Monday at Saratoga: Five-Spot

- -

That’s one way to put some distance in the win column.

“It’s great to win five races anywhere, but here in Saratoga especially,” Jose Ortiz said while walking back to jockey’s room just before 6:00 pm Monday night after his fifth win on the card in the nightcap aboard Tusk. “It’s tougher, but when you’re able to do it, it’s very special.”

Quite the walk – from the winner’s circle, through the clubhouse, out of the clubhouse, still in the designated jockey’s path and eventually into the jockey’s room – it was. Agent Jimmy Riccio wasn’t the only one waiting to congratulate his jockey. Ortiz posed for every picture and signed every autograph that was requested of him.

“Graham (Motion) asked us this morning, ‘we have a chance to draw in (from the also eligible list), what do you guys think?’ ” Riccio said while standing outside the winner’s circle waiting for Ortiz to depart the spot he has become so familiar with. “I said, ‘I really like the horse, let’s see what Jose thinks.’ He goes, ‘this is why you pay me Graham, I’ll get you a good trip.’ ”

Good trip? Try great trip.

While the first four rides were nearly flawless, Ortiz put on an absolute clinic in the last to win five in a day for the second year in a row at Saratoga.

“It was to me one of the best rides of the meet, it was like a highlight reel ride. Get that hedge like that, from that post, going a flat mile? Thing of beauty,” Riccio said. “That makes my job easier when a kid is skilled like that and he showed it there. It helps when you ride for these kinds of trainers.”

Ortiz shook his reins to motivate Tusk from post 10 to establish early position. Realizing that plan wasn’t going to work, Ortiz went to Plan B a sixteenth of a mile into the race. With five rivals in a line to his inside, he took back going into the first turn. Ortiz somehow got to the two-path for much of the turn, but was now eighth when turning down the backstretch, more than 10 lengths off the lead.

“Just try to take a good position going into the first turn and take it from there,” Ortiz said of riding the Saratoga turf courses. “If I don’t get into a good position going into the first turn, it’s tough to make up too much ground.”

The field went from strung out down the backstretch at three-quarter pole to bunched together like an accordion four furlongs later when turning for home. Still with a fistful of horse is his grasp, Ortiz stayed glued to the rail while his rivals went unnecessarily wide around the bend. After slipping through a narrow opening up the rail at the top of stretch, the race was over, Ortiz and Tusk were home free and the pair crossed the wire 2 3/4 lengths in front.

Ben Gowans


• The thrill of winning at Saratoga never changes, even for those who have been coming to the track for decades.

“I’ve owned horses for 40 years, literally 40 years,” said Steven Duncker, after his Jump Sucker Stable won the fifth with California Swing. “This is a partnership with some great guys and it’s really a lot of fun. It never grows old, that’s for sure.

“I was chairman of the board here for the nine years, and I think I won two races the whole time, it’s just not that easy. I know it’s a 50 claimer, but we don’t care, I’m ear-to-ear. My kids are here, so it’s really fun to have them.”

Duncker relied on his connections within the industry to acquire the Malibu Moon colt.

“We bought him from Claiborne farm, he was an RNA in the September sale (for $90,000) two years ago. We liked him and called up Seth Hancock and made a deal,” Duncker said.

After breaking his maiden in his eighth try July 8 at Belmont, California Swing made it two in a row by winning the $50,000 claimer at a mile on the inner turf.

The win was the third of five for Jose Ortiz on the day. The leading rider secured a position on the rail in mid-pack early and then moved up into third leaving the backstretch. Still on the rail, Ortiz went dove inside while Patriot Drive and Hembree drifted off the fence turning for home. That was the winning move. California Swing and Ortiz prevailed in a photo over the two foes they went inside of at the top of the stretch.

“I mean, the perfect trip, not one-foot difference, and we won by a head,” Duncker said while watching the replay alongside trainer Christophe Clement. “Sometimes you get lucky, too. Jose is so good.

“He was pretty tough in the final-sixteenth. He’s not waiting on them, but they’re not getting to him either. Every now and again, you get to get lucky, don’t you?”

Ben Gowans


• There is no place better than Saratoga to win for the first time.

“The stable is named after my wife and I, her name is Mary,” said Phil Madden of PhilMar Stables after winning the seventh with Uncle Sigh. “We’ve been involved in very small syndicates but this is the first one we’ve owned outright. It was very exciting.”

Jockey Jose Ortiz delivered a perfect trip aboard Uncle Sigh to get his fourth win of the day in the allowance on turf.

“I thought he was moving and if he had a clear run, I thought he could get up,” Madden said as he watched the replay in the clubhouse. “Being that they went so fast early on, it felt pretty good. He’s been getting out last every race, this time he had a pace to run into it.”

After a closing fifth Aug. 2 going 1 1/16 miles, trainer Dave Duggan stretched the 6-year-old out a furlong farther Monday for the barn’s second win of the meet. Uncle Sigh was making his third start for Madden and Duggan Monday after they claimed him for $40,000 at Belmont June 11.

“I’ve been watching him for three years, never had an opportunity, or never had anyone to claim him, just a cool old horse.” Duggan said. “They’re hard to find, just one of those horses you love being around.”

Madden applauded his trainer after the race for making all the right moves with Uncle Sigh.

“Dave Duggan is great. Very relaxed, takes everything in stride, he said all along, ‘the horse needs to relax early on,’ ” Madden said. “I said last race, ‘maybe we need to get him into the race.’ He was right. He relaxed early on and had a nice pace to run into. That’s why he’s the trainer.”

“A very good friend of mine, John Cincotta, who’s been a horseman for 40 years, probably one of the best horseman I’ve ever met, he introduced me to David.”

Ben Gowans