The races are long over. So, too, was the race for leading handicapper at The Saratoga Special.
Some thought it was a foregone conclusion, others had doubts and supported the challenger who led most of the way, lost the lead, tied it up, lost the lead again and chased to the final day. Such was the scenario between John Shapazian, always the top dog on The Power Grid, and ST Publishing Managing Editor Tom Law. The two went down to the final day, with Shapazian keeping his crown with 138 wins from the 416 races run at the meet.
Shapazian finished two clear of Law, who led from Opening Day July 15 to New York Showcase Day Aug. 27. Shapazian tied it up Aug. 27, picked eight winners Travers Day Aug. 28 and took a three-win lead into the Aug. 29 card.
The race came down to the final day, with Shapazian clinging to a one-win lead heading to the seventh race. The champ picked Don’t Wait Up in the 7-furlong maiden for 2-year-olds while Law tabbed Commandperformance. Don’t Wait Up led from the start and won by 2 lengths over Commandperformance to seemingly give Shapazian an insurmountable two-win lead – they had the same picks in all but one of the final five races – until a jockey’s objection and inquiry left things in doubt for a few more minutes. The stewards didn’t make a change and Shapazian kept his crown, racking up a 33.2 percent strike rate along the way.
Shapazian’s 138 winners were three more than he picked last year, while Law’s 136 wins were an improvement by 13 from a year ago.
The rest of The Special’s handicapping team fared extremely well during the meet. Charles Bedard entered the conversation for the top spot late in the proceedings with a strong final two weeks and checked in third with 131 winners, 22 more than a year ago. Rob Whitlock also improved significantly year-to-year, with 115 wins in 2021 compared to 97 in 2020. Newcomer Jessica Paquette, who handled the on-air handicapping duties during the Colonial Downs meet along with her roles at the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, finished with a respectable 92 wins in her first season. (Check out By the Numbers below for more on Jessica’s exploits).
In honor of Closing Day – now more than a week ago – we’re bringing back an old favorite with the Saratoga postscript Here & There. For one reason or another we haven’t done it since the 2018 meeting, but we’re back now and ready to roll this fall. Thanks for reading.
By the Numbers
21: Wins at the meet for Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stable, most of any owner for the second straight year.
40.70: Dollars returned on investment of a $2 win bet on each of Jessica Paquette’s Closing Day picks, which included $25.20 Hopeful winner Gunite and $15.80 winner Atone in the 11th race.
41: Victories for leading trainer Chad Brown at the meet, five shy of. his record set in 2018 but 10 better than runner-up Todd Pletcher.
45: Races taken off the turf during the meet, up from 32 last year.
64: Wins at the meet for leading jockey Luis Saez, eight clear of runner-up Irad Ortiz Jr.
120: Pounds of coffee donated by Dunkin’ to the Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T.) on Closing Day. The donation is the result of a pledge by Dunkin’ to donate one pound of coffee to B.E.S.T. based on the number of wins by the leading owner, trainer and jockey at the meet.
161: Post-time favorites that won during the meet, a strike rate of 38.7 percent.
18,700: Projected North American registered foal crop for 2022 by The Jockey Club, a decline of about 500 from the 2021 estimate of 19,200.
1,046,478: Total paid attendance at the meet, an average of 26,162.
20,387,702: Dollars in average daily handle at the meet, the first time average daily handle eclipsed the $20-million mark.
815,508,063: Dollars in all-sources handle for the 40-day meet, a record and 15.6 percent increase from the prior mark of $705,343,949 set in 2019.
“Received The Special that you mailed. I really appreciate you sending it. Going to get a small frame and put the story in it, along with our autographed Turcotte pic (my wife's mom’s cousin – I married royalty), and my pic where I’m standing above the winner circle when Rule won the Birdstone and somehow my face landed in the photo. I've already heard via LinkedIn from two people, whom I’ve never met who read it, including a Clevelander who said he knows Sean Clancy. Again, thanks for the chance to be part of the paper!
Dan Polletta, who penned “The Day After” piece that appeared on Page 3 in the Sept. 1 edition.
“I had to Google Baby Yoda to figure out who he was.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott on his two-time winner at the meet, a Florida-bred by Prospective
“I can’t measure how much I wanted to have Gun Runner’s first Grade 1 winner.”
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen after doing just that when Echo Zulu won the Spinaway. He added a second for his former trainee when Gunite won the Hopeful on Closing Day
“I was rooting for a dead-heat.”
The Special’s leading handicapper John Shapazian when Tom Law called to congratulate him on another title
“You have an hour to be down about this, then we don’t want to hear it.”
The Special’s Sean Clancy to Law, after
R.I.P. “Doc” Richardson
Sad news trickled in as the meet ended with word of the passing of our friend and steadfast supporter Dr. J. David Richardson.
A Saratoga staple well known for holding court near Bill Mott’s barn during the meet with his friends, “Doc” Richardson was a trauma surgeon and chief of surgery at the University of Louisville during his medical career. A cousin to the late Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens, Richardson was associated with racing for his entire life. He won more than 100 races as an owner and raised and/or sold more than 1,000 winners.
Our deepest condolences to Doc’s wife Maxine, his family and friends.
Asher, Winn bench at CD
Tip of the cap to Churchill Downs for dedicating commissioned statues to honor the late John Asher and Co. Matt Win. Sculpted by local artist Raymond Graf, the statues depict Asher sitting on a horse shoe bench and talking with Winn, who oversaw the early growth of the Kentucky Derby. The statues will be on the north side of the saddling paddock in the Plaza area. Churchil Downs officials, Graf and members of the Asher and Winn families will be on hand for a dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. Thursday. The public is invited to attend the ceremony free of charge.
Whitmore Day at Oaklawn
We think we know where The Special’s Tom Law might be March 19.
Oaklawn Park announced last week that it planned to celebrate the career of champion sprinter Whitmore next year with Whitmore Day, highlighted by the renamed $200,000 Whitmore Stakes. The 6-furlong stakes was previously the Hot Springs, won by Whitmore four times during his career for trainer and co-owner Ron Moquett and owners Robert LaPenta and Head of Plain Partners.
Oaklawn will also rename the Count Fleet barn, where Moquett stables his horses and Whitmore’s home for six years, in honor of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and champion male sprinter.
R.I.P. “Bow” White
More sad news for our team and the Saratoga racing family came in this week with the passing of longtime Oklahoma gap attendant Melvin “Bow” White at age 80 Sept. 3. White also manually operated the scratch board during the Saratoga meet for 37 years. Closer to home, The Special’s delivery team noted “one paper to Bow White at Oklahoma gap” on its backside-frontside distribution list for many years. We didn’t see him this year, but wished we did.