A year later and a few inches taller, the 6th grade Texas Titans, an A.A.U. basketball team who brought a 75-5 record to Saratoga, made it 76 – 5, beating the jockeys 49 – 32 in a game that for three quarters was much closer than the score indicates.
For the second consecutive year, the Race Track Chaplaincy sponsored the game to raise money; last year, the funds went to Andrew Lakeman, who was paralyzed in a spill at Belmont Park in May of 2007. The proceeds from this year’s event will go to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
West Point Thoroughbreds, Stonerside Stable, Earle Mack, Courtlandt Farms, Darley Stable, Lael Stables, Circle E Racing, James Scatuorchio, Starlight Racing, IEAH Stables, WinStar Farm, Mike Repole, and Padua Stables each donated $5,000 to sponsor the event, with jockeys wearing sleeveless silks representing the sponsors; donations were taken at the door as well, with several pieces of Saratoga artwork and a flat-screen television raffled off.
Last year’s winning coach, Todd Pletcher, returned as a co-coach year, with University of Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie stepping in to work with him. The Titans were coached by Jeff Webster, who seemed intent on guiding his boys to a victory to make up for last year’s loss.
Eibar Coa, Robby Albarado, John Velazquez, Mike Luzzi, Channing Hill, Alan Garcia, Javier Castellano, Jeffrey Sanchez, Rudy Rodriguez, and Rajiv Maragh played for the jockeys; Kent Desormeaux, fresh off a victory in Thursday’s featured Stallion Stakes filly division aboard Raffie’s Treasure (see Railbird for details/photo), turned up a little late but made up for it with a quick series of suicides down the court. Angel Cordero, Jr. joined the coaches on the bench and made a last-minute, desperate appearance on the court.
In the crowd: Kiaran and Letty McLaughlin and family; Dale Romans with son Jake; Richard Schiavo and Michael Iavarone of IEAH; Bill Mott and family; Cot Campbell. Sam the Bugler opened the game with the Star-Spangled Banner.
As was the case last year, the crowd was squarely behind the jocks, who had a 9-8 lead at the end of the first quarter. Coaches Gillispie and Pletcher largely let the jocks guide the play, though taking the court for the second quarter, go-to jock John Velazquez looked at Pletcher and said, “What are we doing?”
Once again, the jocks’ inside game dominated the kids, but the Titans had the jockeys beat at the foul line and from three-point range, taking a 23-20 lead at halftime. Late in the second quarter, as a Titan went to the foul line, the announcer informed the crowd, “Foul on Desormeaux—his 18th.”
Desormeaux was spotted in what looked like an amiable confab during halftime with Schiavo and Iavarone; the emotional high point of the game was an appearance by Andrew Lakeman at center court. As he sat in his wheelchair, each of the jockeys went to him, shaking his hand as the crowd stood and applauded. Lakeman thanked the jockeys who had supported him over the last year with letters and photos, saying that it was an “honor” to be present this year; last year, his mother represented him, as he was in England beginning his recovery. A year ago, he said, he was able to lift five pounds; now, he can lift seventy. He is able to drive. His remarks were brief, but meaningful to the many in the crowd who knew him and who participated in this event last year on his behalf.
Unfortunately, the game was downhill for the jockeys after that. Despite what was called a “tenacious jockey defense” and the increased participation of coaches Gillispie and Pletcher, the Titans went on a 17 – 0 fourth quarter run, fueled largely by their flawless three-point shooting. As the game wound down, “the jockeys [were] down five lengths at the eighth mile, with the Titans in a hand ride,” according to the announcer.
Desormeaux and Coa led the jockeys’ scoring again, with Kent contributing ten (most of those in the first half) and Eibar throwing in eight. Castellano had a beautiful early three-pointer, and Channing Hill put in five.
With the series tied at one, we might expect a rubber match in 2009…but I think that time, and height, are on the Titans’ side, and really, shouldn’t those kids pick on someone their own size?