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Spa Longshot Winner Dream Come True for Mann, Gyarmati

Their first-time starter Top Envoy won at 34-1 odds in state-bred maiden claimer.

Top Envoy wins his career debut at Saratoga Race Course

Top Envoy wins his career debut at Saratoga Race Course

Coglianese Photos

When Maria Mann was galloping her unraced 2-year-old around Saratoga Race Course last year, her fellow exercise riders would kid around with her.

They would look at the gelding and chuckle.

"They told me he's a pony and when I said he was going to race one day, they said he would be 99-1," Mann said.

Those odds were an exaggeration, though, they were not completely out of line.

When Top Envoy made his career debut Aug. 11 at Saratoga, the 3-year-old Honorable Dillon gelding owned and bred by Mann and trained by her longtime friend Leah Gyarmati was a completely overlooked 34-1 in the betting, even though Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano was aboard.

Then some Saratoga magic was sprinkled into a rather routine Thursday afternoon.

The laughter about Top Envoy turned into cheers and mile-wide smiles as he grabbed the lead in the stretch and posted an uplifting 1 1/4-length victory in the fifth race of the day, a $40,000 maiden claimer on turf for New York-breds, giving Mann her first win as an owner after going 0-for-8 back in 2000-01.

"It's something you dream about," said Mann, who has retired from exercising horses on a regular basis and recently took out a trainer's license in Delaware. "I've been doing this for 30 years and it's something you thought you could never do, but this is Saratoga..."

Indeed it is, and at the iconic racetrack where the sport's premier owners and trainers gather for 40 days, Day No. 21 belonged to connections who embody the hard-working unsung heroes of the racetrack. It is devoted individuals such as Mann and Gyarmati who toil in obscurity while dedicating their lives to caring for the horses which play such a vital role in the circuit's bread-and-butter races.

"It's wonderful to win here, but I'm at a point in my career where winning anywhere is wonderful," said Gyarmati, who has won more than 300 races in a career that dates back to 1999 but came into Thursday's race with just a Feb. 27 victory to her credit after 34 starts in 2022. "But the big thing is for Maria. I've known her since I was 13 or 14 and I'm 57 going on 58. We used to show horses together and ride jumpers. This is her horse and she came to me and said no one would give her a shot with it. She said, 'Can you train this horse and help me get him to the races because I think the horse is OK?' I wasn't so sure, but she was right."

In particular, Mann was right about the way Top Envoy, a son of the Simmard mare Madame Ambassador, handled turf with aplomb. 

"His mother and his grandmother (Queen of Protocol) ran on it," Mann said about the lone foal from Madame Ambassador who is also her lone racehorse. "Not the sire. I eliminated the sire except for the Argentinian part."

In covering the mile and a sixteenth on the Mellon Turf Course in 1:43.27, Top Envoy paid $71 to win. He also went unclaimed in the race for New York-breds while earning $27,500, underscoring why Mann and Gyarmati hope he becomes the gift that keeps on giving.

"The mare was a gift through (trainer) Dave Donk. I got a call saying they were looking for a home for her and she comes with a season to Honorable Dillon. I thought that was a good way to get back in the fray," Mann said. "There are no words for this."

Video: Race 5 (MCL) at SAR on 8/11/22