We’ve really done it this time. For the first time in our 21-year history, saratoga living has accomplished what no other local media outlet has ever dared to try: We’ve created—and ranked(!)—a stellar list of the most powerful individuals impacting horse racing in Saratoga Springs right now. It’s a roster of familiar and perhaps not-so-familiar names, who not only share an unquestioned love for the Sport of Kings, but also come to land on this historic list because of one all-important word: influence.
So, if power is influence—and we say it absolutely is—then this inaugural 2019 saratoga living Power List is exclusively comprised of the men and women who have the greatest impact on horse racing in the Spa City.
saratoga living asked a panel of local horse racing experts, historians, editors and writers to recommend the trainers, owners, jockeys and other influencers who make the summer meet in Saratoga an absolute must for all racing aficionados. We know any ranked list will inspire conversation, debate and even a little bit of what were they thinking? (to say nothing of the perceived “snubbed” list); but, no matter. saratoga living is, as always, proud to represent our city and our city’s signature sport. We’re ready for any feedback that may come our way. It’s OK; passion is required for all of Saratoga’s wondrous offerings, the track very much included.
Without further ado, we present the first annual 2019 saratoga living Power List. It’s quite a list; but, hey, it’s quite a sport. —Richard Pérez-Feria, Editor in Chief
1. Todd Pletcher (Trainer)
Award-winning Thoroughbred Trainer Todd Pletcher sits atop saratoga living’s inaugural Power List for a number of key reasons, the most obvious being that he dominates in the sport of horse racing, laying waste to his competition and setting records aplenty along the way. It’s what he does—both nationally and here at Saratoga Race Course. A native of Dallas, the 52-year-old trainer extraordinaire has reigned supreme in the Thoroughbred game for more than two decades, and there’s no indication his prime will end anytime soon. Some more evidence of Pletcher’s dominance? He’s the all-time leader in purse earnings by a trainer (more than $375 million as of mid-June); has been awarded a record seven Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Trainer and a record 13 leading trainer titles at Saratoga; has won leading trainer in North America honors by earnings 10 times; has set the record for most stakes wins (100) and graded stakes wins (57) in a single year (2006), surpassing the previous marks set by his former boss, D. Wayne Lukas; has won 2 Kentucky Derbies, 3 Belmont Stakes and 10 Breeders’ Cups; and has garnered 33 total meet training titles in New York. His list of accomplishments literally goes on and on.
Pletcher earned his first win in January 1996 at Gulfstream Park in Florida with Majestic Number. He’s amassed almost 4800 more wins since then and counts many of the most powerful owners in the sport among his clients, including Mike Repole, WinStar Farm and Starlight Racing, among countless others. At Saratoga, he has been masterful in preparing his horses for success in the most prestigious events. He can list the Travers, Whitney, Alabama, Woodward, Sword Dancer, Hopeful, Personal Ensign, Ballerina and King’s Bishop among his Grade 1 conquests here. And he’s hoisted the trophy for several of those events on multiple occasions.
Pletcher began showing an interest in horses as a child. His father, Jake “J.J.” Pletcher, trained both quarter horses and Thoroughbreds and now runs a training center in Florida where many of Todd’s young runners get an early education before joining the big barn. After high school, Pletcher graduated from the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. He then apprenticed with Lukas, a Hall of Fame conditioner with 14 Triple Crown race wins to his credit. After nearly seven years with Lukas, Pletcher began his own journey when he landed his trainer’s license in late 1995. Some two years later, he had his first stakes win in New York when Jersey Girl won the Astoria at Belmont. Pletcher quickly established himself as a star on the rise, and has burned bright ever since.
With one of the largest stables in racing, Pletcher has had to effectively manage the numerous day-to-day tasks of the business side of the sport, while also never failing to maintain complete focus on the horsemanship required of his craft. Few trainers—if any—approach Pletcher’s mastery of this delicate balancing act. Two years from now, Pletcher becomes eligible for induction into the Hall of Fame. He’s considered a lock to be elected on the first ballot. A few hours after the morning induction ceremony at Fasig-Tipton, it’s a sure bet that the trainer will be across the street at the racetrack in a familiar spot: the Winner’s Circle.
2. Irad Ortiz, Jr. and José Ortiz (Jockeys)
Imagine if National Basketball Association superstar LeBron James had a younger brother who was just as good at basketball as he was. Apply that concept to Thoroughbred racing, and you have the reality that is the Ortiz brothers. Irad, 26, and José, 25, natives of Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, have combined for more than 4000 wins and purse earning of close to $300 million in less than a decade. In 2017, José won the Eclipse Award, the Belmont Stakes and topped all North American riders with more than $27.3 million in earnings. In 2018, it was Irad’s turn for the Eclipse and the earnings title with more than $27.7 million in purse earnings (he won the Belmont in 2016). The brothers have reigned supreme at Saratoga for the past four years. Each has a pair of riding titles here, and the brothers have finished 1-2 in the standings each of those years. At press time, the Ortiz brothers were both in the top three in purse earnings, nationally, once again and appear primed for another sensational summer at Saratoga.
