Trotting Rivalry Budding at the Raceway
There have been some incredible trotting rivalries at Saratoga Casino and Raceway in the past few years. Back in 2008 and 2009, Prime Interest and Pablo Angus seemed like they ran first and second with one another every Friday night. The two classy trotters both displayed dominance at times and wound up battling each other for the top trotting crown at the Spa in back to back seasons. In ’08, Prime Interest was named Horse of the Year but in ’09 it was Pablo Angus who earned top honors, edging out Prime Interest in his attempt at becoming the first horse to win the track’s top award in consecutive years since American Kash did it in 1998 and 1999. While it is still early in the season to determine such a rivalry, one is certainly brewing right now in the Friday Open between Upfront Billy and Mikey Hanover.
Upfront Billy came to Saratoga for the first time earlier this year and simply dominated. The Mark Ford trainee earned just shy of $300,000 in his freshman season in 2012 and won all of his first four starts in the Saratoga $20,000 Open Trot. As Upfront Billy was rattling off win after win in Open company, rising star Mikey Hanover was cruising through the condition ranks. The two were on a collision course, about to begin what could become a longstanding rivalry.
Mikey Hanover was purchased by the Westwind Racing Stable and Judy Simek back in January. The horse took part in the Meadowlands sale where Nick Andreoli, who races under the Westwind Racing Stable, picked the horse out. He said he was impressed with the horse’s size and stature. “He looked like a big, strong horse. One that could really benefit from the time in between his three and four year old seasons to get stronger and really come into his own.” Andreoli has had Open trotters before, winning several Open Trots in the past decade with horses such as Charmed Viking, Clearaway, Bit O Victory and Just A Con Man. In the horse’s previous lines, Nick saw a lot of good things and figured that Mikey Hanover could be the versatile type of trotter that it takes to compete in Open company on a week in week out basis. Mikey Hanover was purchased for $45,000 and went under the tutelage of trainer Jackie Rousse. “Jackie has had a ton of success with Open trotters in the past,” said Andreoli, referring primarily to Prime Interest and Lorenzo Dream, who are both previous Horse of the Year award winners at Saratoga.
Andreoli drove Mikey Hanover himself in the four year old’s first local start. They had post eight and the race would serve as essentially a trial run for the Spa newbie. The following week, Mikey Hanover started his win streak as he still had something left in the stretch after being parked the mile. Andreoli, who was the Johnny Page Award winner for up-and-coming drivers back in 2003, said that he knew he had a nice horse after this start. “He was parked throughout the first half but I got to drop in going to three quarters. I gave him a breather hoping he would get a piece of the race and incredibly, after I popped the earplugs, he gave me another gear. That doesn’t usually happen in a scenario like that. I knew we had something pretty special with Mikey,” Andreoli said.
Andreoli handed over the lines to his friend Dan Cappello Jr, who would score back to back wins of his own behind Mikey Hanover. The four year old then had his first start in the Open two Fridays ago and locked horns with Upfront Billy for the first time. Mikey drew the rail while Billy was assigned the outside post for their first battle. Upfront Billy and driver Billy Dobson challenged the early speed of Mikey Hanover who protected the rail position and parked out his major danger. Upfront Billy was gutsy and game but eventually succumbed to the overland journey. Mikey had plenty left though and drew away to win by three and a half lengths, stopping the timer in 1:55.3. It was the fastest win time of the year for any Saratoga trotter thus far this year and a statement by Mikey that he will be a horse to be reckoned with in the Friday feature. It looks as if Andreoli and company certainly have themselves the quality Open trotter they sought out when they went to the Meadowlands sale last winter as Mikey Hanover is becoming a Friday night force.
Round two of the Mikey-Billy battle came last Friday over a fast track on a beautiful night at the Spa. Upfront Billy was the race’s favorite but again would get parked the mile. Mikey Hanover sat patiently in sixth before moving up approaching the half mile pole. The outer flow consisted of Upfront Billy, Mikey Hanover and Bound For Fame. Bound For Fame has been a sort of under the radar trotter despite winning two of the previous three Opens heading into last weekend. After Upfront Billy tired following the tough trip, it was Bound For Fame and Mikey Hanover that would decide it. 11-1 shot Bound For Fame spoiled the party, denying Mikey Hanover his fifth straight victory, winning by a head. In his two starts in the Friday feature, Mikey Hanover has a win and a second. The Open trot is certainly becoming the race to watch on the weekly menu at Saratoga as the Billy-Mikey rivalry has a third combatant to contend with as Bound For Fame has also spent the early part of the season establishing himself as a force in the Friday feature. There is a lot that remains to be seen but there might just be a Prime Interest-Pablo Angus type rivalry emerging. Will it be Upfront Billy and Mikey Hanover? Or will Bound For Fame be the steady force in the Open? It should be a fun summer at the Spa and the Open Trot will be a weekly can’t-miss race.
Live racing takes place on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights with 6:45pm first posts. This Sunday’s matinee will be followed up by a Memorial Day matinee on Monday afternoon. Daytime racing begins at 12:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!
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