By Mike Kane
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Though he is quick to dismiss any talk that he might win the trainer’s title at Saratoga Race Course, veteran Christophe Clement acknowledges that most everything has gone very well for his stable in the first half of the season.
Entering Wednesday’s card, the midway point of the 40-day meet, Clement was second, two wins behind Todd Pletcher, in the competitive standings with 15 victories, matching his career-best at the Spa in 2015. He already has a personal-best six stakes wins. The Clement runners top the 2020 table with $1,056,255 in purse earnings, putting him on course to eclipse the $1.4 million the stable secured in the summer of 2015.
“Our horses have been running very well. I’m happy,” Clement, 54, said. “Because I’ve had so many horses run early in the meet it’s going to be difficult to carry on. At some stage, I don’t have enough horses and I’ve got to wait for them to come back. I’m delighted with the way they have been doing. I’m competing against people who have a much larger number of horses than we do and we’ve been competitive, which is great.”
Clement’s strong Saratoga is a timely positive following the death on June 7 of 10 of the stable’s horses being shipped from Florida to New York. The horses perished when the trailer they were in caught fire in New Jersey.
At this point last year, Chad Brown had 18 victories, a 10-victory lead over Jeremiah Englehart, Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher, and was well on his way to his second-straight Saratoga title and third in four years. Pletcher and Brown won all of the Saratoga training titles–named to honor the late H. Allen Jerkens–in the last decade. Pletcher captured seven of them and has a total of 13 in his career.
So far this summer, there has been plenty of competition at the top of the trainers’ standings. Pletcher–winning at a 31% rate–picked up his 16th on Sunday with Spinoff’s (Hard Spun) victory in the Alydar S. to break a tie with Clement. Like Clement, Mike Maker has done very well in the opening weeks and has 14 victories. Brown is right there, too, with 13 wins.
The Ortiz brothers, winners of the last five Saratoga riding titles, are leading the way again. Irad and Jose each have 32 wins and Joel Rosario has 29. Clement and Rosario have been a strong team this summer, winning 11 races together.
The Clement stable horses have won at a solid 26% rate and have finished in the top three in 61% of its starts at Saratoga.
“We had a very good Belmont meet as well, so we have a very good group of horses,” Clement said. “Good owners and fast horses.”
Clement has been competing at Saratoga since 1992–Equibase stats show him with 170 victories, 38 in stakes–and said he has never gotten off to such a good start at the meet.
“But that’s OK,” he said with a laugh. “It’s the kind of pressure I can take.”
While he is among the leaders at the halfway point of the season, Clement said training titles are not what motivates him.
“When I wake up in the morning, I don’t think about the trainers’ standings,” he said. “When I wake up in the morning I just go to my barn, do my best and try to win races. The trainers’ standings would not be my first priority. Some people are different. Some people really focus the whole year on Saratoga. My whole deal is that every day of my life is to win some races and just try to be as consistent as I can.”
After finishing second to Brown at Belmont Park, Clement was optimistic that the stable could have success when racing shifted upstate to Saratoga.
“I was sure I was in good shape with a very live group of horses,” he said. “I’m very excited about it. I’m thrilled that they have run so well. It’s going to be difficult to carry on to the end of the meet just because of the number. I need to rest them a little bit before they come back.”