Sardella’s Column

Obrigado the New Open Star at the Spa


For the better part of the last two seasons at Saratoga Casino and Raceway, there has been no horse that has completely stood out amongst the top flight competitors at the track. For quite some time, there was seemingly a new winner every week in the Open Trot, Open Pace and Fillies and Mares Open. While that trend has still somewhat continued this season, there has been a star that has emerged in the local trotting ranks.
             Obrigado was a $53,000 purchase at the Harrisburg sale last fall and while the trotter brought with him some questions, his new trainer Paul Kelley liked what he saw. Kelley, a veteran local conditioner, loved the way Obrigado looked at the sale and while $53,000 certainly wasn’t a paltry sum to pay for a horse like him, Kelley felt that he may have sold for more if not for a couple of things that may have scared some people away. Obrigado, a Maine bred trotter, raced his two and three year old seasons exclusively in the state of Maine and mostly in Maine stakes races. Certainly not to discount the quality of horses that Obrigado competed against up north but it was clear that to be worth what his connections paid for him that he would need to compete against and beat better horses than he has faced previously. Also, Obrigado had won 21 races in his first two racing seasons, most of which counted against his pari-mutuel record meaning the only levels where he would really be eligible to race in would be Opens and Open Two type classes. This certainly scared off some prospective buyers at the sale but Kelley figured that a trotter who could consistently trot 2:00 at some of the Maine tracks and one that loved to win could become an Open Two type trotter. Kelley, a native of Maine, is friends with Michael Andrew, the breeder and original owner of Obrigado and discussed the horse with him before making the purchase and determined he would take a shot with him if he wound up selling for a particular price (likely no more than $60,000 or so according to Kelley.) The blueprint Kelley was envisioning following is the one he used a few years ago with a trotter named Up Tempo who came out of the Maine Stakes circuit and wound up enjoying success for the Kelley Stable. 
             While Up Tempo was a solid competitor for Kelley for a few seasons at the Spa, it is safe to say that Obrigado has certainly trumped him already. Kelley says that he gave the now four year old trotter some time off to grow and fill out a little after the purchase, knowing that making the jump from three year old competition in Maine to Opens at Saratoga would be a big one. Obrigado trained well last winter down in Florida and his trainer was starting to see his expectation level rise a little bit for his new acquisition. Kelley still was envisioning Obrigado as a solid Open Two caliber horse and if he panned out perhaps a threat in the regular Friday feature, the Open Trot. He would soon be pleasantly surprised. 
             Following a strong qualifier, Obrigado made his local debut on April 18th. Coming off a season in which he went thirteen-for-thirteen, Obrigado started off his local career in the Open. The son of Boy Band, a Maine-based sire, finished second in his first crack at the local feature, a solid precursor for what was to come in the following three months. Obrigado continued to be a factor in the Open, hitting the board in his first four local starts before prevailing for the first time in late May behind a pocket sitting score that came in an impressive 1:56. Another second place finish followed for Obrigado despite the fact that he had post position eight. On June 13th, Obrigado finished fourth. Why is this noteworthy? It was the first time the star trotter missed the board this season and only the second time in thirty career starts. The rare ‘off the board’ finish must have awoken a giant because what Obrigado has done since that week has simply been phenomenal. 
               After not finishing in the top three for the first time in years, Obrigado came out the following week and swooped the group to win in a career best 1:55.3. He went on to repeat in the $17,000 feature the following week, again overcoming an outside post and charging hard in the stretch to secure a victory. Obrigado then competed in the Tioga Downs Open and finished a solid second but rediscovered his winning ways upon returning to the Spa the next week. Again going last to first, Obrigado was four wide around the final turn on July 18th before securing what was at that point his most impressive local win. 
             I spoke with Paul Kelley before last weekend’s Open try for Obrigado and he mentioned how happy he was to see his horse go through this strong run without utilizing any early speed. “Usually when a horse gets sharp and wins a few Opens, they tend to go to the lead and that’s it. I’ve been impressed that Obrigado has been passing good horses en route to his wins,” Kelley said. I asked him if he thought the trotter would really thrive if he hit the lead one of these weeks and Kelley said that it’s up to Obrigado’s regular driver Kim Crawford. “He has a lot of gate speed we know that but I don’t tell drivers how to drive. Kimmy deserves a lot of credit for this horse. When we had the eight hole, Kim would get a good trip for the horse and still wind up getting a good piece. He never abuses him and really has been a good fit with him.” “We’ve had a lot of outside posts but I know Obrigado can leave and Kim will find the proper spot to do that.” The time was Friday night as Crawford pointed the new star trotter out to the early lead. Once he got there, it was over. Obrigado set a lifetime mark on Friday prevailing in 1:55, a time that also served as the fastest for any trotter this year at Saratoga. It was the fourth consecutive win in the local Open for Obrigado who has no doubt established himself as the track’s newest trotting star. Kelley, who knew his trotter had talent, admitted that he is surprised at just how dominant Obrigado has been of late and feels that the young horse still has plenty of upside as he looks forward to what he can do not only in the remainder of this year but in future seasons as well. 
             Live racing takes place every Tuesday through Saturday at Saratoga with 7:05pm first posts. 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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