Congratulations to Flavien Prat on winning Santa Anita’s riding title in a landslide. With only Sunday’s 12 races remaining, the final numbers are a mere formality as Prat had an insurmountable 89-61 lead over runner-up Abel Cedillo going into Sunday, winning five races Saturday.
He has no chance of breaking Laffit Pincay’s record of 138 victories at a Santa Anita meet, set in 1970-71, but the 27-year-old Frenchman’s achievement was a virtual fait accompli throughout the undulating “Races Without Faces” meet, especially after he won six races on the card on May 17.
It’s been a team effort.
Because of the pandemic, there were starts, stops and intermissions at the current campaign, so with regard to specific numbers such as wins, mounts and days raced at past meets, this was similar to the proverbial comparison of apples and oranges.
But considering the circumstances, Derek Lawson will take it.
“I don’t know how Pincay won 138, even though he probably rode in more races and on more days,” said Lawson, agent six years now for reigning Kentucky Derby winner Prat. “As for us, it wasn’t just what we endured, because the entire country endured a shutdown.
“Both Flavien and I stayed focused by watching races that were available to us, and physically, he trained as hard as he possibly could.
“He didn’t slow down; just kept training and working out, riding the stationary bicycle in his garage 21 miles a day, swimming and using weights he purchased and had in his home.
“He also watched whatever old races that were available and kept his mind in the game. It was the same with me. We focused on one topic, and it was racing.
“I also maintained contact with trainers who were keeping their horses sharp, and one was Peter Miller at San Luis Rey. With guys like him, Richie Baltas, Richard Mandella and others, we had some good business when we came back. It was fun.
“Even so, I never thought we’d be riding at this level as far as win percentage (27), but one day led to another and it kept going on and on and on and it worked out really well.”
When it comes to deciding which horse to ride, both agent and rider put their heads together, for the most part.
“We talk about all the horses all the time,” Lawson said. “When it comes to the stakes races, there’s greater discussion and a lot of communication between the two of us. It’s not just me. I need help to choose in certain situations. It’s not cut and dried.
“I’ll tell him we have two horses here, what do we do in this situation? Sometimes he leaves it up to me, sometimes he says ‘I’ve got no idea.’ There’s a lot of communication between the two of us. We have a common goal, to try and win racing titles from the beginning of the year.
“It’s really a team effort.”
The team includes Santa Anita’s racing department.
“They kept us informed,” Lawson said. “Chris Merz (Racing Director for Santa Anita’s Vice President of Racing and Racing Secretary Steve Lym and his diligent staff) stayed in touch with me. We knew they were at the mercy of the (Los Angeles County) Health Department, but we appreciated that they kept us informed on a regular basis.
“Every week or two I would get in touch with them, knowing things were starting to loosen up a little bit. They did a great job having the condition book ready when we were able to get started again.
“It was a matter of extensive communication and making sure everyone was on the right page.
“It worked out great.”
And there’s no rest for the king: Prat makes his first-ever visit to Thistledown in North Randall, Ohio next Saturday to ride 2019 two-year-old male champion Storm the Court for Peter Eurton in the Grade 3, US$500,000 Ohio Derby at 1 1/8 miles. The JACK Thistledown Casino is 10 miles northwest of Cleveland. On July 4, Prat pilots 2019 Santa Anita Oaks winner Bellafina at Los Alamitos Race Course for Simon Callaghan in the Grade 2 Great Lady M Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs.
Posting two victories Saturday, Peter Miller clinched leading trainer honors with 32, two more than Bob Baffert. Miller has four horses entered Sunday and Baffert two, but both of the latter’s are in the same race, the 11th. Baffert has to be more than pleased winning the purse money crown this meet by US$837,388 over runner-up Richard Baltas.