Joe Bravo secured his tenth Meadowlands riding title, and a pair of first-time winners were also end of meet honorees, when thoroughbred racing at the East Rutherford track drew to a close on Saturday night, November 12, 2005.
Top training honors went to Jason Servis, and the Ocean View Stables of Toms River, New Jersey claimed the top owner title.
Bravo, 34, the most dominant rider on the New Jersey circuit since winning his first Meadowlands crown in 1991, finished the season with 24 wins, 24 seconds and 19 thirds from 118 starts for earnings of $881,774. He also has 12 Monmouth Park crowns to his credit. This fall, he prevailed over apprentice Channing Hill with 19 wins, Rajiv Maragh with 17 wins and Chuck Lopez and Jose Lezcano, with 16 each.
Bravo won at a 20 percent clip and finished in-the-money with 57 percent of his mounts.
“I’m just lucky to get to ride the horses that I do,” said Bravo. “I have to thank all the owners and trainers who have confidence in me and let me go out there and do what I do. It’s an honor and I’m happy that I was able to win the title. Hopefully, I’ll be back next year and can do as well again.”
West Virginia-born Jason Servis, 48, a lifelong horseman and former jockey’s valet, opened his public stable in December of 2001 and scored his first victory in March of 2002 with Hattab Be You at Aqueduct. Most of the horses in his 30-horse stable are owned by Dennis Drazin, Char-Mari Stable and the LaMarca Stable.
“It’s like a dream,” said Servis after Minor’s Gold won the second race on Saturday night. “I should play the lottery!”
Servis completed the Meadowlands fall thoroughbred meet with 15 wins, seven seconds and four thirds from 38 starts and purse earnings of $345,402 to claim his first training title. He won at a formidable 39 percent rate and finished in-the-money with 68 percent of his starters.
“All those years working in the jocks’ room, now my ship’s come in,” he said with a wide grin.
Trailing Servis in the trainer standings were Timothy Hills with 10 winners, Todd Pletcher with eight and four trainers tied with seven winners: Patrica Farro, Gregory Sacco, Jim Ryerson and Dennis Manning.
For Dr. Joseph Birnbaum of Toms River, New Jersey, whose nom de racecourse is Ocean View Stables, the leading owner title was a big surprise.
“I’ve owned and bred horses for about 25 years,” the endocrinologist said. “I got into it because of my ex-wife. I’m interested in the breeding and racing almost all homebreds. I do all the pedigree work. I find it is relaxing, compared to medicine.”
As a solo practitioner with a busy practice, Dr. Birnbaum does not always get to the track to see his horses compete at the Meadowlands, often watching the races on the Internet.
“I’ve got about 20 horses running and 13 broodmares at Colonial Farms [in Colts Neck, New Jersey],” he noted. “I’ve been very lucky picking out cheap studs who become something big later. The ones I pick are generally [standing for stud fees of] $10,000 or less.”
The Ocean View horses are split among three trainers – Glenn Thompson, J. Willard Thompson and Russell Cash.
“[The late] Buddy Raines used to train all my horses, I’d even say he trained me in the horse racing business,” Dr. Birnbaum added.
Ocean View Stables completed the meet with seven wins, one seconds and six thirds from 43 starts for earnings of $226,843. Three owners were tied with four winners each: Mac Fehsenfeld, Edward P. Evans and Joel A. Kligman.
Highlighting the 25-date meet were more than $2 million in added money races, including four graded stakes.
On October 7, Edward P. Evans’ Tap Day captured the track’s signature event, the Grade 2 $500,000 Meadowlands Breeders’ Cup, by three lengths over 5-2 favorite Alumni Hall with another length and a quarter back to Purge. Eibar Coa was in the saddle for the winning effort on the Mark Hennig-trainee. “He had a lot of work to do at the eighth pole, but he was ready,” said Hennig. “Those were two very nice horses in front of him. He had an edge because he’s run here before and he likes the track.” The time of the mile and an eighth on the main track was 1:48.4.
For three-year-olds the high point of the season was the Grade 3 $250,000 Pegasus Stakes on opening night of the meet, September 30. Elisabeth H. Alexander’s Magna Graduate held off 50-1 shot Crown Point to win by a length and a quarter. The mile and an eighth was clocked in 1:47.2.
Network was another five and three-quarter lengths back in third.
“He was very impressive,” said John Velazquez, who road the winner for trainer Todd Pletcher. “We inherited the lead a little earlier than I would have liked, but when the other horse came at him, he responded right away.”
A pair of Grade 3 stakes on the turf – the Cliff Hanger and the Violet — each with a purse of $150,000 and carded at a mile and a sixteenth, were among the meet highlights.
Hotstufanthensome, ridden by Rajiv Maragh and trained by Norman Pointer, overcame a soft course, constant showers and an inquiry to win the Cliff Hanger on October 22. He drew off to a 14 and a half-length victory over Icy Atlantic with another half-length to Stormy Ray in third. Hotstufanthensome, racing for Lesley Steinger of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, covered the distance in 1:47.1.
The fillies were on display in the Violet on October 21 and the victory went to Humoristic in 1:42.1. It was Humoristic’s first stakes victory. Owned by Mrs. Arturo Peralta Ramos, the filly is trained by Hamilton A. Smith. Harry Vega was aboard for the three-length victory over 6-5 favorite Delta Princess. Brunilda was third, another half-length back.
On November 10, the Meadowlands hosted the Katrina Invitational Jockey Challenge, bringing together Louisiana natives Kent Desormeaux, Craig Perret, Eddie Martin Jr. and Mark Guidry along with Hall of Famer Gary Stevens to compete against the local jockey colony and sign autographs. The fundraising effort produced more than $25,000 dedicated to help the recovery efforts for Louisiana horsemen who suffered damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Plagued by heavy rain and winds, the Meadowlands meet was pared back by programs cut short [October 8 and 11] and five cancellations [October 12, 13, 14, 15 and 25].
On-track wagering for the 25 racing dates totaled $9,169,883 and with the addition of wagering at more than 350 simulcasting locations, the total handle was $46,395,883.
While the daily average on-track attendance of 4,372 on a total of 109,309 was up 6.3 percent as compared to 2004, wagering was off from 12 to 15 percent.
The average on-track handle was $366,795 [compared to $418,276 in 2004] and the average total handle, including wagering at simulcast locations, was $1,855,835 [compared to $2,204,704 in 2004].
Purse distribution for the meet was nearly $8 million.