Aron Wellman lobbied hard. “That’s got to be the moment of the meet. Come on…it is for me.”
It was minutes after Catholic Boy provided Jonathan Thomas with his first win at Saratoga, in the Grade 3 With Anticipation no less. Your first win and your first stakes win at Saratoga, that’s a hell of a moment. Wellman, a client and a friend (perhaps not in that order) of Thomas’, helped to convince the 37-year-old to run a few horses off his Bridlewood base, the plan percolated, crawled and burgeoned with a stakes win at Saratoga.
Yeah, it was the moment of the year for Thomas, certainly for John Panagot, a client and a friend (again, perhaps, not in that order), who manages Catholic Boy for Robert LaPenta and for Wellman, who had already voted.
But that’s the thing about Saratoga. They’re all moments. Individual moments for each person involved, moments that define a summer, a season, a life. Not to glamorize The Special, but it was part of the impetus to try to get this project off the ground – to tell the stories about the moments.
Wellman had already voted for Thomas.
Now for the other candidates…
Kate and Bernie Dalton won the New York Turf Writers Cup with Diplomat. The husband and wife team from South Carolina packed up and moved their horses to a training center in New Jersey, went back and forth from there to Saratoga every week. They do it all themselves, own New York-bred flat horses, steeplechase horses and anything that comes their way. They somehow get along and win races. Toss Rich and Adam Newman in there as well, they claimed Diplomat and won a Grade 1 stakes.
Dylan Davis won a race on the day he became a father. Now that’s a moment.
NYRA’s Pat McKenna and his wife Ali had a baby girl, Abigail. Now that’s a moment.
Gun Runner won the Whitney with a shoe in his tail. He’s the answer to a trivia question, which horse won the Whitney while wearing five shoes. That was certainly the craziest moment of the year.
Father/son Oscar and Kevin Gomez won races at the meet. Has that ever been done? That’s a moment, well two moments, for the Gomez family.
Bruce Brown, John Kimmel, Phil Serpe, Mark Hennig, Jimmy Ryerson, Dominick Schettino, Leah Gyarmati, Nick Zito and others got off the duck, relief is the biggest moment.
Sean McDermott guided Invocation, Paddy Young’s ride, to win a hurdle race, put on a “198” hat for the five-time champ in a moment when you call yourself lucky.
David Duggan won two races at the meet from just six starters, those two wins were certainly the moments of the year for Duggan and his wife, Lara. Send them some horses, they might be able to provide some moments for you.
Manny Franco won his first Grade 1 stakes, nimbly guiding World Approval to win the Fourstardave.
Celtic Chaos put Zilla Stable on the cover of The Special. Good Samaritan became a dirt horse. Barbara Minshall stormed Saratoga with Dream It Is. Simon Callaghan and Michell Nevin exacted revenge. Reid Nagle won the New York Stallion Series with Lover’s Key. Moments.
Proctor’s Ledge won two stakes at the meet for Trish Moseley and Brendan Walsh. That’s momentous for a long-game, old-school owner/breeder and a trainer who had never won a race at Saratoga.
How about Unbridled Forever for Dallas Stewart? That’s his moment of the meet, moment of the year. As for Joel Rosario’s ride, well, that was a moment of genius.
Anybody see Jose Ortiz’s ride on Tusk, to make it five on the day? That was the riding moment of the year.
Good Night Shirt, Goldikova, Tom Voss, Garrett Gomez, Victor Espinoza and Javier Castellano were inducted into the Hall of Fame. The moment of recognition for your life’s work.
Robert Bonnie won with homebred Joyful Joyful. It might have looked like a $40,000 maiden claimer but it was far bigger for Bonnie and his wife, Julie Gomena.
Rusty Arnold won the Coronation Cup with Morticia. We missed the Name of the Day moment when the daughter of Halloween Party ran on a Monday. We also didn’t get to adequately tell the story of Morticia’s groom, Armando Cortes, who died while on a road trip to Laurel Park with the filly in July. Take a moment to remember.
Ollie Figgins brought his wife’s horse to Saratoga and she ran off the screen. Good guy, shrewd trainer, certainly the moment of the meet for him.
Rajiv Maragh won a Grade 1 with By The Moon after missing the last two Saratoga seasons. Momentous. By The Moon’s trainer Michelle Nevin won the second Grade 1 of her career – beating a horse she used to train, Paulassilverlining.
Voodoo Song won three races – and counting – at the meet. Entry-box moments.
Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher have won 71 races and counting, sorry, those moments are running together.
Jimmy Toner won two stakes. Bill Wilmot and Joan Taylor bred the winner of the Albany. Bret Calhoun unveiled Big Gemmy, next year’s Albany winner. Jason Servis broke out. Pat Kelly won two. Big moments for all.
Songbird ran her last race, an indelible career finished in a fleeting moment.
And those are the ones I noticed or knew about or learned about during this 40-day odyssey. For all the ones that come to my mind, there are countless others that come to other people’s minds, whether they were involved in the moment or were simply living in the fringe of the moment.
Either way, here’s to the moments.