Jockey Robby Albarado, a finalist for last year's Eclipse Award as America's leading jockey who ranks seventh among the all-time riding leaders at Churchill Downs, earned his first "leading rider" title under the historic Twin Spires as the home of the Kentucky Derby wrapped up its 52-day Spring Meet on Sunday, July 6.
Trainer Tom Amoss won two races on the meet's closing day to nail down his second title of leading trainer, and Ken and Sarah Ramsey continued their assault on the Churchill Downs record book as the Nicholasville, Ky., couple won a record 13th "leading owner" crown.
Albarado, 34, ended the meet with 73 victories. The highlight was clearly his victory aboard reigning "Horse of the Year" Curlin in the $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on June 14, but Albarado said earning his first "leading rider" crown since his arrival at Churchill Downs in 1996 was special.
"It means a lot," Albarado said. "I know I'm at a point in my career where ‘leading rider' titles probably won't make a difference in my business that I've established, but it was one of my own personal goals, and I'm glad I got it accomplished here at Churchill."
Albarado won his meet-leading 73 races from 287 mounts, a significantly smaller total than those of runner-up Miguel Mena, who won 65 races from 364 mounts. He is generally considered to be more selective in regard to the quality of the mounts he selects, but Albarado said his first championship meet belies that assumption.
"I've been injured quite a few times, so I've got to be a little more selective," he said. "A lot of trainers think I don't give 100 percent on all of the horses, but I do. I've won $5,000 claiming races here this meet - I've won them all in all different areas of it. So it kind of instills a little confidence in the trainers also that I can ride seven or eight a day and make it happen."
Albarado now has 753 career victories at Churchill Downs. Julien Leparoux, the riding leader in the 2007 Spring Meet, finished third with 56 victories and was followed by Calvin Borel (52), Jamie Theriot (48) and Shaun Bridgmohan (44). Six of Albarado's victories came in stakes competition, including a victory aboard Einstein in the $500,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) on Kentucky Derby Day.
The New Orleans-born Amoss opened the meet on a hot streak and closed with a rush to collect his second "leading trainer" crown - and his first outright title. He had previously tied with Dale Romans for the Spring Meet title in 2002. Amoss' stable collected 35 victories from 87 starts - a 40 percent win rate for a barn in which 72 percent of its starters finished in the top three in their races.
"We caught fire and we were able to keep it going all meet, which is truly a credit to everybody in the barn," Amoss said by telephone. "I've got probably five managerial people that have been with me for more than 15 years each, and this is a proud moment for all of us."
Amoss wrapped up the meet with victories by Alfred Kent ($4) in the fifth race and Our Dancer ($7) in the 10th. The highlight of the Spring Meet for Amoss was a victory in the $125,000 Aristides (GIII) with Maggi Moss' Indian Chant.
"This is a special feeling," said Amoss. "This is a prestigious meet. Not to take anything away from any of the other titles we've won, but this is big. It's really important to us and there's a great deal of satisfaction amongst everybody."
The strong closing day performance by Amoss allowed him to pull away from runner-up Steve Asmussen, the 2007 Spring Meet leader who finished with 30 victories. Ken McPeek was next with 26 wins.
The "leading owners" title for Ken and Sarah Ramsey was their record 13th overall and their seventh Spring Meet crown. They earned their first Churchill Downs Spring Meet title in 2000 and have taken seven of the nine spring titles since. The latest title allowed the Ramseys to tie legendary Calumet Farm's record for the most Spring Meet "leading owner" crowns.
"Did you notice how long we're delaying leaving the winner's circle?" asked a beaming Ken Ramsey in special winner's circle ceremony. "It never gets old."
Sarah Ramsey accompanied her husband to the winner's circle ceremony. Mrs. Ramsey was in a wheelchair as she made her first appearance at Churchill Downs since she suffered a stroke early last year. "She told me that if we won another ‘leading owner' title that she'd come to the track with me," Ken Ramsey said.
The Ramseys horses finished with a record of 20-11-17 in 75 starts, which reflects a winning rate of 27 percent and 64 percent of their horses recorded top-three finishes. Maggi Moss, the leading owner in the 2007 Spring Meet, finished second with 15 wins while Richard, Elaine and Bert Klein were third with 10 victories.
The 2008 Spring Meet got off of to a memorable, if bittersweet, start with a dominant 4 ¾-length victory by IEAH Stable and Paul Pompa Jr.'s Big Brown in the 134th running of the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI). The Derby victory was the third for jockey Kent Desormeaux and the first for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. But the day was marred by a fatal injury suffered by Fox Hill Farm's filly Eight Belles well past the finish of the "Run for the Roses." A crowd of 157,770 witnessed the Derby - the second-largest attendance in the history of the race.
One day earlier Brereton C. Jones' Proud Spell scored an emphatic five-length victory in the 134th running of the $500,000-added Kentucky Oaks. Kentucky native J. Larry Jones scored his first Oaks victory with the daughter of Proud Citizen, who was ridden by Gabriel Saez. Despite heavy rain that fell throughout the afternoon, a crowd of 100,046 attended the Oaks, which marked the 10th time in 11 years that Kentucky Oaks attendance had topped the 100,000 mark.
Competing with those spectacular races for the honor of meet highlight was the 27th and richest running of the $1 million Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) for 3-year-olds and up. Reigning "Horse of the Year" Curlin cruised to an easy 4 ¼-length victory under Albarado in his first race since a victory in the $6 million Dubai World Cup (GI) in March. Einstein finished second on the dirt in the Stephen Foster, and returned to finish second to Thorn Song in the $200,000-added Firecracker Handicap (GII) on July 4. Other notable stakes efforts included wins in the Crown Royal American Turf (GIII) and Jefferson Cup (GII) by the 3-year-old turf start Tizdejavu, the meet's only two-time stakes winner; Intangaroo, who notched an upset in the Grade I Humana Distaff on Kentucky Derby Day; Pure Clan in the Regret (GIII); Dreaming of Anna in the Early Times Mint Julep (GIII); Pyro in the Northern Dancer (GIII); Hystericalady in the Fleur de Lis (GII); Ginger Punch in the Louisville Stakes (GII); Elite Squadron in the Louisville Stakes (GII); Lattice in the Louisville Handicap (GIII); Acoma in the Dogwood; Say You Will in the Locust Grove (GIII); Garden District in the Debutante (GIII); and Screen Your Friend in the Bashford Manor (GIII).
Churchill Downs' 26-day Fall Meet is scheduled for Oct, 26-November 29.