Gabby Gaudet made history Wednesday at Keeneland. She broke the Internet in the process – thankfully not completely – when becoming the first female to announce at a major Thoroughbred auction in North America.
Our team at ST Publishing couldn’t be more proud of the strides Gabby has made since she worked on our editorial team in the summers of 2012 and 2013, before she launched her television and commentating career at TVG and Keeneland.
We reached out to congratulate Gabby Wednesday, much like so many did via social media, press releases and posts from industry publications, and she took us back to her first season at The Special and one assignment in particular.
“Marched right over to Wayne's barn in my cowboy boots,” Gabby wrote ST Publishing’s co-founder and co-publisher Sean Clancy, referring to her preview of D. Wayne Lukas’ entry of Optimizer and Skyring in that day’s Grade 2 Hall of Fame Stakes in the Aug. 10, 2012 edition of The Saratoga Special.
Gabby shared the byline of the story titled “Channel Two” with her partner in crime that season, Ryan Jones, and there are plenty of gems. From the start, which detailed Lukas training a new Australian Shepherd while riding his pony to what he remembered about receiving word he’d been elected to the Hall of Fame 13 years ago.
“I remember it was Derby week (when the honor was announced) so we had a lot on our mind and when it came, they said they were going to hold a press conference and announce it in the press box at Churchill, I mean it was exciting,” Lukas said in the piece. “For me it was a cumulation of a lot of things. All the good assistants I had, who eventually will all go in I think. It was a tribute to them. It was a feeling of ‘well, we finally arrived in the game.’ ”
We dug into our digital edition archives to find the piece, along with the first written by Gabby during that memorable summer in Saratoga. We plan to continue our look back at the first 19 seasons of The Saratoga Special throughout the winter and spring while we celebrate and prepare for 20 years of The Special in 2020.
The first appeared in the 2012 Opening Day edition. Gabby caught up with agent Ronnie Ebanks, representing then Saratoga newcomer Joel Rosario for his first Saratoga meet in a piece titled “Moving In and Up,” that appeared on Page 20 amidst other editorial previewing the meet and the day’s stakes, John Velazquez’s return to riding after an injury in the spring and a short feature by Jones about the late Rick Violette’s outlook for the meet. Gabby worked the whole meet and the next. The Ebanks-Rosario tandem didn't last long at Saratoga, however, with the rider opting to switch to agent Ron Anderson about a week after Opening Day.
Moving In and Up
Ebanks, Rosario relocate to the Spa
By Gabby Gaudet
When the time is right, make the move. And that’s just what Ronnie Ebanks, agent for the Saratoga newcomer Joel Rosario, is doing. Sixth in the nation in earnings, Rosario has moved east in hopes of soon becoming the nation’s top rider. He has already made a big name for himself in California and looks to take that hard-earned reputation to another level. By the looks of it, the combination will do just fine, riding nine of 10 races on Opening Day, including live shots in the Schuylerville and the James Marvin for trainer Rick Dutrow. Ebanks, the “Love Man,” took a minute for a quick chat on expectations, obstacles, and the one and only Saratoga.
How long have you been Joel’s agent?
April was two years, so a little over two years.
What made you two come to Saratoga this summer?
We had been discussing it for about a year and a half, coming back east because of the influx of funds and purses. We didn’t want to leave the comfort and the great position we were in with business there. When Johnny Velazquez had a spill and was going to be out for five or six weeks, summer was coming up, my business had gotten the weakest that it had ever been in California the prior six months. We lost a lot of our stakes horses because of injuries. I thought, “We are going to do it, make the move,” especially with Saratoga giving $950,000 away a day (in purses). That’s almost double what Del Mar is. So I said to Joel, it’s time. We got to go now. I don’t want to but we have to.
Who do you expect to ride for?
Everyone. Starting out, it’s not going to be like what we left, so we have to make our way. Just like anything. It’s like we’re starting over, we are going to have to prove ourselves again, but I brought him here because I think he is the best rider in the country. I believe he deserves to be here.
How do you think Joel will transition from the West Coast style to the East Coast style? Do you think there is any difference?
Yes, we just had a conversation about that. He’ll have to adjust his style but he is a very adaptable rider. That’s what I love about him. He is not a rider that has to plan a race. He is a natural. I’ve seen him take speed horses, have them last and win. He could take horses that come from last, put them on the lead and they win. California has so much speed, that he tended to take horses back more and let them collapse in front and get them. So that’s not going to happen very much here and he knows that. The style here is more even play. They finish more here. So he will have to adapt to that. He’s such a good rider. He’s such an adaptable rider. I don’t see that being a problem. The issue is going to be getting him on live horses and the best horses. He’s not going to ride the 20-1 shots and win at 30 percent, that’s for sure. It’s about getting the right business.
