After having his streak stopped at an unprecedented 15 consecutive titles last winter, Todd Pletcher ended Gulfstream Park’s 2019-2020 Championship Meet in his familiar perch atop the trainer standings.
A winner with one of five starters in four races on Sunday’s 10-race Closing Day program at the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track, Pletcher finished with a seven-win cushion over Mike Maker, 48-41, who sent out two starters. Pletcher ran 1-2 with Dr Post ($4) and Nocturnal in Race 6, while Maker won with Morocco ($7) in Race 8.
Both men were the only trainers to top $2 million in meet earnings, with Maker holding a slight advantage largely thanks to Zulu Alpha’s triumph in the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) Jan. 25.
Pletcher won five stakes in extending his track record to 16 Championship Meet titles – the Canadian Turf (G3) with Sombeyay, Appleton (G3) with Social Paranoia, H. Allen Jerkens with American Tattoo, Tropical Park Derby with Halladay and South Beach with Atomic Blonde. His meet win streak lasted from 2005 to 2017-2018.
“We had a good run, missed it last year, but happy to get it back this year. I’m proud of the whole team. They did a great job,” Pletcher said. “We were able to have a lot of maiden winners so, hopefully, we can continue to develop some of them. We’ve been fortunate.”
The 52-year-old Pletcher owns 4,893 career wins, and has reached many of his career milestones at Gulfstream. They include his first career start (Jan. 13, 1996) and win (Jan. 26. 1996); 3,000th (Feb. 11, 2002) and 4,000th (March 18, 2016) career victories; and a record five Florida Derby (G1) triumphs.
“I was hoping to have my 5,000th here this year. We came up a little short,” Pletcher joked. “Gulfstream’s always been very good to us. I think the program here with a lot of 3-year-old opportunities fits our program very well, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to have trained a lot of good horses.”
Holder of a record seven Eclipse Awards as champion trainer and North America’s career leader with more than $389 million in purse earnings, Pletcher will become eligible for the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2021.
He has won the Kentucky Derby (G1) twice, the Belmont Stakes (G1) three times and owns 11 Breeders’ Cup victories including his first Classic (G1) with Vino Rosso last fall. In addition, he has trained 10 horses to 11 year-end championships including Hall of Fame mare Ashado.
With options limited due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Pletcher is leaving his entire string of horses in South Florida rather than bring the bulk back with him to New York, which is among many tracks across the country have temporarily suspended racing.
“Right now, like everyone else, we’re taking it a day at a time. We have all of our horses either here or Palm Beach Downs, so we’re just trying to see what tomorrow brings,” Pletcher said. “We’re thankful that Gulfstream has been able to keep racing going. It’s critical to the racing economy for a lot of people, so I’m hoping that they can continue to do that.”
Irad Ortiz Jr. held off a late run from Luis Saez to capture his second straight Championship Meet riding title. Ortiz, who last rode March 19, ended with a 115-113 advantage over Saez, who won with two of nine mounts Sunday – Pardon My Heart ($7.80) in Race 3 and Morocco. Saez joined Hall of Famer Javier Castellano as the only jockeys to ride 100 or more winners three straight years.
Ortiz led Saez by 21 wins when he opted not to finish the meet, but Saez moved into striking range by winning 17 races through Saturday’s Florida Derby program, including back-to-back five-win days March 26 and 27. Ortiz edged Saez, 135-134, for last year’s title.
Eleven of Ortiz’s wins came in stakes during the Championship Meet, led by Mucho Gusto in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) Jan. 25. Other stakes wins included the Fort Lauderdale (G2), Marshua’s River (G3), Fred Hooper (G2), Forward Gal (G3) and Swale (G3). He also ranked first with more than $5.8 million in purse earnings.
Ortiz, 27, has won two straight Eclipse Awards as champion jockey. He has led the country in wins the past three years and purse earnings each of the last two, topped by a North American record $34.1 million in 2019 – the first time a jockey reached the $30 million mark. Ortiz owns 2,508 wins and more than $183 million in lifetime earnings and was the regular rider for Bricks and Mortar, who began his 2019 Horse of the Year campaign with a victory in the Pegasus Turf.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey finished as the Championship Meet’s leading owner with 16 wins, six ahead of Arindel, Imaginary Stables and Drawing Away Stable, who finished with 10 apiece. It was the seventh meet title for the Ramseys, including six in a row from 2012-13 to 2017-18.
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