A New Queen Emerging At Saratoga
For the last several years, there has been no dominant force in the Fillies and Mares Open at Saratoga Casino and Raceway. While there have been a few lady pacers who have displayed dominance from time to time, the race to be named Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year at Saratoga has been wide open in the last few seasons. In 2012, Don’t Blame Her was a runaway winner for the top award for lady pacers but in the years that have followed, there has been no standout mare. In the ’13 campaign, the battle to be the track’s top distaffer was so wide open that two different mares split top honors. Bell On Wheels was named Aged Pacing Mare of the Year in ’13 while rival Let’s Go Higher took home the award for Filly and Mare Pacer of the Year. Their credentials were so close that the voters essentially split the honors. Though 2014 brought much of the same for the local pacing mares, Road Bet made her presence felt after coming to the track in the early summer for trainer Kyle Spagnola and put together an award winning campaign behind six victories in the Fillies and Mares Open Pace. While Road Bet was the top mare in ’14, Let’s Go Higher had another strong campaign and was the runner up in the voting.
The 2015 season has followed the trend of the two previous years with no one standing out as the clear cut favorite among local pacing mares. While Let’s Go Higher and Road Bet started out strong, they haven’t competed locally in quite some time. Friday night has now become ladies night at the Spa and as the $18,000 Fillies and Mares Open has become the regular Friday feature. There has been a bevy of winners in the last couple of months since Let’s Go Higher and Road Bet have been absent. The most recent force is a mare who we saw for the first time late in 2013 and is currently in the midst of an unbelievable campaign.
Godiva Seelster was a private purchase for owners Paul and Patti O’neil of Saratoga Springs back in the fall of ’13. The filly had competed in the Ontario Sire Stakes with some level of success and was purchased in a package deal with a trotter named High Blue at the conclusion of stakes season. The Oneils sent their new acquisitions to trainer Dan Hennessey who races at Saratoga throughout the summer but spends the majority of the year in Florida competing at Pompano Park. Paul Oneil said that he had been searching for a solid female pacer to add to his stable and figured Godiva Seelster could be just that. As a $20,000 purchase, he wasn’t thinking “Opens” per say but hoped that the mare could make some money climbing through the condition ranks both locally and at Pompano before becoming a high level claimer. Godiva Seelster paid immediate dividends for her new connections when she won in October of ’13 at the Spa and finished fourth in a try in the local Open before heading back to Pompano for the winter. She tried her luck in Opens in Florida but didn’t fare very well. After all, as a three year old filly facing mostly aged mares, it would be a tall order for her to do any significant damage in that company.
2014 was the start of a special run for the mare who would become one of the most consistent distaffers at both Pompano and Saratoga. Her third season of racing began with three consecutive victories in the Pompano Open for Fillies and Mares and Godiva Seelster just took off from there. Whether she had her ‘A’ game or not, Godiva Seelster had a knack for doing one thing every time she raced…make money! The mare started an unbelievable stretch, dating back to the start of her three year old season, in which she collected a check in each and every start! She competed in a $38,000 Series Final at Tioga last summer and even after making an untimely break at the start, rallied to finish second. Godiva Seelster finished second in the local Open once last fall before making her trek back to Pompano. In total, the mare earned over $65,000 in her first full season out of the Hennessey stable, hitting the board in 17 of 23 starts in ’14.
If 2014 was good for Godiva Seelster, 2015 has been incredible. For a mare who has maintained such a streak of getting a check, she has now upped the ante. With one week left in August, Godiva Seelster has posted eye-popping statistics. Competing almost solely against top flight mares at Pompano and Saratoga, Godiva Seelster has finished first or second in 17 of her 19 starts this year. On Friday night, Hall of Famer Wally Hennessey piloted the mare to her second consecutive win in the $18,000 Fillies and Mares Open at the Spa, wiring the field for the second straight week. In her previous try, the distaffer held on to win in 1:52.2, the fastest time for a mare at Saratoga this season and one that is only a fifth of a second shy of the track record for lady pacers. After being the favorite in five straight races, Godiva Seelster was dismissed at 5-1 by the bettors on Friday night and she did what she pretty much always does, finish first or second. Hennessey piloted the breakout star to a wire-to-wire victory in 1:52.3, her second ever local score in the $18,000 Open. Godiva Seelster has really established herself as a picture of consistency and is proving to be a force among local top flight pacing mares. In less than two years for the Oneils, the mare has amassed well over $150,000 and there is no end in sight. She has never been sharper than she is right now, more than midway through her five year old campaign. Could Godiva Seelster, with the big time ability and consistency that she’s shown this summer, become the first dominant mare at the Spa in several years? Well, it isn’t real likely but to no fault of her own. O’neil says Godiva Seelster will be heading back to Pompano with the Hennesseys sometime in late September or early October. Will she be able to do enough damage in the next month or so to warrant being a nominee if not a favorite for top honors among local pacing mares? That is certainly possible as no lady pacer has stood out once again this year and the breakout star is one of only four distaffers to win the Open on more than one occasion in ’15. What the voters will do come time remains to be seen but one thing we do know, Godiva Seelster has become the new queen of the Raceway during this sensational 2015 campaign.
Live racing takes place on Tuesday through Saturday nights with first post times set for 7:05pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!