Saratoga also has a couple of other new faces including Rosie Napravnik. How do you feel about the other new competition?
For me? I’m in a tough position. Rosie has been here for four or five months ahead of me. So they have a lot of inroads. (Ramon) Dominguez and (Javier) Castellano are running the show in the business right now, they’ve been here. I’m coming from the outside in. I’m starting from scratch. I’m going to be up against it, getting the opportunity. As we know, the horses win the races. It’s about 10 to 15 percent jockey and the rest is all horse. They have the first hand of the business right now. When I get the first hand of the business he will be leading rider. Until then, they will be in front of me. They are very good riders but I put Joel with anyone in the country in ability. We have so much more to prove and a tougher way to prove it. But I know in time, of him being here, the public and the horsemen are going to see what quality of rider he is and he’ll make his own opportunities.
What’s your background with Saratoga? Have you been here before and if so, who with?
Oh yeah, I was here for about eight years. I had Shane Sellers and was very successful with him here. I also had Jorge Chavez here for a year and a half. So I have all those connections. I’ve worked with these horsemen for 15 years. I couldn’t have made the move without that. That’s why I said to him, “let’s go.” I have no fear going back to Saratoga because I know everyone. Doors for me are open everywhere here. He has not ridden for many of these trainers here though. They’ve seen him, they’ve seen his stats but having not ever ridden for them, it’s going to take time to get into these barns. They don’t know the level and quality he’s riding. It’s going to take time proving that and it’s going to be tough proving that because I’m not going to start out with the choice horses. But it’s like anything – the cream will rise to the top. I’m very confident in that. In any game and in any sport, perseverance and talent will rise.
What’s your favorite Saratoga memory?
Fav-or-ite Sar-a-to-ga mem-or-y? I have so many. I can’t remember her name. I’m just kidding, that was joke! I had to make you laugh. No, it has to be winning the Travers with Shane Sellers on Carl Nafzger’s horse – Unshaded.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Saratoga?
My favorite place is Novè, it used to be called Sergio’s. The owners are very good friends of mine. It’s the best place in town.
Lukas entry tries to cover bases in Grade 2 turf stakes
By Gabby Gaudet and Ryan Jones
D. Wayne Lukas sat on his pony outside his barn in the far corner of the Oklahoma side, reins in one hand, leash and dog in the other. He spoke to a handful of people from the saddle, as usual, and just like that disappeared into the green acres behind his barn. Lukas and his pony jogged back and forth as his young Australian Shepherd did exactly the same next to the pony.
“He’s training his dog,” said assistant Bas Nicholl. “He’s already conquered horse training, now he’s on to dogs.”
Thirteen years ago, Lukas was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Today, he will have the 3-1 dual entry, Optimizer and Skyring in the Grade 2 Hall of Fame Stakes.
Optimizer and Skyring are sired by the turf monster English Channel, winner of seven Grade I stakes on the turf.
“We’re probably in a good spot because both of ours are English Channels,” said Lukas. “We’re trying to expose them to the breeders that are up here. They’ve got pretty good form on the grass, so we’re kind of excited about that spot.”
Bluegrass Hall’s Optimizer aims for his second victory on the turf after breaking his maiden on the Saratoga turf last summer. Off that win, the bay colt nearly did it again, finishing second, by a head to State Of Play, in the Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes. Optimizer closed last year with two dirt starts against graded company and stayed on that surface through the spring with starts in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Back on turf last time in the Virginia Derby July 21, Optimizer was steadied at the three-sixteenths pole before finishing fourth. He looks for better fortune under Junior Alvarado.
“He was second here last time as a 2-year-old in the stake on the turf, so we know he has an affinity for it,” said Lukas. “We went through the Triple Crown and everything and once we decided he wasn’t going to win one of those we switched back to the turf, Colonial and now this.”
Bluegrass Hall’s other side of the entry, Skyring, didn’t run in the Triple Crown but he did run on the same days, at the same tracks, and managed two wins out of the three races. Skyring comes off one of his best performances in the Grade 3 American Derby at Arlington Park where he was third beaten by just a neck.
“We kept him on the grass,” said Lukas. “We won with him on Preakness Day. I think he’s strictly a grass horse.
