With so much buzz surrounding the 150th anniversary, this year's Saratoga meet brought lofty expectations. YNN's Matt Hunter has more on whether the 40 day season lived up to the hype.
SARATOGA RACE COURSE -- Saratoga's historic 150th anniversary season got out of the gate running on July 19th's opening day. While 90 degree temperatures kept attendance and handle down, they couldn't slow Princess of Sylmar the following day.
The regal filly captured the first Grade 1 of the meet, cruising to a six-length victory in the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks.
The princesses' coronation would come a month later, returning to victory in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama. It was trainer Todd Pletcher's first score in Saratoga's signature event for three-year-old fillies and the moment of a lifetime for owner and Schenectady native Ed Stanco.
"It's the best day of our lives in horse racing," Stanco said after the race in the winner's circle, where he was joined by more than 80 friends and family.
"I'd say she's certainly established herself as the champion three-year-old filly," said Pletcher, who would win his 10th Saratoga training title this summer.
At that moment, Pletcher already sat near the top of the division for three-year-old colts after Palace Malice made quick work of the Jim Dandy on July 27.
Yet, it was Pletcher's old battle partner, Johnny Velazquez, who owned the meet's early signature moment, becoming Saratoga's all-time leading rider on board three-year-old Unitarian on the Jim Dandy undercard
"I'll tell you what, it was a great response from the fans," Velazquez said in the jockey's room after the race. "I really thank the fans for all the support, every race I've gone out there."
Velazquez certainly would not be the only all-time great leaving his mark on the season.
It brought the return of Calvin Borel for his enshrinement in the Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, just four years after riding Rachel Alexandra to a spine tingling victory in the 2009 Woodward.
"It's soaking in," Borel said after the August 9 induction ceremony. "I'm very blessed to be where I am, thank God."
Saratoga also delivered the returns of champions Wise Dan and Royal Delta, who both stormed their way back to the winner's circle. Wise Dan repeated in the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap, while Royal Delta won the August 25 Grade 1 Personal Ensign after finishing second in the same race last year.
All meet long, fans seemed to talk and talk and talk some more about the big three heading to the Travers: Orb, Palace Malice and Verrazano, but the dream of a triple dead heat was dashed by a big chestnut with an unmistakable white streak across his face.
"These are the ones you point for, this is what you get up for and gets you going every day," said D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Will Take Charge.
Will Take Charge's upset was the third win in the Midsummer Derby for the Hall of Famer, Lukas and the first for jockey Luis Saez.
One year ago, Alpha shared a dead heat victory in that very race. This summer, he was back at it, winning the Woodward in upset fashion on a sloppy track.
If ever there was a year where the action off the track kept pace with the battles on it, it was this one. All summer, thousands celebrated this old track's 150th anniversary, highlighted by a party for the ages on Whitney Handicap Day.
"I'm happy with everything," said Marylou Whitney, the socialite who's been synonymous with Saratoga since 1958. "I'm happy that I see all these wonderful faces here."
No one knows what the next century and a half will bring for The Spa. Surely there will be races won and lost and champions in our midst.
2013 will forever be looked back on as year where Saratoga provided the very best the sport has to offer.
On Sunday, a trio of champions were crowned. Pletcher was awarded his record setting 10th training title, while jockey Javier Castellano won his first riding title. Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey were awarded the title for owners less than a week after besting the old meet record of 19 wins.