Before the events of last weekend are swallowed by the burning need to find out what's next, two achievements should not be overlooked.
Chad Brown's victory with New Money Honey in the Belmont Oaks was one of those "dog bites man" headlines. The trainer's ability to have the right horse at the right time for such major grass events is becoming as reliable as the dawn, especially in the Oaks, which he now has won five times in six years.
This time, however, Brown went 1-2-3, filling in the rest of the trifecta with Sistercharlie and Uni. For those who could not resist the obvious, the $2 tri paid $102.50.
Training the first three finishers in a Grade 1 event is not as easy as Brown made it look. There are precedents, but not many, and he finds himself in good company.
Long before we had to be told which races were classy enough to be called Grade 1, the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park matched the cream of the West's fillies and mares in a midsummer mile and one-eighth. In 1968, New York's Jim Maloney monopolized the Vanity with Gamely, Princessnesian, and Desert Law for owner William Haggin Perry, leaving fourth-place money of $7,500 to Llangollen Farm's Courageously.
The 1973 Hollywood Gold Cup had more subplots than "Days of Our Lives," what with Bill Shoemaker booted off Cougar II by owner Mary Jones Bradley and Quack trying to become only the second horse to win the race twice. Shoemaker picked up the mount on barn third-stringer Kennedy Road, and Charlie Whittingham saddled all three, then the trainer sat back to watch Kennedy Road edge Quack, with Cougar II an apologetic third.
Whittingham did it again in the 1976 Sunset Handicap with Caucasus, King Pellinore, and Riot in Paris. Charlie's first move after such an accomplishment was to say swell things about the second and third horses and how they might have won if this or that. We believed him because we wanted to.
Older horses going a distance of ground were Whittingham's metier, just as 2-year-old fillies would dance to whatever tune Wayne Lukas wanted to whistle. In the 1988 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs, Lukas saddled five and settled for 1-2-3 with Open Mind, Darby Shuffle, and Lea Lucinda. The two who didn't hit the board were Frizette winner Some Romance and Oak Leaf winner One of a Klein.
Richard Mandella had the market for older South American horses pretty much cornered in 1997 and made the most of it. First, he went 1-2-3 in the Santa Anita Handicap with Siphon, Sandpit, and Gentlemen. Mandella waited a few months, then went 1-2-3 in the Hollywood Gold Cup with Gentlemen, Siphon, and Sandpit. Mandella also won the Pacific Classic that summer but could only manage to finish first and second with Gentlemen and Siphon. But then, he only saddled two.
Sweeps like Brown's Belmont Oaks do not happen by accident. Such an achievement is a by-product of stables that emphasize both quality and quantity.
Maloney acquired his horses from the same deep genetic pool that produced runners for Claiborne Farm and the Phipps family. Whittingham began building his reputation with older runners in the 1950s with Porterhouse, Mister Gus, and Social Climber. Lukas had the backing to skim the cream off the top of every sales crop full of precocious yearlings, while Mandella's tapping of the South American pipeline followed in the tradition of Horatio Luro and Ron McAnally. Also, you can find them all in the Hall of Fame.
Flavien Prat, the emergent star of the West, was going to win his first race in New York at some point. That moment came on Sunday at Belmont Park in the Victory Ride Stakes, where Prat and American Gal cruised home by nearly five lengths at the end of the 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track.
The young Frenchman won the championship of the traditional Santa Anita meet earlier this year and then shared the title with apprentice Evin Roman at the shorter spring meet that just ended. Other than Mike Smith, who makes about a million dollars a ride, Prat is the only West Coast-based jock in the national top 10.
Certainly, five of the top 10 spots must always be reserved for New Yorkers Javier Castellano, John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, and the brothers Ortiz. But for Californians Tyler Baze, Joe Talamo, and Rafael Bejarano to be found well down the table is an eye-opener that speaks loudly to the imbalance of the national purse structure.
The formula for success has not changed much through the years. The leading jocks all rode for successful stables, and those stables raced everywhere there was serious purse money available. Riders in demand still keep a bag packed and a travel agent on speed dial. To that end, look for Prat to start showing up more often on the road, with a major date coming up in the $1 million Haskell Invitational aboard Battle of Midway before a return engagement with American Gal in the Test Stakes during the Saratoga meet.