On opening weekend of Saratoga, I engaged in a Backstretch family tradition during morning workouts: breakfast with the nephews. Not the buffet breakfast on the ground floor of the clubhouse, but bagels and coffee upstairs in the boxes. Part of the tradition is a wander out to the clubhouse entrance, where a circle of jockeys surrounds a fountain. Each jockey holds a painted plaque with the name of a Grade I stakes race, and the names of the winning horse and its connections from the previous year. The nephews pitch pennies, trying to land one on the uppermost level of the fountain.
On this particular Sunday morning, we were not alone. An expensive, late model car pulled up; from one side emerged a lovely young blonde, from the other, jockey Alan Garcia. And we watched, amused, indulgently, as he toured the young woman around the circle, proudly pointing out his four Grade I wins from Saratoga 2008. “That one’s me,” he said, pointing to Grand Couturier and the Sword Dancer. “And that one, too,” circling to Visionaire and the King’s Bishop. Standing in front of the Spinaway and Mani Bhavan, we said, “You’re over here, too.” Grinning, he approached and pointed to the sign. (For the record, the fourth was Vineyard Haven in the Hopeful.)
That morning might have been as close as Garcia got to a Grade I this year at Saratoga. While no doubt possessed of a prodigious talent and a winning personality, he was questioned more than once this summer, and puzzling rides aboard Da’ Tara in Albert the Great and Reread the Footnotes at Saratoga on August 10th caused more than a little speculation about what he was thinking.
He was suspended seven days (pending appeal, of course) for his ride aboard Vineyard Haven in the King’s Bishop on Travers Day at Saratoga; from Mark Singelais at the Times Union:
Replays showed that Garcia continued to go the left-handed whip even as Vineyard
Haven drifted far outside and repeatedly bumped winner Capt. Candyman Can.
And now David Grening reports in the Daily Racing Form that Garcia faces another penalty for use of the whip:
The stewards fined jockey Alan Garcia $500 for misuse of the whip during the
running of Saturday’s second race. Garcia, aboard co-favorite Five Boroughs,
struck the horse on the side of the face around the far turn as the horse
repeatedly attempted to bear out. Five Boroughs finished fourth in the race.
(Aside: you get a week for whipping that results in your horse bearing out, but $500 for hitting a horse in the face? Hmm.)
Following that spectacular summer of 2008, with the four Grade I’s and the Saratoga riding title, Garcia finished five behind Ramon Dominguez in this year’s jockey race at the Spa. He and Dominguez are currently tied with five wins each at the current Belmont meet (according to the NYRA website), and in four days of racing, he’s won the Grade I Ruffian with Swift Temper and the Grade II Bowling Green with Grand Couturier.
He rode no shortage of impressive races at Saratoga, and his ability is unquestionable. I mean, anyone who can win a Triple Crown race on Da’ Tara deserves a lot of respect, no? But his judgment seems to be a little off, and one hopes that he’s got smart, thoughtful people around him to offer counsel. Maybe he needs the vacation that a suspension would afford?
On another note: a belated thank you to Trackmaster for the past performance information on Irish Blast in my last post.
And after a much-needed (and fortunately brief) hiatus last week, Brian Nadeau will be back tomorrow with a look at Saturday’s $350,000 guaranteed Belmont Pick 4.
And finally: Brooklyn Backstretch turns two today. 661 posts (!) later, thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to read, comment, offer suggestions, say hello, advertise, and in general support the musings of a mild-mannered high school English teacher and her racetrack junkie alter ego. I raise a glass (figuratively for the moment, literally later) to all of you–