by Brian Bohl
Trainer Chad Brown registered his fourth consecutive New York Racing Association year-end training title, jockey Manny Franco picked up his first crown and Michael Dubb earned his fifth straight title on the circuit as the curtain came down on racing for the year Monday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Brown, who has won back-to-back Eclipse Awards for Outstanding Trainer for 2016-17 and is a strong contender for a third straight honor in 2018, saddled 154 winners at NYRA tracks, which encompasses Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course and Aqueduct, for earnings of $15.62 million.
Brown, 40, has been atop the year-end leaders every year since 2015 and finished the 2018 campaign 39 wins ahead of the next closest competitor in Rudy Rodriguez, who was the only other trainer to register a triple-digit wins with 115.
Brown's 2018 win total, in which his horses finished 154-128-76 in 580 total starts, is the most the Mechanicville, New York native has compiled in a year on the NYRA circuit, exceeding the 148 wins he tallied in 2017. His horses posted a 26.55 percent winning percentage.
"It's been a great year. My staff did an unbelievable job and I'm thankful for my loyal clients and all the good horses I've had the opportunity to train," Brown said. "NYRA has done a fantastic job of providing us excellent surfaces to both train and race on and offered a wide variety of races that suited most of our horses well. It's our home circuit and we're happy to be running the bulk of our operation at NYRA."
In 2018, Brown won individual meet titles for Aqueduct spring, Belmont spring/summer and Saratoga, where he set a meet record with 46 wins, shattering the previous record of 40 he set in 2016 and was later tied by Todd Pletcher in 2017. He also won the Belmont fall meet crown.
Among Brown's many standout performers was posting seven of his 20 Grade 1 wins at NYRA tracks, highlighted by Patternrecognition's win in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, Separationofpowers in the Longines Test and Sistercharlie in the Diana at Saratoga, and Wow Cat [Beldame], Complexity [Champagne], A Raving Beauty [Longines Just a Game], and Fourstar Crook [Flower Bowl] at Belmont.
"All of them were special. It's hard to win Grade 1 races anywhere, particularly in New York where it's the toughest racing in the country," Brown said. "We feel very fortunate that we had horses good enough to win seven Grade 1 races at NYRA and hopefully we'll continue the success into 2019."
Franco earned the first two NYRA meet titles of his career during 2018, finishing atop the Aqueduct winter and Aqueduct fall leaderboards. For the year, the Carolina, Puerto Rico native won 244 races from 1,366 mounts with earnings of more than $15.81 million.
On September 29, Franco piloted Discreet Lover, at 45-1, to a Grade 1 win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. Among his other highlights was leading Holy Helena to a win in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay, Lady Montdore in the Grade 2 Glens Falls and Positive Spirit in the Grade 2 Demoiselle.
Franco's win total for the year was 41 more than Irad Ortiz, Jr., who was second after winning the year-end riding title in 2017.
"I'm very blessed and very happy with the year I had," Franco said. "I'm thankful to my agent and the trainers and owners who gave me a chance to make this happen. Every year, I always wanted to win a title, because in New York, it's such a tough jockey colony and the talent level is very high. I hope I can continue to build on this.
"I think the win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup was the highlight for me. That one - doing it at Belmont and against those odds - that was special."
Dubb's 68 winners put him atop the year-end owner standings for the seventh time in nine years. Dubb, who has been the top owner every year since 2014, also was the year-end leader in 2010 and 2012 and closed the 2018 campaign with $5,913,187 in purse earnings.