Memorable racing season comes to a close
In one year's time, Saratoga will celebrate the 150th anniversary of horse racing in the Spa City. Before that happens, YNN's Matt Hunter offers a look back at the 2012 meet.
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SARATOGA RACE COURSE -- Perhaps more than any other year, the 2012 Saratoga meet was defined by one moment -- one moment that was shared by two connections. In the 143rd running of the Travers Stakes, the regally bred favorite Alpha and the longshot Golden Ticket crossed the wire at the exact same time, marking the second ever dead heat in the long history of the "Midsummer Derby."
Half of that memorable finish belonged to the powerful triumvirate of Godolphin Stables, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and jockey Ramon Dominguez. All three asserted their dominance over the 40-day meet.
While Godolphin far outpaced any other owner in terms of earnings, McLaughlin ranked second among all trainers in total purses, despite a relatively small number of overall wins. He did that by winning when it mattered most, in the graded stakes - claiming five overall and four grade ones. None were more impressive than Questing's historic wire-to-wire, nine-length romp in the Alabama.
For Ramon Dominguez, the 2012 meet was all about re-writing the record books. Twice he equaled John Velazquez's record of six wins in a single day. The second time he did it, the meet's final Sunday, he also eclipsed Velazquez's record of 64 wins for an entire meet.
Just as Dominguez seemed to have the riding title wrapped up weeks before Labor Day, Todd Pletcher took an early lead in the trainers' race and never looked back. However, not far behind him was Chad Brown, whose remarkable second place finish and strong showing in the summer's stakes races solidified him as a top trainer and may finally be enough to get people to drop the obligatory "Mechanicville native" title every time they say his name.
2012 was not without its fair share of singular moments. Who could forget the meeting between two of the sport's longest standing icons -- Marylou Whitney and Allan Jerkens -- moments after The Chief captured his first win of the meet in the Grade One Prioress. Moments later, the Ian Wilkes trained Fort Larned captured the race bearing The Queen of Saratoga's name.
Many were moved by jockey John Velazquez's emotional words when he headlined a class of four at this year's Hall of Fame induction. It wasn't before his wife, Leona, joined him at the podium that Saratoga's five-time leading rider could get through his speech.
Perhaps the most bizarre moment was when Willy Beamin upset the field in the King's Bishop. Most remarkable is that the Rick Dutrow trained colt won the Albany Stakes just four days earlier.
The Saratoga meet started under a cloud of questions surrounding the embattled New York Racing Association. While NYRA's future is still unknown, few would argue that the higher purses and larger fields fueled by new VLT revenue didn't help produce some of the best on-track action in recent memory. It was truly a summer at Saratoga that left us all wanting more.