Sardella’s Column

It’s Crowded at the Top at the Spa

For the last five years, Billy Dobson has won the driving title at Saratoga Casino and Raceway. Not only has the now thirty year old finished atop the standings five straight times but in the last four years, he has won drawing away. At no point, with the exception of the first couple of weeks of the season, has any driver been close to Dobson in the standings enough to make it a race to the wire among local reinsmen. This year though, if the first six weeks of the season are any indication, Dobson may be in store for some competition for the crown. The 2015 racing season has gotten off to a similar start as so many others have for Billy Dobson. The young driving star has continued to pile up victories in the beginning stages of the campaign but unlike in seasons past, he has some company at the top. Bruce Aldrich Jr was one of the winningest drivers in North America last year as he not only finished second in the local standings but did so while being Monticello Raceway’s leading driver. Aldrich has seemingly gathered momentum in the last few years as he has become a Saratoga regular. The 46 year old native of the state of Maine entered last week in a tie with Dobson but fell just a few wins behind him after the five day race week. While Aldrich is in on his way to what may be his best season yet since coming to the Spa, he continues to dominate at Monticello. On his most recent day competing at Monty, Aldrich piled up six wins to go with two second place finishes in his eight drives. The runaway winner of the driving title there last season, Aldrich once again tops the list at Monty while doubling as one of the top drivers at the Spa. Currently, Aldrich has piloted 37 winners at Saratoga, just three less than Dobson’s total of 40. A veteran and a youngster round out the top four in the early going in Saratoga’s ’15 driver standings. Frank Coppola Jr is one of the winningest drivers in the history of Saratoga Raceway and after hanging up his colors on a few different occasions over the past several years, the veteran reinsman is back in full force. Coppola returned on a limited basis at first, driving just a couple horses a week primarily for a few of his friends. Coppola then decided to return to the sulky on a nightly basis. It didn’t take Frankie long to climb the ranks of the local drivers and at the conclusion of last week’s races, he sat third behind Dobson and Aldrich. Coppola has teamed up with trainer Jackie Rousse once again, a combination that had a ton of success several years back when Frankie was competing full time in the sulky, and they have continued to thrive as a tandem this season highlighted by Sunday’s Open win by pacing mare Happily Ever After. Last year’s Johnny Page Award winner for the top up-and-coming driver went to Austin Siegelman. Like Aldrich, Siegelman competes at Monticello for a portion of the week but has drives on a regular basis at the Spa as well. In his breakout 2014 campaign, Siegelman finished eighth among local reinsmen with a higher win percentage than every driver ahead of him in the standings with the exception of Dobson. Siegelman certainly hasn’t suffered any sophomore slump, in fact he is off to such a big start to ’15 that he is currently fourth behind Dobson, Aldrich and Coppola. Following the trend from last year, Siegelman is once again winning at a higher rate than almost every other driver at Saratoga securing his 33 victories in far fewer opportunities than the drivers ahead of him. While there are a couple of drivers not too far behind them, the top quartet of pilots have created enough separation in the early stages of ’15 to lead to the belief that Dobson will have to really work at it if he’s to score his sixth consecutive driving title at the Spa. The top of the trainer standings looks similar to that of the past couple of seasons. While last year’s leading trainer Heidi Rohr isn’t off to as big of a start as she had in ’14, she is still among the handful of trainers sitting just off the pace set by Melissa Beckwith. The leading trainer from 2011-2013, Beckwith is once again atop the list after an extremely strong start to the campaign. Beckwith finished last week with a fairly sizeable margin atop the leaderboard but with five trainers all bunched up not too far behind. While Rohr was last year’s training champ, it was conditioner Jordan Derue who spent the majority of the year at the top of the list. Derue, who was voted the Horseman of the Year in ’14 because of his strong season as both a driver and a trainer, is once again right on the heels of the training leader. The trainers sitting behind the trio of Beckwith, Derue and Rohr are chasing those conditioners in total wins but have percentages that are through the roof. Jose Godinez and Don Sherman are winning at such an incredible clip this season that they are just a few wins behind the top trio despite having less than half the starts as those three conditioners. Godinez, who has already recorded multiple wins in the Saturday night feature pace, has piled up a dozen victories in only about two dozen starts. Last year’s award winner for up-and-coming trainer Don Sherman has numbers similar to Godinez as far as the percentage of victories to starts. While multiple-time champs Billy Dobson and Melissa Beckwith own leads in their respective categories, it is getting awfully crowded near the top with several drivers and trainers putting together big starts to the ’15 season. It warrants watching in the coming weeks whether or not the challengers can keep up with the pace being set by the five time defending driving champ and multiple training title winner as the spring portion of the 2015 season at the Spa gets underway. Live racing takes place on Thursday with a twilight race card beginning at 4:00pm. On Friday and Saturday, first post time will be 6:45pm while Sunday matinees kick off 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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