Saratoga Diary: Jake and the Sheikh

Saratoga Diary: Jake and the Sheikh
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Three weeks ago, word came down from above that Jake Schmidt, Saratoga Race Course's oldest usher, wouldn't be squiring the Travers Stakes (gr.I) trophy down from the lock box to the winner's circle, and Schmidt was disappointed.

Then, all of a sudden, things changed, and there Schmidt was, next to the sheikhs in the winner's circle, preening for the cameras and taking in the scene like a paparazzo.

The 85-year-old "white cap" - which is the term by which red-vested ushers such as Schmidt used to be called - has handled this assignment for several years now. And what he likes best about it is that he gets to be on television so his grandsons in California can see him.

Maybe someone believed that Schmidt couldn't manage the heavy lifting, but it was Bluegrass Cat and four other 3-year-old Thoroughbreds that appeared lacking in muscle. Bernardini won the $1 million Midsummer Derby as impressively as a young Arnold Schwarzenegger under barbells.

It is a shame that many of the clubhouse box-holders didn't stay for the trophy presentation. Like a golfer who leaves the green before the last player in the foursome has putted or the guy who goes to sleep before his house party guests leave, they scampered off as soon as the race was declared official, missing a performance by jockey Javier Castellano that was entertaining, if not clearly rehearsed.

Castellano, who was unceremoniously dumped to the track by Bernardini for a lack of attention in the post parade, made certain that he was the center of attention afterwards. He raised his arms a la Frankie Dettori, and blew flowers that he plucked from the winner's blanket at the crowd. His most dangerous stunt, however, was patting the neck of Bernardini twice at the sixteenth pole. One slip in the saddle then would have brought the house down.

Despite the antics by Castellano, the most visible people at the party were the sheikhs. Sheikh Rashid, son of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Godolphin Racing and then some, spoke willingly to the press and was effusive in his praise of Bernardini, Castellano, and trainer Tom Albertrani. It was a long way for him to travel from Dubai to Saratoga, but in a flat world, the trip can be easy. Immediately after the Travers, he was on his cell phone - no doubt, to his father.

Dubai-connected horses dominated the competition in several races that preceded the Travers. The Darley Stable emerged victorious with Incriminate, a $1.5 million Unbridled's Song two-year-old that was making his debut in the fifth race. Another Darley runner - a $1 million son of Forestry   named Bedford Falls - was a head shy of Simon Pure in the seventh.

Other winners for which Sheikh Rashid accepted trophies were Ashkal Way, a Godolphin Racing runner, in the Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. II) and Henny Hughes, who campaigns in his colors of Zabeel Racing International, in the King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I).

In all, it would have been too much to do for a guy who was jet-lagged.

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