The good thing about what we’re doing here is that they don’t compromise each other. Skyring gets into the races, lays close to the leader on the pace, the other horse comes from way out of it, so it’s easy for us to run both of them and take a chance. We’d like to get an English Channel to win this race, that’s what we’re after because we (Bluegrass Hall) own the factory. We own the sire and both dams.”
Today marks the annual Hall of Fame ceremony. On Aug. 9, 1999, Lukas joined the shrine, a feat that trainers, owners, jockeys and horses spend a lifetime trying to achieve. John Velazquez, Roger Attfield, Ghostzapper, Robert Wheeler, Planet and Anthony Hamilton will join Lukas as racing legends.
“That’s the ultimate, if you’re going to be in this division,” said Lukas. “You know, it’s a 25-year requirement, so you’ve already put 25 years of your life into the darn thing. So to be recognized, especially at that highest level is so significant.”
Lukas took a moment to describe what that experience was like 13 years ago.
“I remember it was Derby week (when the honor was announced) so we had a lot on our mind and when it came, they said they were going to hold a press conference and announce it in the press box at Churchill, I mean it was exciting,” said Lukas. “For me it was a cumulation of a lot of things. All the good assistants I had, who eventually will all go in I think. It was a tribute to them. It was a feeling of ‘well, we finally arrived in the game.’ ”
Trainer Chad Brown looks to defend his title in the race, for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf. Last year, Brown won the Grade 2 stakes with Big Blue Kitten. Brown tries to repeat with Yari.
“I had luck last year,” said Brown. “Big Blue Kitten seems to be very similar to this horse Yari. He started off in a maiden claiming race and as he has developed, he’s gotten faster and better and he’s worked his way out of there to the allowance ranks and now to the stakes races. They are so similar, that once I formed the opinion that they were very similar I just followed the same exact program as I did for that horse last year.”
The similarities between the two horses are abundant. Both horses began their careers with losses in maiden claimers at Gulfstream Park. They worked their way from maiden races to stakes races within eight months. Leading to the Hall of Fame, each won two consecutive races at Belmont, a confidence builder for any horse headed for its first stakes race.
As for Yari, Brown certainly recognizes the talented field he’s up against.
“It’s definitely a test for him,” said Brown. “It looks like a solid race from top to bottom but my horse is on the improve and that’s when I like to take a shot.”
As he aims for his third consecutive win, and fourth in five starts, the chestnut gelding by First Samurai may have to deal with more than just the other eight horses running along with him.
The forecast calls for a 60-percent chance of rain with scattered thunderstorms, some of which could be severe.
For a horse such as Yari who has never run on anything but firm turf and fast dirt, the rain could prove troublesome.
“I really don’t know how he’d run in the rain,” said Brown. “I would prefer it to be firm. I won’t rule out the possibility that he can handle it off the turf.”
Shkspeare Shaliyah, named in part for trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal’s granddaughter, started his career as a 2-year old at today’s distance and ran third, came back again and won, then jumped up to the Grade 3 Pilgrim, and did it again. He has been out of the money since that race last October at Belmont, and was given a two-month break after the Breeders’ Cup. After January’s Count Fleet on the dirt, he was put away for four months, and has come back to the turf. In his last race June 29 at Belmont, the London Company Stakes at today’s distance, he ran fourth for owners Shivmangal Racing Stable.
Seahorse Stable and Bruce Hollander’s Csaba also has a win in his last race, the El Kaiser at Calder July 21, but on dirt rather than over the turf.
Trainer Phil Gleaves named Julien Leparoux on the son of Kitten’s Joy, who makes his first turf start since finishing third to Howe Great and Dullahan in March.
Spring To The Sky stretches out for his sixth career start. Owned by Anthony McCarthy and trained by Bruce Brown, the son of Langfuhr switched to the turf two races ago, finishing fifth in the Hill Prince and third in the Duluth. Javier Castellano, who rode him to his maiden win last year, returns.
Jockey Corey Lanerie ships from his Kentucky base to guide Quick Wit for owner Michael Bruder and trainer Dale Romans. The son of Sharp Humor owns two wins from nine starts.
Favored Daddy Nose Best began the year by stringing together two wins on the dirt that set him on the Kentucky Derby trail for trainer Steve Asmussen and owners Bob and Cathy Zollars. Ramon Dominguez replaces Leparoux on the son of Scat Daddy, who sports two wins from seven turf starts.
The same day the piece ran a quote from trainer Kelly Breen ran in our Worth Repeating section.
“You’re like a jock without a helmet,” Breen said to Gabby as she tried to take notes without a pen.