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Friday, 19 July 2013 10:26

Feeling the Excitement of the Saratoga 150

By Marilyn Lane | News

The Saratoga meet begins today and you’d had to have been hiding under a rock not to feel the excitement for this sesquicentennial season. We’re so lucky to be here to enjoy all of this. I hope all of you imbibe deeply into the essence of what this great milestone means.

An entire committee of our most stalwart citizens has worked diligently to put together an agenda of events that this city will forever remember. To continue to preserve this precious sport should be the mission of every person who enjoys Saratoga. In this land of horses, health and history another H, high tech, and possibly gaming might keep the economy fueled but would we be the interesting cultural icon without world-class racing and prestigious Thoroughbred auctions? I don’t think so. Can you even imagine Saratoga without its noble horses? I pray you cannot. I beg of you to pay this agricultural, recreational, celebratory, tradition-stepped, economy-driving, sporting industry its fair due.

With all of this excitement around us it’s hard not to think of someone who is not going to be in his customary leading role during this celebration. Jockey Ramon Dominguez went down in a spill at Aqueduct just days before the 2013 Eclipse Award ceremonies. For months he was expected to make a comeback, but in June his doctors advised him to end his career. He was 15 wins shy of the coveted 5,000 win mark. His mounts had earned $191,615,698. He rode three Breeders Cup winners—Little Mike (2012 Breeders‘ Cup Turf), Hansen (2011 Grey Goose Breeders‘ Cup Juvenile) and Better Talk Now (2004 Breeders‘ Cup Turf.) He was the regular rider of 2011 Horse of the Year Harve de Grace and champion Gio Ponti.

Ramon will turn 37 on November 24. Just this year, we’ve watched Gary Stevens make a successful comeback at 50. Why did he do it? Because he missed the joy of riding Thoroughbred horses, he missed the competition and the discipline of his sport. Anyone who watched that gifted veteran guide Oxbow to victory in the Preakness Stakes felt a vicarious joy. Stevens and Oxbow came back three weeks later to finish a good second to fellow-veteran Mike Smith, who aboard Palace Malice won the Belmont Stakes. Smith will turn 48 on August 10 and he is enjoying yet another banner year. He’s overcome some near tragic falls himself but jockeys love their craft and for most, they continue to ride for as long as they possibly can. Ramon would trade all of his titles just to get back in the saddle. I hurt for him. I applaud him for putting his wife, Sharon, and his two young sons above his own desire to compete.

Ramon has held 20 individual meet titles on the NYRA circuit since moving his tack here in 2008. He was New York’s leading rider for each of the past four years and he enjoyed 322 victories in 2012. He was awarded the George Woolf Award in that same year, an honor bestowed by his peers for excellent conduct and given by Santa Anita. In 2012, he led the nation in earnings with $25.6 million to surpass Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey for a single season record for North American earnings by a rider. He’s won three consecutive Eclipse Awards as the nation’s top jockey in 2010, 2011 and 2012. No doubt about it, he will enter Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame.

Sam the Bugler is a chess player and I remember him telling me about Ramon’s newfound interest in that mentally challenging game. Sam said, “Ramon decided to try chess and he was freaky good at it almost immediately.” Sam continued, “Ramon has a brilliant mind and he’s a classy guy all the way around, as articulate as they come.” 

You can be sure that Ramon is missing Saratoga, missing the Call to the Post. I hope it helps you Ramon to know we miss you too. It’s bittersweet to remember that on July 22 last year you rode six winners on a single card and at the end of the meet you were a run-away for leading rider.

We want you to take all the time you need to make this huge adjustment and we can’t wait to see how freaky good you’ll be at whatever you choose to do next. We hope you’ll find another niche in racing. Your passion for this sport will go a long way to help racing last another 150 years in Saratoga.

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