay Tagg; the Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup (gr. III) on the Travers undercard for Mott; and Monday's Saranac (gr. III) for Mark Frostad of Canada.

"There was a lot of help from a lot of people, especially Todd," Velazquez said. With just his Pletcher wins alone, Velazquez would have ranked third in the rider standings.

"When you have an opportunity to ride good horses, it gives you confidence. It's been great. I've been very fortunate and very blessed the way the meet went this year. Everything kind of fell into place. We had our share that didn't go our way but, for the most part, everything really went our way."

Two Winners in $1.6 million Pick 6 Closer
The two-day carryover of $390,590 led to a huge Pick Six pool of $1,673,885 for Monday's closing day program.

There were two winners, one on-track and the other who bet through TVG, and each collected $666,075.

Aldebaran Could be Headed for BC Sprint
After the way he won Sunday's Forego (gr. I), Aldebaran may find himself in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in October at Santa Anita.

Trainer Bobby Frankel said he would consider the six-furlong Sprint for his multiple stakes-winner, whose typical late-running style normally isn't conducive to such short distances.

"You have to ride him with a lot of confidence," Frankel said. "Jockeys, when they first ride him, they have a tendency to keep him a little closer because he drops so far out of it, but I think his best race is just to let him drop back on his own and pick it up on his own. (The Forego) was his best race all year.

"I wasn't thinking Sprint, but he does like Santa Anita. He's run twice there and won twice. He's run very fast over that track. He'll just have to get lucky and get through traffic. It's a good break. He's got six, seven weeks now. Maybe that's the thing to do. The thing about him is, you give him the time between races and he gets to feeling good. He's good and sound. He's a nice horse to train."

Jockey Jerry Bailey said the victory convinced him that Aldebaran could be a major factor in the Sprint. The 5-year-old Mr. Prospector horse pulled Bailey up to the pack sooner rather than later in the Forego, swept past pacesetter Najran and cruised to a 4 3/4-length victory.

"He's a horse, with his style, it's hard to win going three-quarters," Bailey said. "But, if he can run like that, it won't be that big of a problem. He's always been one-dimensional coming from so far behind. This time ... he was willing to get up there.

"Being that he was willing to get up in the race and take me through the middle of the race a little closer, I thought he would be more effective going six furlongs than he used to be. If he can be that sharp going six furlongs, he's got a chance to get through traffic and still win a Breeders' Cup race."