3. David O’Rourke (New York Racing Association’s CEO and President)
An integral member of the New York Racing Association (NYRA) management team since 2008, David O’Rourke, 45, was named CEO and President in March after serving in the position on an interim basis since January. O’Rourke first joined NYRA as director of financial planning before becoming chief revenue officer and vice president of corporate development. During his tenure at NYRA, O’Rourke has played a major role in the development of NYRA Bets, a national wagering platform now available in 30 states, and the expansion of NYRA’s television broadcasts, Belmont Park Live and Saratoga Live. He’s also led NYRA’s strategy and investment in cloud-based video streaming technologies, including the innovative NYRA Now app. O’Rourke is a member of NYRA’s Board of Directors and serves the racing industry in a variety of roles with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Thoroughbred Racing Associations of America (TRA) and the Management Committee of the Equibase Company. NYRA recently unveiled Saratoga Race Course’s newest luxury accommodations, the 1863 Club, and many changes are expected at NYRA’s metropolitan tracks, Belmont and Aqueduct, in the coming years. All eyes will be on O’Rourke to see how he charts the course during this most crucial time for New York racing.
4. Chad Brown (Trainer)
With three straight Eclipse Awards, the 40-year-old Mechanicville native is on the short list of the most successful trainers in the game, along with Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, Mark Casse and Bill Mott. In winning his second training title at Saratoga in 2018, Brown set a track record with 46 wins, breaking the previous mark of 40 that he shared with Pletcher. He’s surpassed $20 million in purse earnings each of the past four years and earned his first Triple Crown race win in 2017, when Cloud Computing took the Preakness. At press time, Brown was second nationally in purse earnings and sixth in wins. A Cornell University graduate and former assistant to Hall of Famers Claude R. “Shug” McGaughey III and Bobby Frankel, Brown appears loaded for another run at the top of the standings at Saratoga this summer.
5. John Hendrickson (National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame President, Racehorse Owner)
A former member of NYRA’s Board of Directors, Hendrickson, 54, was elected the museum’s president in 2017 and has spearheaded a revitalization of the institution. Introducing an innovative online program called Foal Patrol—which spotlights in-foal mares during their pregnancies via live webcam—Hendrickson has increased the museum’s national visibility exponentially. He’s currently leading a $20 million campaign to transform the Hall of Fame into a revolutionary interactive experience. A native of Alaska, Hendrickson is also an owner of a prominent racing stable with his wife, the iconic Marylou Whitney. The couple has been integral in promoting and preserving the legacy of Saratoga racing and supporting the track’s approximately 2500 backstretch workers through the annual Saratoga Backstretch Appreciation program. Hendrickson was a key figure in convincing NYRA to spend more than half a million dollars to renovate a pair of dormitories that house many of the workers near the Oklahoma Training Track.
6. Barbara Banke (Stonestreet Stables’ Owner)
One of the most successful stables in the racing world, Stonestreet was established by Banke and her late husband, Jess Jackson. Stonestreet has campaigned some of the most accomplished racehorses of the 21st century in Hall of Fame members Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, as well as champions such as My Miss Aurelia, Good Magic and Lady Aurelia. Banke’s Lexington-based Stonestreet Farms has also emerged as a force in the sport’s sales business. Furthermore, Jackson’s involved in numerous organizations within the sport, including the National Museum of Racing and the Breeders’ Cup. (A graduate of UCLA and The UC Hastings College of Law, Banke is a former land use and constitutional law attorney, who spent more than a decade arguing cases before the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.) Outside of the realm of horse racing, Banke and her late husband co-founded Jackson Family Wines. In addition to the flagship Kendall-Jackson brand, Jackson Family Wines includes two dozen top wineries in California and maintains a global presence of top vineyards and wineries in France, Italy, Australia and other locations around the world.
7. Seth Klarman (Klaravich Stables’ Owner)
Besides graduating from Harvard Business School and being the CEO of the Boston-based Baupost Group, one the world’s largest hedge funds, 62-year-old Seth Klarman, who grew up near Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, has been one of racing’s top owners for more than a decade, campaigning his horses under the name Klaravich Stables. Many of Klarman’s horses are owned in partnership with William Lawrence, an Albany native. The aforementioned Cloud Computing, who was trained by Chad Brown and won the 2017 Preakness Stakes, is one of Klavarich’s horses. The stables has also been a heavyweight at Saratoga Race Course in recent years, topping track standings in earnings in 2017 and 2018 and in wins each of the past three years. According to Equibase, Klaravich Stables and its extended partnerships have earned more than $50 million in purses since 2006. Outside of racing, Klarman is also a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox and has named some of his horses, including Fenway Faithful and Yawkey Way, in honor of his Red Sox connection.
8. Andy Serling (New York Racing Association Handicapper)
A staple of NYRA’s broadcast team for more than a decade, the highly opinionated Serling, 57, is regarded as one of the top handicappers in the game. Serling, who was born in New Jersey and grew up in Saratoga, has been an integral presence on the popular TV programs Belmont Park Live and Saratoga Live. He also hosts NYRA’s Talking Horses program and its Across the Board podcast. With more than 26K followers, Serling’s Twitter handle (@andyserling) is one of the most followed in the sport and offers regular insight during the Saratoga racing season and throughout the year for all NYRA tracks. Before working in the racing industry, Serling traded options on the floor of the American Stock Exchange and was a professional horseplayer. He brings a combination of cockiness and humor to his job along with the ability to clearly explain complicated handicapping concepts to an audience that ranges from novices to expert horseplayers.
