08/16/2012 11:03AM

At Saratoga, Dominguez running away with jockeys' race

Barbara D. Livingston
Ramon Dominguez had 39 wins through Wednesday's races at Saratoga, 17 more than the riders in second place, Jose Lezcano and Javier Castellano.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. − It wasn’t supposed to be this easy.

Riding in what is considered the toughest colony in the country this summer at Saratoga, Ramon Dominguez was expected to be among a handful of riders competing for the jockey title.

Instead, he’s turned it into a no-contest.

Through the first 23 days of the 40-day meet, Dominguez from 169 mounts has won 39 races, 17 more than Javier Castellano and Jose Lezcano. Consider that in 2009, Dominguez won the riding title here with 45 wins. Granted, the meet was 36 days then, but he figures to surpass 45 wins well before the 36th day of this meet.

Dominguez also figures to threaten the Saratoga meet record of 65 wins set by John Velazquez in 2004.

“I really feel like luck has so much to do with it,” Dominguez said Monday morning, hours before he won four races on the card. “I had a couple of days with multiple winners where everything just happened to click into place. Of course, just riding good horses on a daily basis is going to get you winners regardless. Having said that, this has exceeded my expectations to this point, how well I have done.”

Dominguez has had six days where he has ridden at least three winners. That includes July 22, when he won six races from seven mounts, tying a Saratoga record for wins on one card, set by Velazquez, who won six races from 10 mounts Sept. 3, 2001. Dominguez’s feat came one day after he rode races at three tracks − Saratoga, Delaware Park, and Colonial Downs − taking private planes to get to Delaware and Colonial for stakes engagements.

“Winning six in one day is something big regardless of what track you’re riding at, but here in Saratoga it’s really just huge,” Dominguez, 35, said. “That day I went home, and I usually just focus on the next day and forget about it, but I did stop for a second and think, and I was just very, very happy with the way things went. Luck had so much to do with it. In the last race I had a great trip where everything just seemed to open up for me. Inside the eighth pole, I wasn’t too happy with my chances. It didn’t seem like I was going to get through.”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dominguez’s dominance is that he has ridden winners for 23 trainers, none named Todd Pletcher, who has a meet-leading 20 victories. Dominguez has ridden six winners for Chad Brown, who is second in the standings.

“We’re very fortunate to have such a wide range of trainers we ride for,” said Steve Rushing, Dominguez’s longtime agent. “We ride a little bit for a lot of different people. It’d be nice to have a big barn to ride first call for, but things are working out well the way they’re going.”

If there is one blemish on Dominguez’s meet it’s his lack of success in graded stakes. While he has won five stakes, his only graded win from 13 attempts has come in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy aboard Alpha, whom he will ride in next Saturday’s $1 million Travers Stakes.

Dominguez has been the regular rider of Alpha since the beginning of the year, guiding him to three victories from four starts. The lone loss was a neck defeat to Gemologist in the Wood Memorial, in which Dominguez had to check his horse hard going into the first turn. Dominguez did not ride Alpha in the Kentucky Derby, choosing last year’s juvenile champion Hansen over him. Hansen finished ninth, and Alpha was 12th.

In the Jim Dandy, Dominguez sent Alpha to the front, slowed the pace to a crawl, and won by two lengths in the slop. The race was the first for Alpha since the Derby, having missed the Belmont Stakes because of a temperature.

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“The one thing that really got my attention is how professional he was,” Dominguez said. “He has always been a very nice and cool horse, but coming off a layoff like that, they might be a little too sharp and too excited in the post parade. He was just very laid back like an older horse.

“In the race, I was very happy to see he showed speed leaving the gate and how well he relaxed,” Dominguez said. “It seemed like he showed a different dimension − he has run from close range and on the lead, and he has also come from behind and done it well in all different running styles.”

In the Travers, Dominguez will probably be riding against Hansen − whom he guided to victory in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile − for the first time. After riding Hansen to a 10-length victory in the Iowa Derby on June 30, Dominguez opted not to ride him in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby, where he was the 3-5 favorite.

Rushing said he thought Hansen was going to run in the $1 million Haskell at Monmouth on July 29 and that he had made too many commitments at Saratoga on Aug.4 − the day of the West Virginia Derby − and felt it would have been unprofessional to back out. Hansen finished fourth in the West Virginia Derby, and Dominguez went 0 for 11 on the Saratoga card, part of a 2-for-33 lull for him here from Aug. 1-5.

This Saturday, Dominguez will give his Saratoga brethren a break when he heads to Chicago to ride several stakes at Arlington Park. His mounts include Little Mike in the Arlington Million, Summer Front in the Secretariat, and Aruna in the Beverly D.

Dominguez will be riding Little Mike for the first time. Little Mike is a front-running horse who has been successful at a mile and 1 1/8 miles but will be attempting 1 1/4 miles for the first time. Summer Front is undefeated on turf, but all those races have come at a mile or shorter. The Secretariat is run at 1 1/4 miles.

“He’s got so much class,” Dominguez said. “He’s extremely professional. What’s his best distance? I don’t think anybody knows at this point. Would I be surprised if he gets a mile and a quarter? Absolutely not.”

The success Dominguez has had at Belmont − where he won the meet title with 70 victories − and now at Saratoga has helped erase a difficult spring, one in which he sustained a broken collarbone and then, after returning less than three weeks later, went winless with 26 straight mounts.

“We know slumps can happen at any time,” Dominguez said. “You’re trying to make things happen by wanting to win more so than at any other time to prove a point. Maybe you’d be doing some things that you don’t even realize would be going against your riding style, and it’s really keeping you from winning.”

These days, at least at Saratoga, nothing is keeping Dominguez from winning.

Saratoga rider standings

Jockey Mounts Wins Win% Earnings
Ramon Dominguez 169 39 23.07 $2,669,769
Jose Lezcano 129 22 17.05 1,531,732
Javier Castellano 152 22 14.47 2,036,127
Joel Rosario 131 17 12.97 1,287,667
John Velazquez 62 16 25.80 1,302,817
Junior Alvarado 113 16 14.15 1,275,800
Julien Leparoux 116 15 12.93 1,234,554
Rajiv Maragh 126 11 8.73 925,099
Rosie Napravnik 126 10 7.93 1,150,714
Irad Ortiz Jr. 124 9 7.25 946,504

Through Wednesday's races