SARATOGA SPRINGS -- It was getaway day at Saratoga Race Course, the final card of the meet that began on July 16, so empty horse vans rolled onto the grounds and full ones left it.
Nobody got away faster than Jackie's Warrior, though.
He rocketed out of the starting gate under Joel Rosario and never looked back to win the Grade I Hopeful by 2 1/4 lengths on Monday.
The only reason he didn't win by more was that Rosario had the race so well in hand that he let Jackie's Warrior coast to the wire in the final 70 yards without asking him for any more.
Scott Blasi, assistant trainer to Steve Asmussen, credited gate work at the Asmussen Horse Center, where Steve Asmussen's father, Keith, presides. He credited Jackie's Warrior's talent and breeding for the rest.
"Yeah, he's a very athletic colt that gets over the ground extremely well," Blasi said. "I just told Joel, 'Let's not overthink this. He's the fastest horse in the race.' When they get their lessons from Steve's dad in Laredo, Texas, they know how to leave the gate."
"Yeah, he was really fast," said Rosario, who had a spectacular meet, with seven graded stakes winners, despite finishing third behind brothers Irad and Jose Ortiz in the standings. "I was, like, two lengths in front right away, and he was able to carry his speed all the way around."
Jackie's Warrior swept the two graded stakes for 2-year-olds not restricted by gender at the meet, winning the Aug. 7 Saratoga Special by three lengths. The Sanford was not run because of a schedule disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blasi said Jackie's Warrior will point toward the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"He just continues to improve. He's strong in his works, he does things effortlessly," he said.
BALLAGH ROCKS WINS LURE
It didn't rain much at Saratoga this season, but the shot of downpour that got Ballagh Rocks scratched out of a turf race that was moved to the main track proved fortuitous for the 7-year-old.
Instead, trainer Bill Mott decided to take a shot at stakes company, and Ballagh Rocks won the $85,000 Lure by 2 1/2 lengths under Junior Alvarado.
"I had him in a two-other-than optional claimer and it came off the turf, so we scratched," Mott said. "He was doing good and I started looking at this race and I thought why not put him in here.
"I just thought let's give him a shot. They don't give milk and they don't lay eggs; you have to run."
Run he did, stalking Largent, then beating everyone else to the punch in the stretch as the longest shot on the board, at betting odds of 7-1.
Ninth by three lengths to World Approval in the 2017 Breeders' Cup Mile, Ballagh Rocks has been more likely to banging around optional claiming company in recent years.
"He's a cool horse," Mott said. "We've had him since he was a baby. We went to the Breeders' Cup with him one time and he had a troubled trip and was beaten a couple lengths for the whole thing. He's a hard knocker."
ANOTHER HOMER FOR AMERICA'S PASTIME
America's Pastime Stables successfully pulled off a double play on closing day.
With the coupled entry of Clench and Topper T, co-owned by Krakow Racing, running in the sixth race, Clench got up to win by a nose to give America's Pastime its fifth victory of the Saratoga Race Course meet.
Managing partner Brian Spagnola, who is general manager of Shuttleworth Park and president of the Amsterdam Mohawks, said it has been a deeply gratifying meet for the ownership group, comprised of Capital Region residents, many of them connected to baseball.
"It doesn't get old, and the funny thing is I took my eye off him, because I thought he flattened out for third and was looking back for the other one," Spagnola said. "I looked up at the last second and was like, 'Wait a second, where did he come from?' I kind of missed him make the move.
"My son Max said, 'I think we might've got up for second. Oh, maybe first.' It's hard when you have two horses in the race and you're looking at both."
For the fifth time of the meet, Spagnola represented America's Pastime during the post-race TV interview in the winner's circle, this time with Maggie Wolfendale.
Clench is trained by Mertkan Kantarmaci, who co-owns the America's Pastime horses under the Krakow Racing banner. The 4-year-old colt was claimed out of a race at Saratoga on Aug. 14 and ran in America's Pastime's silks with the baseball emblem for Monday's race, then was claimed out of it by other owners.
"It's been good," Spagnola said. "But really, it's just our trainers doing such a good job. Like I just said to Maggie, we're the smartest horsemen on the grounds, because all we do is shut up and listen and do what our trainers tell us.
"Probably more of the same [at Belmont Park], because everybody's into it. We lost these two [Topper T was also claimed], but we'll see. We'll keep it rolling."
DONATO FINISHES WITH 95
Gazette handicapper Matt Donato finished with 95 winners from 408 races (23.3%) for the meet.
He had one winner on closing day, with Iranistan in the steeplechase that opened the card.
Over the course of the 40-day meet, there were five equine deaths due to injuries sustained during racing.
Of those, there were two, First Appeal and Pot of Hunny, who were euthanized on the track. The other three were vanned off first.
First Appeal suffered a catastrophic injury to the right front leg during a race on the inner turf course on Aug. 20, and Pot of Hunny injured the left front while racing on the main track on Aug. 29.
There were no equine deaths from racing during the first 23 days of the meet.