9. Maggie Wolfendale (New York Racing Association Paddock Analyst)
One of the most recognized women in horse racing, Wolfendale is the daughter of respected Maryland-based trainer Howard Wolfendale and the wife of emerging New York trainer Tom Morley. A third-generation horsewoman, Wolfendale joined the New York Racing Association (NYRA) in the fall of 2010 and quickly earned a reputation as one of the sport’s top analysts. An expert on horse conformation (the evaluation of a horse’s body/bone structure and more) and a meticulous student of the game, Wolfendale’s views from the paddock are essential tools for horseplayers before they head to the betting windows at Saratoga Race Course. Along with her broadcasting career, Wolfendale remains active in the training aspect of the sport, working with her husband’s horses in the barn and galloping on the track. She’s also spent time retraining retired racehorses to take on new careers. Prior to working for NYRA, Wolfendale graduated from Towson University with a broadcasting degree and worked for both the Maryland Jockey Club and Colonial Downs in Virginia.
10. Jeffrey Cannizzo (New York Thoroughbred Breeders Executive Director)
Hailing from a family that’s been involved in New York racing for more than a half-century, Cannizzo has been instrumental in the impressive development of the state’s Thoroughbred breeding program. Since joining the New York Thoroughbred Breeders (NYTB) in 2008, Cannizzo has been a powerful advocate for the racing and breeding industry in the state’s contentious political environment. Cannizzo regularly represents New York breeders and horsemen at state hearings and is on the Board of Directors for both NYRA and the New York Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund. He’s also an advisory board member of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. A graduate of Le Moyne College, Cannizzo worked in business development for Lockheed Martin, Dell and Microsoft prior to joining the NYTB.
11. Angel Cordero, Jr. (Hall Of Fame Jockey, Agent)
Known as the “King of Saratoga,” Cordero, 76, won a record 14 leading rider titles at Saratoga Race Course—including 11 in a row—and is regarded as one of the greatest jockeys in history. Arguably the most popular figure in Saratoga racing history, Cordero is a multiple Eclipse Award winner, who won six Triple Crown races. He continues to be a major presence at Saratoga as the agent for Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and Manny Franco, one of the sport’s top young riders. A native of Santurce, Puerto Rico, Cordero was one of the first three track superstars honored in the Saratoga Walk of Fame at the racetrack in 2013. Cordero has helped Velazquez, who is also a Hall of Famer, become the sport’s all-time leading jockey in purse earnings with more than $400 million to his name. With Cordero booking their mounts, Velazquez and Franco are both among the top ten riders in the country so far in 2019.
12. Danny Meyer (Shake Shack Founder)
One of New York City’s most celebrated restauranteurs, the 61-year-old Danny Meyer might have some Saratogians scratching their heads as to his inclusion on this list. But bring up his signature business, Shake Shack, and it’s a no-brainer. Shake Shack is, without question Saratoga Race Course’s most popular, lengthy-queued eatery. With its NYC flagship founded in 2001, the upscale “roadside burger stand” was a sizzling hit from the get-go and has since gone nuclear, popularity-wise, with more than 200 locations all over the continental United States and in far-off reaches such as China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Singapore. Sure, Saratoga Race Course is steeped in tradition and history. But in with the new, we say. And by that, we mean a ShackBurger, cheese fries and vanilla milkshake.
13. Bobby Flay (Racehorse Owner, Celebrity Chef)
Speaking of food, a powerhouse in the field of culinary arts and a staple on the Food Network, Flay, 54, burst on the racing scene in 2010 when his horse, More Than Real, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Flay has since become one of the sport’s most visible owners and a top ambassador for the game. In 2016, Flay was a part-owner of Belmont Stakes winner Creator, and has also campaigned Grade 1 winner Dame Dorothy and bred graded stakes winner America. Along with being a successful owner and breeder, Flay served on the New York Racing Association board from 2012 through 2018. He’s also served on the Breeders’ Cup board and delivered the keynote speech at a National Museum of Racings Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Power List: Hall Of Fame
Marylou Whitney (Racehorse Owner/Breeder, 2019 Hall Of Fame Inductee)
Known as the “Queen of Saratoga,” Marylou Whitney has been a successful horse owner and breeder since the early 1990s. Following the death of her husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney, in 1992, Whitney began blazing her own trail in the racing world. For Marylou Whitney Stables, her homebred Bird Town ran the fastest Kentucky Oaks ever in 2003 and her Birdstone won both the Belmont and Travers the following year. The latter later sired a Kentucky Derby winner (Mine That Bird) and Belmont winner (Summer Bird) in his first crop as a stallion. She’s also a member of The Jockey Club and an Eclipse Award of Merit recipient. This summer, Whitney will receive the ultimate horse racing honor, when she’s inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Pillar of the Turf.