Sardella’s Column



Slugfest Still Scoring Sunday Knockouts


Every Sunday afternoon, the Open Trot is featured at Saratoga Casino and Raceway. Regularly being contested for a purse of $18,000, the Open often attracts top flight out-of-towners to compete against the best the Spa has to offer. Several years ago, trotters Prime Interest and Lorenzo Dream were standouts amongst local highsteppers. While both were dominant for a time, Prime Interest was the Saratoga trotting star spanning the course of several years, being named Trotter of the Year twice.  In the past few seasons, though, there hasn’t been one top flight trotter who has really stood out. In fact, there hasn’t been an Open Trotter to even get nominated for Aged Trotter of the Year at Saratoga in successive years since 2011-2012 when Lorenzo Dream did it. That streak looks like it will most certainly come to an end this season as the track’s defending top trotter Slugfest is off to a sensational start to his ’15 campaign.
             Slugfest was a New York Sire Stakes horse for the first year and a half of his career while under the guidance of Ray Schnittker. After his start in the ’12 Night of Champions, Slugfest came to Saratoga to be a part of the Maureen Salino stable. He wasted no time in finding the local winner’s circle as the son of Conway Hall scored a victory in his first start out of the Salino barn and wound up registering six wins and a second place finish in just eight tries after coming to town in late September.
             The 2013 season was the first time that we really got to see signs that Slugfest had the potential to be a big time trotter at the Spa. He picked up right where he left off in ’12 by recording two wins and three seconds in his first five starts before taking a crack at the Open in late May. Slugfest put together a strong third year of his career, securing four wins to go with twelve seconds and three thirds en route to over $77,000 in earnings. Most of his damage was done in “Open Two” competition where he recorded several victories. While he finished second in the Open Trot on a couple of occasions in ’13, Slugfest did not win a feature that year. It was a strong season for the breakout trotter but it was nothing compared to what he would accomplish in 2014.
             In Slugfest’s first start in Open company in ’14, the now veteran trotter finished second. About a month later, he won his first local Open, scoring for regular reinsman Jay Randall who has piloted Slugfest in nearly all of his local starts since coming to town a few years back. The late winter/early spring part of the racing season was certainly kind to Slugfest in ’14 as he went on an absolute tear. The Salino stable star did what very few horses, whether pacer or trotter, have done in the past five years at the Spa. Win four consecutive Opens. April and most of May belonged to Slugfest who quickly stamped himself as Saratoga’s top trotter. Though he got off to a dazzling start to his award winning ’14 campaign, it wasn’t a consistently strong year for the star highstepper. It was a quiet summer for Slugfest before he came on strong to end the year, winning the season’s final two Opens. Altogether in 2014, Slugfest competed in the local Open 22 times winning six of them and finishing second in three more. It was enough to earn him honors as the Aged Trotter and Trotter of the Year at the Spa in ’14.
             Though he flashed stretches of brilliance last season, it remained to be seen whether or not Slugfest could follow up his award winning campaign with another strong year in ‘15. After coming out of the gates with a pair of fourth place finishes, the six year old trotter started to heat up. The remainder of Slugfest’s March starts yielded a second and a third place finish but once the calendar turned to April, the winning began. A 7-1 shot in his first April try, Slugfest went first over and scored the mild upset. The following Sunday it was back to the front end for the track’s defending top trotter as he stopped the timer in 1:55.2 for his second consecutive victory. Assigned outside posts from that point on, Slugfest has had no trouble overcoming posts six and seven. His streak was interrupted with another second place finish but he wouldn’t stay out of the winner’s circle for long. Slugfest has simply been a monster in May, recording a powerful victory on the engine in 1:55.2 before scoring a pocket sitting win in a dazzling 1:54.4. That time marked the fastest of the year for any trotter at the Spa.
             Throughout his spring tear, Slugfest was the top choice in the betting only one time before Sunday afternoon’s try in the $18,000 Open that was contested at a distance of 1 1/16 miles. The Salino trainee was the public’s 1-5 favorite for the warm, sunny day’s feature and started from his assigned outside post. Regular reinsman Jay Randall wasted no time in moving the razor sharp trotter to the lead. Things were looking good for the track’s trotting star before upset minded Red Hot Herbie and driver Billy Dobson marched up to challenge and overpowered him. Red Hot Herbie scored a convincing win on Sunday but it did little to lesser the impact that Slugfest has had this spring. He again was a strong second place finisher to extend his streak of finishing first or second to six weeks. Though he was a solid force in ’14, Slugfest has displayed the kind of dominance this year that leads you to believe he can become the first two-time Trotter of the Year award winner since Prime Interest did it. He also is seeking to become the first trotter to earn back-to-back top awards since American Kash achieved the feat back in 1998-1999. While the year is obviously still very young, Slugfest has already posted four Open wins, just one shy of his total from ’14, along with three seconds and a third en route to just almost $55,000 in earnings. Slugfest, who is owned by Tom Vassilou and Nick Tallarico, is on pace to dwarf his stats from last year after a Sunday tear in the past six weeks in which he has delivered knockout blow after knockout blow.
             Live racing takes place on Thursday beginning at 4:00pm then on Friday and Saturday nights starting at 6:45pm. Sunday matinees kick off each week 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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